The New Jersey state AAU gets into full swing this weekend as the 7th and 8th grade semi-finals will take place. As many of you know last year’s tournament was pretty amazing. Dawn Karpell was no doubt the star of the event and also gave the tournament the star power it needed. Her Wildcats beat the Shore Shots in the 7th grade final in three games. The Championship game was won in overtime. But the excitement and sportsmanship after this game was what youth basketball should be all about. What I remember most was the parents and fans, standing and clapping for both teams after the championship was decided. Dawn Karpell for her part, takes this event very seriously and wants to win. Russ Olson whose daughter plays on the wildcats and Tracy Sabino who coaches the Shore Shots have started a great friendly rivalry. But these two should not get too excited because this year’s the competition is going to tough if opening rounds games mean anything.
The first weekend of games saw the Shore Shots in a battle with the NJ Sting in the Quarter-final game. The Sting are coached by Evelyn Maldonado and assistants coaches Jeanene Healy and Don Hampton. This game saw the Sting on a number occasions look like they were going to pull the upset. The Sting got down early but then early in the third period took a lead. The Shore Shots who had trouble shooting the ball, battled the entire day and some how put it together in the closing minutes to win the game. The Sting had a number of chances to tie the game late. But it seemed every time the Shore Shots needed a play they made one. This game was really decided on the boards as the size difference hurt the Sting late. The Shore Shots are so deep and have so many more weapons to lean on.
The Sting have two future stars that will be household names across the state on day. Katie Healy is just a terrific young point guard, who will be a four year starter for the Colts Neck high school starting next year. Her feel for the game is something to see for a girl who is so young. She is a classic pass first, shoot second point guard. She also does something very few young kids her age can do; she can control the game from start to finish. Once she becomes a little more offensive minded she will almost unstoppable. I expect Katie to be a very special player one day.
The other player on the Sting is Emily Uribe, folks this kid is simply amazing, when you talk about who are the best young players in the state, her name must be part of the conversation. Emily is playing up in the state tourney as she is only a 7th grader, but she may be the best offensive player I saw all weekend. Already known for her great shooting ability, Uribe has now developed another part of her game….GETTING TO THE RIM. The 7th grader all afternoon made mad dashes to the rim for baskets. I tell you how good this kid is going to be…I believe she can play at the highest level of basketball if she keeps working. No doubt she will be one of the best players in the Shore over her High School career!
Now when you talk about the Shore Shots, the talent runs so deep and the team is so well coached by Tracey Sabino that you can only shake your head. I will give you a detail list of the Shore Shots next week. But few names that you must know are Sam Sabino, Alex Barazotti and Julie McClure. Sam Sabino and Alex Barazotti who is planning to attend RBC are impact players in High School next year. Both will be in there schools’ rotation as freshman. Julie McClure of Secaucus was the best player in the gym the first weekend. The strong and athletic point guard is just what the doctor ordered for the Shore Shots, who made some roster changes this year. McClure can score, defend and rebound from the guard position. She is a major force in this event and may be the player to get the Shore Shots over the hump this year. But the player everyone may be sleeping on is Paige Zirrith, who is getting better everyday. This is a young lady that has stayed the course and I am starting to believe this kid is going to be special. Paige has become much more confident and seems to finding ways to take over games at times. It will be very interesting to see how she performs at this years’ junior elite event. I think she may open some eyes.
The defending champs NJ Elite (formerly the wildcats) again are coached by Dawn Karpell and they are loaded. They may have the best talent from top to bottom in this age group and may be the most complete team in this event. Their point guard who played so great for the Shore Shots last year is Nicole Shatsky. She was sensation last year and gives the Wildcats a seasoned point guard this time around. Then listen to this front line.First they have Catie Ebner who will one day be among the best players in the Shore and then they have Clair Stefanelli both who will be impact players at Rumson as a freshman. Clair Stefanelli is by far the most competitive player in the event and a true warrior. Somewhere George Sourlis is smiling like the cat that ate the canary. Watching Clair play is worth the price of admission alone. No team in this event will line up two front line players like these two. This duo has already won the Run for the Roses this year and no doubt are gunning for a clean sweep this spring. The Elite team also has Emily Olson a long and talented guard on this team. Olson who is very quite, made her chops last year and made some big, big plays for Coach Karpell in the tourney last year. I didn’t see anything last week to make me believe anything will be different this year. The Wildcats for my money are the team to beat. You have Dawn Karpell, great guards, the best forwards and your team has a swagger, not a bad combination.
