Cali Classic 2011

This weekend marks the official start of club ball/AAU season, with tournaments taking place around the country. As I was preparing to leave for the Cali Classic 2011 at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., there was an explosion on twitter of high school seniors and college players remembering their club ball days. The seniors seem to miss it already and wish they were still playing, and a common lament from the college players was that they wish they could still play three games a day.

Aw.

The first game I saw when I got to this talent-stacked tournament was Cal Storm Taurasi vs. Salesian Force Elite. Notable contributors from Nike-sponsored CST were Keitra Wallace of Brea Olinda, Briana Roberson of Troy, Oderah Chidom of state championship Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland, and Kendall Cooper of St. Anthony’s. Salesian Force, a newer club team that has a crew of much bigger girls than last year, hung close with CST for a long time before the big girls broke out for the rout. LA City Section Narbonne High School Coach Vickie Sanders is helping coach Salesian Force now, as several of her players are on the team. (I would post their roster, but Salesian’s website hasn’t been updated).

The next game was Cal Sparks Gold vs. OC Elite Goodsell. As in the previous game, OC Elite hung with CSG for a little bit before Gold put down the hammer late in the first half and ran away with it.

Like the players, I too am getting used to not seeing some of the faces I’ve grown used to watching play for CSG the last several years: Reshanda Gray, DeAjanae Scurry, Ariya Crook-Williams, and Janitah Iamaleava, to name a few. It is really an adjustment for me.

But the new squad is scary good.

Kari Korver is the lone returnee from last year’s FILA Nationals Champions CSG squad. As a junior this year, the three-point specialist averaged 25.3 points per game, and put up seven treys in one contest. Yesterday she was mostly running the two, and using her trademark disruptive defense. She will be a big part of the squad this year.

Several players have moved up from other Cal Sparks teams to join Gold this year, and they made an immediate impact last night. Courtney Jaco of Windward High School moves up the court with lightening speed and has a sweet three-shot. She is just finishing her sophomore year. Mercedes Jefflo of Centennial has an aggressive game, and likes to drive to the basket. Paris Baird of Windward and Keyla Morgan of Long Beach Poly were also impressive on what is the youngest CSG team in years.

But besides Korver, the star of this year’s team will likely be Erica McCall of Bakersfield’s Ridgeview High School. The young McCall – a sophomore – averaged 19.8 points per game, 16 rebounds and 8.4 blocks. She comes from great sports and basketball lineage: her father Greg is assistant coach at Cal State Bakersfield, and her mother was a track star back in the day. Erica’s sister is DeWanna Bonner of the Phoenix Mercury. Last summer Erica joined CSG just in time for FILA Nationals, and she was a big contributor in helping the team take the tournament title (see below photo).

It was immediately obvious yesterday that her game has improved quite a bit since last summer. In addition to going for every rebound as she did at FILA, Erica has excellent court vision. Time and time again she would run to the perfect spot where a teammate would find her waiting at the most opportune time, and she’d score. Erica also runs the floor on every single possession, and is very fast for a tall kid. Someone (maybe her mother) has clearly taught her to run, because you don’t usually see that kind of hip extension from a basketball player. She makes great use of her long legs, and gets up the court faster than some guards.

Erica McCall and Mercedes Russell of Springfield, Ore. are probably the best sophomores on the West Coast. And if they’re this good now, it’s scary to think how good they’ll be next year, and the year after.

(I wish I could post the pics I took last night, but my camera memory card is flipping out……)

After that game, I wandered over to check out the last part of the West Coast Premier Black vs. Cal Storm Elite 17U game. The Storm tried, but WCPB wasn’t ranked first in Cali last year for nothing. Of course Mater Dei’s Jordan Adams showed out, but 6-foot-6 Candice Agee of Silverado High School in Victorville was catching the eyes of fans. She has verballed to Penn State. WCPB’s entire roster is loaded, so look for them to be a force again this summer.

I watched another game after that, and then my eyes started to drift south, so it was time to go. But it’s nice to be back in club season. And like some local players mentioned yesterday on twitter, Mater Dei does feel like a second home. I know every store around there…….

Scores.

Erica McCall leaps for a rebound in last summer’s FILA Nationals semifinal game. She helped Cal Sparks Gold go on to win the title the next day.

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