April 19, 2018

Paving the road for equal pay

It makes sense, statistically speaking, that there is an immense pay gap between the male and female side of sports. I am not here to demand equal pay. At the moment, it is not realistic. However, I... Read More »

April 18, 2018

2017-18 Season in Review

Click here to see Stanford Athletics' collection of season highlights.

April 09, 2018

The Skylar Diggins Reverse -- And Other Recruitment Story Lines

By Warren Grimes

Jenna Brown

Some years back, high school senior Skylar Diggins executed the play. She feinted toward the West Coast, making a verbal commitment to play basketball on the Farm. Then she flew back to South Bend, never to return. The “Skylar Diggins reverse” is now painfully seared in the memories of many Stanford fans.

Well, what goes around, comes around. More recently, Jenna Brown offered a happier variation — “the reverse of the Diggins reverse.” In January of 2017, after visiting Notre Dame, Brown gave a verbal commitment to Muffett McGraw. That lasted about 6 months. In July, Brown’s father revealed that his daughter had decommitted and would announce her new choice shortly.

A few days later, Brown did exactly that: She chose Stanford.

A gifted high school athlete under intense recruiting pressure has every right to change her mind. Stanford fans can live with vacillation, but we prefer Maples as the end point.

There are other positive story lines associated with Jenna Brown. She was forced to take her junior year off to recover from a torn ACL. Recover she did, putting up her best career numbers as a high school senior. According to Prospects Nation, Brown, a former teammate of Maya Dodson on a youth national team, is the 13th ranked overall recruit, and the #4 point guard prospect. Hoopgurlz sees it only slightly differently: Brown is rated as the 20th overall recruit and the #3 point guard.

Ultimately, the rankings are inconsequential. What matters is that Brown is a gifted five-star athlete, an excellent student, and a person of substance. On the court, her senior year numbers compare favorably with the senior statistics of Kiana Williams, another McDonald’s All American and a top guard recruit of last year.

High School Senior Statistics
Points Boards Assists Steals
Kiana Williams (2016-17) 21 3.3 3.8 3.1
Jenna Brown (2017-18) 24 9.5 4 2.4

It is risky to draw comparisons on the statistics of high school athletes who played in different leagues in different parts of the country. Williams, who may have played in a more competitive league, was slightly higher ranked in her class (#8 overall player by Hoopgurlz and #12 by Prospects Nation). We do know that Brown is a couple inches taller than Williams, and may be more of a physical presence. Perhaps that is reflected in her superior rebounding performance. They are different athletes with different and likely complementary strengths. These two gifted players will be together in Stanford uniforms for the next three years — that’s good news.

A Hull of a Central Valley Story

Spokane is not the center of the universe. On the other hand, if asked to pinpoint the center of the girls high-school-basketball universe, Spokane would be high on the list. Spokane is home territory for Central Valley (CV) High School, which won the GEICO Nationals this year (the closest thing to a final four in high school basketball). The most heralded players on the CV roster are Lexie and Lacie Hull, the twins headed to Stanford in the Fall. Before the tournament, an undefeated CV was untested nationally, having played only one out-of-state opponent (the Idaho champion). CV came into the New York tournament with something to prove. The team was bracketed against the number 2 and number 1 seeds, each of them a state tournament champion.

CV beat second-seeded Westlake (Georgia champion) with a somewhat comfortable 13-point margin, then took down number one seed Hamilton High (Tennessee champion) in a more closely contested championship game.

In their starting five, Hamilton had a 6 foot 7 center and a tall and very talented point guard (McDonald’s All American) who will play for Tennessee this Fall. The tallest players in the CV rotation were Lacie (listed as 6' 2") and Lexie (listed as 6'1"). This was a Cinderella story, notwithstanding that CV had proven a dominant team in its home state. CV had lost only one game in the past three seasons (that was a state tournament loss a year earlier). Sandwiched around that one-loss season, CV had two undefeated, state championship seasons.

CV was a very well coached and disciplined team. On offense, their ball movement was superlative. On defense, CV’s help defense would be impressive even for a college team. And CV played defense all over the court, generating turnovers that led to a potent transition offense. For the season, CV’s average margin of victory was in the 40-point range.

Anyone watching the videos of CV’s championship run will be struck by the teamwork. Every player showed intensity and court awareness. This happened every moment on court — the players simply did not quit. Three-pointers were executed not just by the Hulls, but by a number of other CV players. (Hailey Christopher, another senior starter for CV, will be playing at Idaho next year).

So yes, Lexie Hull and Lacie Hull were critical cogs in CV’s astounding success, but they fitted seamlessly into the team fabric. They were quintessential team players. Here are the statistics for the Hull twins.

