It's not difficult to pick out the top few girls basketball players in the country. Athletes like Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson are hard for even the most clueless journalist to miss.
But when it comes to the next level of players – let's say from No. 10 to No. 50 – the task is much more demanding. Do you prefer the 6-foot-1 power forward with great high school numbers over the slender 6-3 wing who still can count her muscles on one hand? Do you pick the star on a team full of talent, or the girl who had to carry the load all by herself?
Just for the record, here's how we tried to do it:
1. High school production: These are high school All-Americans, not projected collegiate stars. What happened on the court during the high school season is a high priority for us.
2. Team success: Since high school stats are notoriously unreliable (Dad tends to give his daughter a lot of rebounds, and not many turnovers), and offensive systems have a major impact on counting stats, we shift to team success as a measure of a successful season. A girl who's one of the Top 20 players in the nation should be able to get her school, no matter how small, to the 20-win plateau, and that same girl, surrounded with other D-1 players, should be in her state's final four.
3. Raw talent: This is the least important of the three criteria, as talent doesn't necessarily result in production or wins. But ask any coach, and she'll be happy to roll the dice with a 5-11 girl who can run on the 400 relay team and touch the rim from a standing start.
And though we obviously want to congratulate all the girls who made the MaxPreps 2011-12 Girls Basketball All-American team, it's also important to note that without all those other girls going to practice every day, and sacrificing so they could play high school basketball, the achievements of the few wouldn't really mean that much.
The four teams and the Honorable Mention players are as follows, on four slides:
First team Moriah Jefferson, THESA (Fort Worth, Texas), 5-8 senior guard/UConn:
Jefferson, a blur at the top of the offense, is skilled, athletic and as quick a guard as has been seen lately. She'll make a difference for Connecticut next season.
Alexis Jones, MacArthur (Irving, Texas), 5-8 senior guard/Duke:
Jones is a strong and talented combo guard who can score inside and out. Somehow, she escaped the clutches of the Texas schools, and will play for Duke. Nirra Fields, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), 5-9 senior guard/UCLA:
The most creative and versatile perimeter scorer in the country, Fields can get a shot whenever she wants one. Her guardian is Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown, so she knows where to go for advice. Breanna Stewart, Cicero-North Syracuse (Cicero, N.Y.), 6-4 senior forward/UConn:
The MaxPreps National Player of the Year
can pretty much do everything, and if she stays healthy, it won't be long until she's in the discussion of the best player in the world. She's that good. Morgan Tuck, Bolingbrook (Ill.), 6-2 senior forward/UConn:
Yes, that's three of the top five heading to Huskyland. Tuck has been a national presence since her freshman year for her athleticism, size and skills, but she still might have to battle for minutes next year at Connecticut.