Now the dark horse in this entire AAU tournament may be in the 7th grade bracket. This 7th grade Shore group is deeper than last years’ Shore senior class. Mary Klinger’s 7th grade Cardinal team is scaring everyone after the first weekend. I have had a number of people tell me this team can beat the Shore Shots! Somogyi who seems to be building the Roman Empire as her Cardinals Program has another great team according to all reports.
Coach Mary Klinger just who just finished coaching the McDonalds All American East Girls Team along with her Rutgers Preparatory assistant Bob Fusick is currently 8-0 with this group of outstanding 7th graders and will be playing in the semi-finals against the Shore Shots this weekend. The Cardinals stand out player is Sydney Montage, who currently relocated to NJ from Maine. She is a 5’10″ lefty shooting guard and many believe is one of best 7th graders in the state. It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals team can knock off the defending champs.
Speaking of Kristen Somogyi, she will be coaching the top 60 players on the east coast this weekend at the prestigious Nike Skills Camp.
The Shore Shots defending Champs Shore Shots got a real scare from the John Inman Central Jersey Hawk team. Kelly Crouch from North Brunswick is one of the best 7th graders around and proved it last weekend. Crouch hit big shot after big shot this weekend against the heavily favored Shore Shots. The Sting also has 2 another outstanding players in Stephaine Lesko and Jennifer Inman. Stephanie Lesko is already 5’10 and has a knack for scoring, she seems to have improved on defense and rebounding. It clear she is on her way to becoming a great player one day. Inman is lighting quick and really knows how to play the game. She is undersized but believe me she is a real factor and creates problems for opponents with her toughness and speed.
Speaking of the defending champs, this is the most talented group of kids in any age bracket. Kelly Campbell, Nicole Morris, Christina Ulrich of Secaucus and Tina Levron are as talented group of guards as I have ever seen one team at any age group. This team also has shooters galore in Sidney Sabino and Gillian Black. I have to tell you this one deep and talented group. This team lines up two 6ft post players in Gigi Caponegro and Zoe Pero. Both have major college written all over them. Gigi is one of the most athletic young post players I have ever seen. She will be a major force in the Shore Conference one day. The high school that gets Gigi becomes a instant factor in the Shore Conference race. Zoe who is from Secaucus will also be one of the best players in the entire state one day. What makes this team so scary is you also have players like Lindsey Morris, Brittney Lucey and Amanda Hunt who would start for almost every other AAU team in this age group coming off the bench. These kids realize playing against such talent everyday helps you in the long run. Now how good is this team? I want you to think of the Mary Beth Chambers hawks team on steroids. This group boast the possibility of 5 MAJOR COLLEGE PLAYERS AND 8 DIVISON 1 PLAYERS TOTAL. This is the team to beat in this age bracket.
THE BEST UNKNOWN PLAYER?
So who is the best unknown player in the state tourney this year. That would be a very simple answer folks. Her name is Jill Falvery! She almost 6ft tall and is blessed with soft hands and a real understanding of the game. Every time I see this young lady play she gets better and better. What I like most about her is that she doesn’t need to have the ball to be effective. She will get to the offensive glass or make plays in transition. Then watch her on defense, she never takes a play off. I think this young lady is going to be a household name before her playing days are over. She dominates games and nobody notices it! It not always about points folks! But just in case you don’t know she can score as well
The ACADEMIC ELITE CAMP is currently accepting registration for the July 29th. All raising 9TH-12TH graders may attend. Since the NCAA considers all players 7th up a college prospect and we will invite a few special 7th and 8th graders.