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.

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