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Smith & Black at the McDonald's Game

I finally had a chance to look at the tape from the 2004 McDonald's
Girls' High School All America Game, featuring future Duke players Chante'
Black and Wanisha Smith. Before I break down their performances, there
are a few things to consider. First of all, these sorts of all-star games
are not always predictors for future success or failure. The best example
was UNC's Jennifer Thomas being one of the top scorers in the WBCA
All-America game a few years ago and then turning out to be a mediocre
player at best in college. On the men's side, Christian Laettner did very
little in his performance years ago and we all know what happened in his
college career. In an all-star game setting with little continuity,
guards and players who generally dominate the ball tend to put up the
flashiest stats, while half-court specialist post players and steady point
guards tend to go unnoticed. That said, there are times when a player is
so good that it's obvious that they'd be great in any situation. Another
thing to consider is the level of competition. As I've stated several
times, this year's senior class is not only remarkable at the top, but has
a whole host of fine players. Quite frankly, there were players on this
year's team who did very little who would have dominated most of the
players from the past few years in this sort of event. So just because a
player didn't put up big numbers in this game, it may well be becuse her
opposite number was another future all-american.

Caveats aside, let's get to the meat of the matter. In my opinion, the
four most impressive players in the game were Candace Parker, Alexis
Hornbuckle, Sylvia Fowles and Wanisha Smith, in that order. Parker only
shot 6-20 and had 4 turnovers, but that didn't matter. She had a number
of spectacular "almost" plays--several high-difficulty layup attempts and
leaping baskets in traffic, or risky shots taken after she made an amazing
defensive play. Even though Hornbuckle had a better game than Parker,
Candace continues to show that she can do anything on the court. She
wound up with 10 rebounds (and is still not 100% physically thanks to her
recovering knee), 4 blocks (including 1 on Black), 2 asists and 2 steals.
There was one play where she had the ball on the wing past the three point
line and drove right at Hornbuckle. Crossing her over, she drove right
and then spun left, switching to and finishing with her left hand over
Hornbuckle and Black, drawing a three point play. It was simply
jaw-dropping. Parker also wound up taking more than 25% of her team's
field goal attempts. It's the Parker dilemma: she's great and can do
anything, but she needs the ball. One reason why her team got spanked
was that her teammates put up quick shots in an effort to "get theirs".
When Candace was in the game, she was going to shoot it. Still, if she had made a couple of the chippies that she had missed, she would have been at
around 50% from the floor with over 25 points. It was no surprise that
the player with the next most field goal attempts on her squad was Charde
Houston, another player with no conscience who will be attending UConn.
It was also clear that she still isn't within the same area code as Parker
in terms of overall talent level. The biggest disappointment for this
squad was super-recruit Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood (reporters are going to hate
spelling out this name for four years!), who had a mediocre showing with 6
points (2-9 shooting), 3 assists, 4 steals and 5 turnovers.

Smith and Black played for the winning East squad, along with Hornbuckle
and Fowles. Hornbuckle displayed her dazzling quickness, ball control,
passing ability and shooting touch, and did it all game long. Fowles is
simply 6-5 worth of strong, muscular nastiness in the post with soft hands
and a deadly turnaround jumper. Along with Parker, I really think this
trio has a chance to be among the best basketball players of all time,
with pro stardom and the Olympics written all over them. The interesting
thing about Parker is that her hype will draw a lot of people who will be
out to make a name at her expense, especially great players like Fowles.
Parker was no match for Fowles down low when the players met in the Deep
South Classic a year ago, and Parker again had trouble dealing with Fowles
once she locked in down in the post here.

That brings us to Smith & Black. Wanisha did not start, but her
high-energy hustle made me watch her every play, because she made
something happen nearly every moment she was on the court. She started
slowly, going to her bread-and-butter move: her dribble-drive. She missed
her first 2 attempts, but in traffic, and then turned the ball over on a
third attempt. Wanisha didn't stop hustling, getting 2 quick rebounds.
One she quickly outletted for a score, and other was an attempted outlet
that was poked away after her target grabbed it. Smith then got the ball
on the wing and found a nice angle for future teammate Black, who got
fouled. Her last significant play of the first half saw her dive to the
floor for a loose ball. Her stats weren't all that gaudy in the first
half, but her effort was first-rate.