Hull Senior Year Statistics
Points Three Point % Free Throw % Boards Assists Steals
Lexie Hull 20.4 39% 81% 8.4 2.1 2.6
Lacie Hull 10 41% 76% 5.9 4.7 3.4

Lexie and Lacie are different players, but they do share common characteristics. They are both great shooters, have great court awareness and passing skills, and an uncanny ability to anticipate an opponent’s pass (they are theft artists). The statistics for these two athletes may be somewhat understated because, with typical 40-point victory margins, the Hulls tended not to play much in the fourth quarter. Scouting reports say they are gym rats and very quick learners. None of this touches on their contributions to team chemistry, readily evident in CV’s run to the championship.

In the GEICO Nationals, the Hulls played their best in crunch time. In the semifinal game, Lexie scored 31 points; in the finals, she knocked down 13 of her 26 points in the decisive 4th quarter. Lexie was 11 for 11 (and 20-21 for the tournament) from the charity stripe. Lacie had to contend with the opponent’s 6'7" center in the finals, and was forced to sit with foul trouble in the first half. She nonetheless contributed 9 points and 8 boards, including a critical three-pointer in the fourth quarter.

Lexie was the Washington State player of the year, an honor previously held by Brittany McPhee and Kate Starbird. In some ways, Lexie’s game might be seen as a cross between Starbird (a pure shooter and very good in transition) and McPhee (a streaky long-range shooter but a superlative shot maker in the paint, with a great nose for the ball). Lexie possesses potential in all those skill areas. Her free throw and long-range shooting shows the Starbird side; her drives to the hoop and rebounding the McPhee side.

Lacie was also first team all state. She was not the prolific scorer that her sister was, but quietly racked up 4.7 assists per game (by far the highest on the team). She also had more steals and a higher three-point shooting percentage than her sister (41% versus 39%). Lacie launched and converted a lot more threes (34 for 83 versus 19 for 49 for Lexie).

Just how these two fine athletes will fit into next year’s team is unclear, but the prognosis is very rosy.

April 07, 2018

Way-too-early preseason rankings

Charlie Creme (espnW) wonders if any of this season's Final Four teams will get back to the NCAA tournament's final weekend in 2019, or will there be new blood in Tampa. Florida, a year from now.

Here is his early look at how 2018-19's top 25 shapes up: Fresh off NCAA title, Irish lead way-too-early top 25 for 2018-19

He has five Pac-12 teams in his top 25:

2. Oregon Ducks

The Ducks have reached the Elite Eight for two straight years and will be expected to take the next step with everyone back except sharp-shooter Lexi Bando. Sabrina Ionescu will be a top contender for every national player of the year award, and 6-foot-4 post Ruthy Hebard will be in every All-American conversation. Erin Boley, a 6-2 Notre Dame transfer who was the 2016 Gatorade national player of the year, will join Hebard and 6-5 Mallory McGwire up front, while 6-4 wing Satou Sabally could be ready to break out. Get used to seeing Oregon in a lofty spot: Guard Maite Cazorla will be the only regular rotation senior on next season's team.

6. Stanford Cardinal

With the graduation of Brittany McPhee, the offense will focus on Alanna Smith and Kiana Williams, who could be ready for a breakout as a sophomore. With seven players returning who averaged double-digit minutes, Tara VanDerveer will have plenty of depth and experience. The Hall of Fame coach is also adding another sister combination with incoming freshmen Lexie and Lacie Hull from Washington.

12. Oregon State Beavers

The Beavers were the most efficient 3-point shooting team in the country and return all of their chief contributors: Kat Tudor, Katie McWilliams, Mikayla Pivec, Taya Corosdale and Aleah Goodman. Coach Scott Rueck also adds Destiny Slocum, who was the 2017 WBCA national freshman of the year during her rookie season at Maryland, to the mix. The centerpiece of this year's Elite Eight team, 6-5 Marie Gulich, is gone, but 6-8 Joanna Grymek could take on a bigger role. Rueck also brought in 6-9 Paraguay native Andrea Aquino, a top-10 recruit and potential program game-changer.

21. UCLA Bruins

Coach Cori Close has to replace so much with the departure of Jordin Canada, Monique Billings and Kelli Hayes, the core of the recruiting class that brought the Bruins back to prominence. But the play of Japreece Dean in the NCAA tournament gave hope that the blow of losing Canada will be softened. Lajahna Drummer and Kennedy Burke, a pair of 6-1 forwards, are two more seniors Close will have to build around.

24. Arizona State Sun Devils

Coach Charli Turner Thorne returns the entire roster from a team that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament, something the program has done four of the past five seasons. The biggest returnee is junior guard Sabrina Haines, who missed all but nine games with a knee injury. Balance and depth, led by forward Kianna Ibis, will once again be a Sun Devils trademark.

