Posted On: 01/1/19 10:50 PM
The moment I saw the giant billboard of Maya Moore outside Target Center, I knew I was going to write something about it. I had no idea how big the story would turn out to be. The next day when a Minneapolis dad tweeted a photo of his 4-year-old girl in front of that image, I felt compelled to reach out and learn more. The resulting piece – one of 198 I wrote for Prep Girls Hoops in 2018 – was among the most important stories of the year.
I had intended to write this recap last week, but life and four days of high school tournaments managed to get in the way. So here it is, better late than never, my recap of the best articles of the year. Click on the headline if you want to reread the original.
The item was published May 28th. Within a few days, it had made its way across the planet and there is no way of knowing how many people saw it. The story of Liliana’s encounter with Maya Moore was on television and websites and in newspapers. It was everywhere. To be honest, at times I wished it would just go away. It became irritating after a while how dozens of media outlets told the story as if it was their original creation. That’s unethical in my opinion, but in an era when real journalism isn’t valued in the way it once was it’s hardly surprising. That’s all water under the bridge now, of course, and the cool thing is that Liliana got to meet her hero and so much more.
In addition to celebrating the accomplishments of one of Minnesota’s top prospects in 2017 – Edina graduate Annika Jank – this Jan. 24 story offered parents and players something more. Annika shared her experiences of being recruited to play at the University of Colorado, lessons she had learned along the way and advice to athletes going through the process. I received innumerable thanks from families who appreciated the insight.
One of my favorite things about this gig is finding deserving players who are flying under the radar and offering them some exposure. This Jan. 26 story chronicled the improvement of Providence Academy senior Anna Counts who wasn’t getting much interest from college coaches. That changed immediately after the story was published and led directly to her signing with Division 2 Minot State. “We were unaware of Anna until we read the story,” said Minot coach Mark Graupe. “After that we watched her, liked what we saw and offered her a scholarship. It was really helpful.”
On March 30 we announced our high school player of the year. It was the easiest pick ever. Paige Bueckers is special, and I consider it a privilege to have watched, written about and come to know Paige and her family. In a previous life I had the good fortune as an NHL beat writer for several years to watch Wayne Gretzky both on and off the ice, in the locker room, at the team hotel and so on. Paige is Wayne. I’m not saying she’ll be the greatest basketball player ever, but she has the same incredible vision, special skills and unquestioned work ethic all wrapped up in a quality human being. Every college coach in America is after Paige, but we have her in the here and now and I for one am enjoying every minute of it.
I learned a lesson this spring, and I wrote about it on May 30 in my profile of DTA Academy, an 8th grade team coached by Marqus McGlothan of St. Cloud. I saw them on the opening weekend of AAU because I was watching their opponent that happened to be from one of the name-brand clubs. Within a few weeks it became obvious that DTA was among the best in 2022 and I had neglected to write about it. Rest assured I will never overlook an unaffiliated team again. The 2019 version of DTA will be even better with the addition of top 50 players Myra Moorjani and Nia Holloway of Eden Prairie, Ronnie Porter of Como Park and Tori Ratz of Fergus Falls. The best part of the whole deal is that Marqus and I became friends, and you can never have enough of those.
It might be the most common question we get on a regular basis: ‘How do you decide where a player should be ranked?’ It’s the subject of plenty of conversation, and we do hear from disgruntled parents and coaches who feel their player has been wronged. On Sept. 22, I wrote a detailed piece about the process that cleared up a lot of the misunderstandings. Is everyone happy? Nope. There are still some parents who look the other way when they see me coming, but the vast majority of folks seem to feel the process is fair.
Assembling the Freshmen 50 is the most challenging and time consuming thing we do. It’s also the most fun. In the end we come up with a list and have the privilege of writing about the rising stars. On Oct. 17, I wrote about one of the top freshmen – Rogers guard Ellie Buzzelle – and predicted big things. She’s now lighting it up at the varsity level and just returned from an unofficial visit to the University of Wisconsin. We’re already looking at the 2023s.
Final thoughts on the year that was
Although it consumes an enormous amount of time on top of my actual employment, this gig is the most satisfying thing I have ever done. Discovering and writing about players like Katie Tornstrom, Shyanne Loiland and Alyssa Williamson, and then seeing them realize their dreams of playing college basketball, is incredibly gratifying. Getting to know the kids and their families is a bonus. I have made plenty of friends, built a solid network of evaluators and learned a lot from people in this community who care a great deal about the girls and the game.
The most important relationships have been forged with college coaches at all levels, which has provided tremendous input on player evaluations and the recruiting process. That really hit home in September when we were finalizing our first 2022 rankings. I desperately wanted to get it right, and in the end it was the input of several high-level D1 coaches that tipped the scales at the top of the list.
Special thanks to Logan Moorse, who joined our team in 2018. His contributions and insight were invaluable. Logan is a high school coach so he’s focused on that right now but we look forward to having him back in the spring. We had another new writer ready to go until circumstances beyond her control nixed that idea. If you, or someone you know, is a girls basketball junkie and can write intelligibly please let us know. We are always looking for contributors. A special shout out as well to the now-retired Marc Hugunin. He’s the one that built this thing and made it what it is. Marc brought me on board, taught me a lot and left a legacy that will impact girls basketball well into the future.
To be honest with you, 2018 was not an easy year in the real world as I dealt with the serious health challenges of close family and friends. On many days the gym was my escape from all that, and the people who are part of this incredible girls basketball community always seem to make the day just a little brighter. Here’s hoping 2019 will be the best year yet. Thanks for reading.
Top photo courtesy of Justice Sikakane, father of 4-year-old Liliana. Thanks for sharing your special story with us.