In the second half, she again had a rough time early on. She hustled to
get an offensive rebound but misseed a tough stickback. Her only real
defensive breakdown of the night came when Houston drove on her and
scored. Wanisha continued to play hard, getting a one-handed steal in
traffic and just barely missing a spectacular shot. Up to that point,
Wanisha had 4 "almost" plays but kept on coming. Shortly after that miss,
she pulled up from three with a hand in her face and buried the shot. She
was then blocked trying to post up, was stripped again on a drive and
missed in traffic. Finally, in a move that will remind fans of Alana
Beard, she posted up against a bigger player and was fouled going up.
Given Coach G's love of inverting posts and perimeter players, Wanisha
will fit right in. Smith hit both foul shots and then nailed a three.
After a missed three, she finished in transition and then sank a three in
the corner. The totals: 5-12 from the field, 3-4 from three, 2-2 from the
foul line for 15 points; 4 rebounds, 3 turnovers and 2 steals. Of some
interest is the fact that her team had let a huge lead slip to about 14
points, and Wanisha's three point flurry helped put a stop to that.

Overall, Wanisha was a lot like I remembered her, only better. Her shooting stroke is smoother and her form is better; I recall her shot
looking a little flat when I saw her last year. It's obvious that she's a
leader on the court and makes things happen. She's quick and strong, able
to deal with contact and fast-paced play. I wouldn't say that she's a
jet, but she's no slowpoke. Wanisha plays with a tremendous amount of
poise and maturity. One never got a sense that she was forcing bad shots
(which is a miracle in this kind of game), but rather that she made sure
to be in the right place at the right time. I also don't think she's a
pure point guard, but rather a two guard who can pass and handle the ball
extremely well. Once again, with Beard leaving, this kind of versatility
is a must for Duke.

Now let's take a look at Chante' Black. The much-decorated NC native
just won the Mary Garber Award, given to
the top women's bbasketball player in northwestern NC. Prior winners of
this award usually went to either UNC (the really good players, like
Camille Little or LaQuanda Barksdale) or Wake Forest (the not-quite
as-good players like Porsche Jones and Gretchen Holifield), mixed in with
some future NC State players like Amy Simpson. It's nice to see Duke make
significant in-state inroads, because there are some very talented players
around. The fact that Black has strong academic ambitions was a big
selling point for Duke and could be again in the future.

In this game, two phrases immediately came to mind regarding Black:
"rebounding machine" and "needs to get stronger". Her stats were modest
in this game: 0-2 from the field, 2-2 from the line, 4 rebounds, 3
assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal. I think she got cheated out of a few
rebounds, however. When she came into the game, she immediately snagged
a rebound in traffic and grabbed another after a missed free throw.
Later, she committed a foul trying to block a shot, missed getting a
rebound in traffic and grabbed an offensive board but missed a stickback.
When Smith got her the ball (Chante had few looks at the basket), she was
fouled going up and hit both freebies. In the second half, Chante' got an
offensive rebound but had it stripped, got another board and immediately
fired an outlet pass, and blocked a shot (forcing a held ball). Black
kept playing hard, and was able to contribute a few subtle but significant
plays down the stretch. After getting a shot blocked by Parker, she
picked it up on the defensive end and forced a travel. Then she sealed
off her player with a screen, allowing Hornbuckle to waltz in for an easy
layup. After a miss where Hornbuckle fumbled the ball into Parker's
hands, Black went up and blocked Parker with her left hand, matching her
step for step. That was a quietly spectacular play, especially when the
ball fell into Hornbuckle's hands after the block.

This wasn't a good game to fully evaluate everything that Chante' can
do, especially on the offense end. She's a deft passer in addition to
being a great leaper, rebounder and shotblocker. There's no question that
she'll get immediate minutes because of her ability to rebound and block
shots. With Duke's tremendous post depth, she'll be able to go in and
play all-out for a few minutes without fear of foul trouble or fatigue.
Chante' doesn't need to be a star next year, but can definitely contribute
against teams with quick and athletic post players. If she can hit the weights this summer and add a bit of muscle to her lanky frame, and then
establish herself as a defensive force, you'll definitely be seeing a lot
of her next year.

By-the-by, the WBCA game finally has their boxscore
up. The team with Smith, Black, Parker AND Fowles somehow only managed to
score 47 points, with Wanisha going 1-6 and Chante' 1-2. The only player
who shot well for either team was Fowles, who had 15 points and 4
rebounds. Hornbuckle was on the winning team but she only shot 3-10.
Like I said, it's best not to draw any drastic conclusions based on such a
small sample, especially since there was so much talent on that court. It
should be a fascinating four years ahead of us.