April 02, 2018

Attitude, Resiliency, and The Future of Women’s Hoops

By Warren Grimes

I’m not a Notre Dame fan. That said, Muffet McGraw’s team did something noteworthy last Sunday evening. They won a national championship. They did so playing only six players in both the final and semifinal games. They did so despite losing four players to ACLs, at least two of whom would have been in the rotation and probably starters. They did so by beating U Conn, a team that carried an undefeated record. They did so by coming back from deficits. Against U Conn, Notre Dame was down by eight points in the fourth quarter, but came back to force an overtime, then won it in the final seconds of overtime on an Arike Ogunbowale shot. Against Mississippi State, they were down by 15 points midway through the third quarter, and came back to win in a last-second (literally the last second) shot by Ogunbowale.

All of this is good for women’s basketball. For two years and counting, U Conn went into the tournament with an unblemished record, but lost in the semifinal round. We have had three different national champions over the last three years. None of this means that U Conn will cease to be a formidable team. Geno Auriema continues to recruit the nation’s best players – and he can coach. But teams like Mississippi State and Notre Dame have proven that with resilience, attitude, and player development supplemented by good coaching, even teams with somewhat less illustrious recruiting classes can compete.

What does this mean for Stanford? Well, for one, Stanford beat Notre Dame a year ago in the Elite Eight (five of the six Notre Dame players that won the championship played against Stanford in 2017). Jessica Shepard, who did not play last year, got 6 boards and 19 points for Notre Dame (but the two additional Notre Dame players that played against Stanford in 2017 contributed 11 boards and 19 points).

But let's not get lost in history and statistics. The point is that Notre Dame played as a motivated and resilient team, and that’s why they won the championship. The Stanford team, a year ago, had those same characteristics. They beat Muffet McGraw’s team to get to Final Four.

More Stanford connections? One of the players that Notre Dame lost midway through this season was Lili Thompson. Thompson had played in all of the team’s previous 14 games, shooting .391 from the three point range and leading the team with assists (64) and steals (22).

Then there is Arike Ogunbowale. Her heroic down-to-the-wire shots won both the U Conn and Mississippi State games. And she almost did that against Stanford a year earlier. Agunbowale had 25 points, but had been largely silenced by Brittany McPhee’s second-half defense. With seconds left, and Stanford leading by one point, Muffet McGraw had her team inbound to Ogunbowale, who turned to launch a midrange two-point attempt. No dice, Erica McCall was there to block the attempt – and Stanford went to the Final Four.

Well, unlike Notre Dame, Stanford did not win a national championship, but two of its future players did.

Lexie and Lacie Hull played in a “Final Four” for high school teams in New York last weekend. Their Central Valley (Spokane) team was undefeated, and was one of four outstanding high school teams selected to participate in the GEICO National Championships. Central Valley won their semifinal game, then defeated Hamilton Heights (the #1 ranked high school team) in the final game. Both of the Hulls performed, making all of their free throws (Lexie was 11 for 11) and contributing three-pointers, boards, and great court sense. They both are gifted and smart players that should fit in well with Tara’s offensive and defensive blue prints. With either or both of these players on the floor, Stanford’s free throw shooting will improve.

Jenna Brown, Stanford’s other recruit, participated in the McDonald’s All American game. The free-for-all format of this game makes it difficult to assess how a player will fit in, but Brown showed quickness and game sense in dishing out assists. And, I understand, Brown also can shoot free throws.

These three future freshman, with attitude and resilience, can be part of the next great Stanford edition.

April 01, 2018

My Six Favorite Pac-12 Coaches

By Warren Grimes

I have watched with interest the strategies and demeanor of head coaches over the past few seasons. Not every coach wins the Good Housekeeping award.

Louisville Coach Jeff Walz would not be on my favorite list. His success is beyond dispute, but his court demeanor seems loud, aggressive, and at times even obnoxious. A good coach is also a role model.

I have come up with a list of six Pac-12 favorites, with one additional coach in the honorable mention category.

That leaves out the coaches from five schools: Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Washington and Washington State. The coaches from these five schools are relatively new (and in WSU’s case not yet appointed). Any of them might make the favorite list in the future.

Honorable Mention

June Daugherty came close to being an honorable mention selection. I’ve long considered her a class act. She had seniority after coaching first at Washington and then at WSU. Unfortunately, she struggled to get her teams into the Big Dance, fought health issues, and was terminated by WSU at the end of this season.

