It's a time-honored tradition when charming young couples enter wedded bliss: We're supposed to give the bride something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Forget all that marital stuff – trust me, that is not my field of expertise! – but on Saturday at the Pacesetter Sweet 16 the age-old phrase actually applied to basketball. With said theme in mind, here are some player observations from the day's play.
OK, Nora Francois is not old. In fact, as an incoming freshman at De la Salle High School in Minneapolis she's probably about 14. Francois certainly doesn't play like it. The smooth, athletic big already has a year of varsity ball under her belt, and in the second half of last season she started to show what keen basketball observers have known for quite some time: Nora can play. On Saturday, Francois had about 100 rebounds in 3A De la Salle's opening game of the day, a 44-33 win over 2A Minnehaha Academy. OK, I exaggerate but it was north of 20, the point at which I stopped counting. Francois is a great shooter with a big body who is among the top 10 players in the Class of 2021.
Our newcomer of the day is 5-9 forward Carly Mekash of 1A Badger-Greenbush-Middle River. I guess she's not new if you live 30 miles from the Canadian border, but the incoming senior definitely lacks exposure. Trust me, there was more than one college coach in attendance Saturday asking, “Who is that kid?” The answer is, she is the Gators' best player no matter what position you put her at. By the way, is there a story behind that Gators nickname because last time I checked there are no oversized reptiles north of Thief River Falls. Mekash plays a lot at the 4 and 5 spots but would probably be a 3 at the next level. She attacks the rim hard, has a big frame and is very strong. She can also shoot from distance and put up 15 ppg last year. She will make an impact in D-III.
One of the most interesting things about the Sweet 16 is seeing who will show up in what uniform as we see if there was some truth to the summer's transfer rumors. Wearing the gold and black of De la Salle Saturday was Kiani Lockett, who played significant minutes last year as a 7th grader at Minneapolis South. Lockett is tiny right now – maybe 5'4″ and well under 100 pounds – but this girl can play. Yesterday she put up six threes early in the game, successfully landing three of them. Lockett will shoot from anywhere at any time and a good portion of them hit the jackpot. Gifted 2021 point guard Jayla Reliford was also in the lineup for De la Salle, coming over from Robbinsdale Cooper. In perhaps the most interesting development of the day, 6-foot-1 power forward Kira Mosely was on the Hopkins bench. The senior transfer from Eden Prairie has been out for several months with a knee injury, but will no doubt be back in time for Hopkins annual run to the state title.
Without intending to, I just highlighted a bunch of junior high kids. Welcome to high school basketball circa 2017 where lots of precocious youngsters are playing varsity ball at a very high level. One of those is our 'something blue' nominee from Saturday's play, incoming 8th grader Emma Miller of St. Michael Albertville. They wear blue, right? If there is a faster player in the class of 2022, we haven’t seen her. The crafty, confident point guard is a terrific ball handler with foot speed that will blow your mind. However, it's one thing to look good against junior high kids your own age but quite another to run the offense for a 4A power like the Knights. We are pleased to report that on Saturday Miller looked completely at home playing varsity. Remember what her STMA teammate Kenzie Kramer did at the State Tournament as an 8th grader? If not you can find it on a March 2016 ESPN Top 10 Plays replay. Anything is possible in this new era.