Most coaches, especially those at smaller programs that tend to fly under the radar, don't get to pick and choose the players for their high school team. They pretty much have to take whoever shows up for tryouts and make the best of it. But every so often, in walks a very pleasant surprise. This year's winner in the category of “It's Too Good to Be True” is Matt Pryor of AA Concordia Academy in Roseville. Pryor hasn't even had his first practice as a new head coach yet but he is already fired up about having the services of a big 6-foot senior post from Cedar Falls, Iowa. Her name is Hailey Paup, and Sunday afternoon at the Breakdown Fall League she showed some pretty impressive stuff for the Beacons.
Paup has a large frame, with broad shoulders and powerful legs, and she knows how to leverage all that size and strength to great advantage. She is also quick and athletic, has a sweet 15-foot jumper and some pretty nice touch around the basket. This first sample of Ms. Paup's capabilities was impressive, even moreso considering she was up against one of the best power forwards in Minnesota, sophomore Emily Russo of New Prague, the 5th-ranked player in the class of 2020.
The pair went toe to toe for the better part of an hour with neither one giving an inch. Paup is clearly going to be a player to reckon with in AA this winter. After doing a little digging, it was not surprising to learn that certain athletic traits do seem to run in the family. Hailey's dad Bryce Paup played 11 years in the National Football League, was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year, and appeared in four Pro Bowls. The family relocated to the Twin Cities when Bryce became the defensive line coach at the University of Minnesota.
What makes the Concordia situation even more interesting is the presence of a very talented young point guard, freshman Ivane Tensaie. She's a member of the 2021 Tayler Hill Elite AAU squad and already has two years of significant varsity minutes under her belt at Concordia. Tensaie was terrific on Sunday at Bloomington Kennedy, dropping 21 points each against New Prague and Eagan after a 30-point performance last weekend. Those are pretty impressive numbers given that we are talking about running time contests.
Tensaie and Paup are starting to develop some chemistry, and you can see that this one-two combination has significant potential. Tensaie has nice handles and tremendous range. She also has a certain calmness about her on the court, which leads to quality decision-making and good floor management. I gained a whole new appreciation for Tensaie's abilities on Sunday. She doesn't get a lot of minutes with the girls of Tayler Hill, not surprising considering she is the backup PG to the #1 player in the class, Jade Hill of Minneapolis South. I'll check in with Concordia in a few weeks.
Autam Mendez shows why she is a legit D-I prospect
There is no doubt that Cretin-Derham Hall is favored to win the Suburban East Conference. Although White Bear Lake, Roseville, even Stillwater might have something to say about that, the Raiders from St. Paul are loaded and the expectations are running high for Joe Lynch's squad. They looked good on Sunday, none better than 6-foot forward Frannie Hottinger who was a beast on the boards. How many put-back baskets did she score? How many rebounds did she haul down? I lost track on both fronts, but it was a sight to behold.
The other Cretin player who really stood out to me was 5'9″ senior guard Autam Mendez. It can be hard to get a read on Mendez at times. She struggled with some injuries last winter, and got off to a bit of a slow start in the spring. Some days she was terrific and other days not so much. Then she went on the road for the big tournaments during the July viewing period. We didn't see her at that time, unfortunately, but plenty of college coaches did and that's what matters. According to her Minnesota Stars Coach Josh Hersch, Mendez was a dominant force game in and game out in July, making big plays at both ends of the floor and putting all of her tools on display.
That's what we saw on Sunday. Mendez was on fire, driving hard to the hoop to score or draw fouls on multiple possessions. She was shooting with authority, handling the ball at an elite level, and defending with passion. When Mendez is on, she is a sure-fire Division I player, the kind of kid who can dominate at this level and make a significant impact at the next. Cretin is going to be very good this year. If Mendez stays healthy and offers more of what we saw Sunday, they'll be playing for a much bigger prize in March than just the Suburban East.
Others who impressed on Sunday
Super sisters Jade and Morgan Hill of Minneapolis South were their usual silky selves on Sunday. Morgan is the #7-ranked player in the class of 2018, and she's currently making the rounds of high-end D-I college programs before announcing her decision. Jade, as previously mentioned, is the top player of 2021. Together they are magical. Morgan makes everything look easy. Jade makes ever thing look spectacular. Morgan lulls defenders into complacency before blowing their doors off. Jade makes everyone in the gym say, 'Wow!'
Anna Counts is a 6'3″ senior at Providence Academy. Exactly how someone that big and this good keeps it on the down low all the way to her senior year is beyond me, but on Sunday some very well informed basketball folks were digging for information on the unranked 2018. Counts was physical down low, showed some nice post moves, has pretty good hands and displayed a nice jump shot. What's not to like? She can definitely play at the next level, perhaps with some scholarship consideration involved.
St. Louis Park impressed as a group, both the headliners and the supporting cast. Junior Lyndsey Olson has jumped nearly 100 spots in our 2019 rankings and now has Division I suitors. She played great. Sophomore Shayla Miller (#45) was equally impressive, as were the youngsters Kendall Coley (#5 in 2021) and Jojo Sheffield (#28). The Orioles are going to surprise some folks, except for those of you who read it here first.