Mark Trakh, with two runs at the USC job, deserves honorable mention. I was disappointed when Trakh was fired after the first run. His team had a string of injuries, but had nonetheless performed at top-half-of-the-conference level. Trakh moved on to New Mexico State, where his coaching brought the school to the Big Dance and a near upset win over Stanford. The AD at USC must have had a “whoops, we goofed” moment, and asked Trakh to come back. This year, Trakh’s USC team had a very good out-of-conference record, then stumbled against top conference opponents. Playing with a reduced roster, USC still scared the daylights out of most of the conference heavies. USC should be back next year with a deeper roster. Trakh has taken Pepperdine, USC, and New Mexico State to the NCAA tournament, so he knows how to get it done.

The Top Six

Number 6 - Cori Close has a solid resume. She has proven herself an excellent recruiter. A few years back, she brought in the nation’s top recruiting class headed by Jordin Canada and Monique Billings. That class has now finished its four-year run with an Elite Eight appearance in the tournament. During those four years, UCLA was consistently one of the top teams in the conference, playing high pressure defense and fast break basketball that caused headaches for any opponent. Close would have been higher ranked if she had brought home a conference championship, a conference tournament championship, or a Final Four appearance. She has come up short on this count. But Close has some exciting recruits for next year. The story is ongoing.

Number 5 - Lindsay Gottlieb has a final four appearance and a conference championship on her resume. That was in 2013, when a second-seeded Cal team busted its way through to the Final Four. She has also recruited some excellent players. Her teams have not performed consistently against top opponents, but have, more often than not, been among the top four teams in the conference. This year, Cal seemed well positioned for a run in the conference and NCAA tournaments. Those hopes were thwarted when Kristine Anigwe was sick/injured and played sporadically in the Pac-12 tournament and not at all in the first round loss in the NCAA tournament. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Anigwe does not have a head injury or some other malady that would halt her very promising career.

Number 4 - Charli Turner Thorne, a VanDerveer protégé, has long been one of my favorites. She is second in conference seniority. With some consistency, Thorne’s teams have outperformed their preseason ranking. They have (my opinion) outperformed what their incoming talent would suggest. Her teams play with teamwork and intensity from the first day of the season, pulling off upsets, but occasionally faltering toward season’s end. This season, that faltering was evident, but ASU came back with an upset victory over OSU in the conference tournament, guaranteeing an NCAA bid. Her teams are regulars in the NCAA tournament, but have not broken the Final Four barrier.

Number 3 - Kelly Graves, Oregon’s well respected and relatively new coach, had already built an impressive record while coaching at St. Mary’s and Gonzaga. Now he has some serious talent, coaches in one of the top conferences in the country, and has an opportunity to attain elite status. His team won the conference and the conference tournament championships this year, garnered a #2 seed in the NCAA, and played to seed, losing to #1 seed Notre Dame in the regional final. Last year, Oregon entered the tournament with a #10 seed, and scored three upsets on the way to the Elite Eight. Will Graves be able to lead his talented team to a Final Four? Three of his colleagues (VanDerveer, Rueck, and Gottlieb) have been there. Graves must do this to be considered an elite coach.

Number 2 - Scott Rueck deserves his number 2 rank because of his amazing turnaround with the OSU program, winning the conference and the conference tournament titles and taking his team to one Final Four, two Elite Eights, and three consecutive Sweet Sixteens. He has achieved this despite losing a “best” player from his squad in each of the last two seasons (last year he lost his two best players). Rueck will confront that challenge again this year with the graduation of Marie Gülich, but it’s hard to bet against Rueck. This year they had an upsetting NCAA run, starting as a #6 seed but besting #3 Tennessee at home and then #2 Baylor in the Sweet Sixteen. Watch out for Rueck!

Number 1 - Tara VanDerveer is a role model, a legend, and the conference coach with the longest and most impressive resume. She does almost everything well — recruiting, motivating, strategizing, innovating — you name it. One of my favorite things about VanDerveer is how she consistently gets the most out of her teams at season’s end. She has some great new players coming on to replace Brittany McPhee and Kaylee Johnson.

Breaking News! Next year’s Stanford team is likely to shoot free throws better than this year’s version. And the same may be true for three-point shooting.

Three of the team’s best shooters will be back: Alanna Smith, Kiana Williams and DiJonai Carrington. Add to that the impact of incoming freshmen Jenna Brown and the Hull twins, all of whom are proficient shooters, and you have exciting potential. The biggest player development challenge facing Stanford next year may be finding a proficient offensive and defensive presence in the post to supplement Alanna Smith. That presence probably has to be found among Nadia Fingall, Maya Dodson, Alyssa Jerome, and Shannon Coffee. Each is an entirely different player. I look forward to seeing how the puzzle pieces will fit together. VanDerveer is really good at solving basketball puzzles.