Sunday, July 31, 2005

DelleDonne leads her team to AAU national title

Another basketball season, another championship for Elena DelleDonne.

The 15-year-old, 6-foot-4 star from Centreville led her AAU team to a second consecutive national title on Wednesday in Clarksville, Tenn., scoring 40 points in Fencor's 78-67 victory over the Fairfax (Va.) Stars.

According to AAU officials, DelleDonne's 40 points were a record for a girls championship game.

Fencor, based in Fort Washington, Pa., won the 15-and-under title after taking the 14-and-under championship last summer. DelleDonne also led Ursuline to state titles in her first two seasons of high school ball.

"It's pretty much the same feeling every time," DelleDonne said of playing on four championship teams in two years. "It's amazing and you can't describe it unless you've been through it."

Other tournament teams made a point of sticking around to watch DelleDonne play. And opposing players asked DelleDonne to sign autographs and pose for photos as Fencor dominated the 95-team event at Austin Peay University.

Fencor, which also includes Ursuline guard Erin Edwards, finished 11-0. DelleDonne averaged 22 points per game while sitting out much of the second halves.

Only one Fencor victory was by fewer than double digits. In that game, with her team trailing by four with 1:45 to play, DelleDonne scored eight of her team's final 10 points in a 65-61 win.

In the championship, Fencor faced the Fairfax team that beat them in the final of the 13-and-under tournament two years ago. Facing Jasmine Thompson, the Virginia high school player of the year, DelleDonne went off.

"She was unstoppable," said Fencor coach Veronica Algeo. "They threw different people at her -- little people, big people -- and none of it worked. Elena was hitting from all over the place."

The title helped make up for a rough summer for DelleDonne, who missed a month of play while fighting an infection and a fever. She attended a prestigious 22-player Nike camp, the only sophomore there, but couldn't participate.

She's back now. Algeo said University of Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt watched nine of DelleDonne's 11 games, while Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma watched the final five.

"When I walk in, I see them," DelleDonne said. "I know it's good that they're taking the time to come and see me. But when I'm on the court, they don't exist."

Angels reaching for the heights

Kenner team is attracting a lot of attention

Completely confident in her Kenner Angels, Caitlin Cleveland looked straight ahead and answered the question with ease.

This group of 15- and 16-year-old girls has won two Amateur Athletic Union national championships, in 2000 and 2001. They didn't become that good just from practicing whenever they had spare time between homework and home room.

There's something else to it.

"It was bred within us to annihilate everyone we played," Cleveland said.

Don't believe her?

When the Angels were eighth-graders, they couldn't find any suitable competition their age, so they played in high school camps.

The Angels didn't just win, they beat every team they faced. The high schoolers would lose by as much as 30 points to Kenner, Cleveland recalled.

"We were a very good team," Angel forward Adrienne Johnson said. "We just wanted better competition."

During the six years this core group of Angels has been together, they have placed in the final four of the national tournament five times. Their worst finish was eighth. That's out of 100 teams from across the country that qualify for the field.

They have six or seven players who likely will play NCAA Division I basketball, Angels coach Alan Frey said, and a few others could wind up playing at smaller colleges.

Cleveland, the team's point guard, has received questionnaires from Baylor, Tennessee, Florida and Connecticut. Colleges can't send letters to prospective student-athletes until Sept. 1 of the player's junior year of high school.

Adrienne Johnson, the Angels' leading scorer, has received mailings from Tulane, Mississippi State and Louisiana Tech.

But this confident group of Angels doesn't let what comes in the mail go to their heads. They don't really talk about it.

"They try to play it cool," Frey said.

At most gymnasiums where the Angels play, college recruiters chart their every move. Earlier this week, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt watched three Angels games.

Talk about pressure.

"I was definitely star-struck," Johnson said of playing in front of Summitt.

The Angels, founded in the late 1980s, have nine AAU national titles. Nearly 50 players who went through the Angels program played NCAA Division I basketball, including assistant coach Shondra Johnson, who led the team to five AAU titles, including the 1996 AAU Junior Olympic Games. She was the AAU Joel Ferrell Award winner for most outstanding player in her sport.

On Friday, Kenner won two games in the double-elimination tournament at the Alario Center. The championship game for girls basketball is Tuesday.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Conference room to bear Campbell's name

Refurbished suite will be for Lady Vols' use

Pat Summitt and the Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team will not let the memories of longtime and faithful fan Gerry Campbell slip away.

Their new conference room - to be designed for team meetings, film sessions and staff meetings - will be named in memory of Campbell, a Lady Vols fan almost from the time Summitt was hired by UT in 1974. A portrait of Campbell and a plaque will be displayed.

The room will be in the Lady Vols basketball suite of Thompson-Boling Arena - an area which once served as Summitt's office.

Several of Campbell's close friends are heading a fund-raiser for the project, which is expected to be completed sometime in September.

"Gerry was, without question, one of the most-loyal Lady Vol fans," Summitt said Thursday. "From the time I started coaching, he started watch our basketball team - but not just basketball. He was a fan of all Lady Vols sports.

"The Olympics was his passion and I was fortunate to see him just before he left for Athens (Greece)," Summitt said.

Campbell became ill as he prepared to return home from the Olympics and died Oct. 7, 2004 in an Athens hospital. He was 74.

"Gerry was a wonderful friend to me and to the Lady Vols athletes," Summitt said. "So, for us to just have something in his memory is truly special. I miss him so much. He was a wonderful friend."

The project was recommended to UT by Campbell's longtime friend Martha Winkler. Contributions may be sent to Lady Vol Development, McKenzie-Lawson Athletic Center - Level 1, Gerry Campbell Project/Attn. Dara Worrell, P.O. Box 15016, Knoxville, Tn. 37901-5016.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Anosike's on the rise

Building on an impressive freshman season at the college level, Lady Vol basketball player Nicky Anosike appears to be stepping her game up another notch against international competition this summer.

Anosike, a 6-4 post player, produced 14 points and 12 rebounds in just 19 minutes of action Sunday as the U.S. thumped Serbi and Motenegro 94-68 in the FIBA Women's Under-19 World Championships at Tunis, Tunisia.

Anosike came on strongly near the end of her first season with Tennessee last winter. She led all Lady Vol scorers in back-to-back games against Alabama (19 points on Feb. 27) and Auburn (15 points on March 4).

The talented New Yorker then turned in an imposing showing in the NCAA Tournament. She scored 11 points with 6 rebounds in the Round of 32 game against Purdue, then produced a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) in the Sweet 16 win over Texas Tech. After a 14-point, 7-rebound effort against Rutgers in the Elite Eight, she closed with a 7-point, 13-rebound outing against Michigan State in the Final Four semifinals.

Anosike finished the season with averages of 6.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 20.3 minutes per game. She grabbed nearly half (104) of her 214 total rebounds off the offensive board. She also recorded 50 assists (including seven in one game against Arkansas) and 60 blocked shots.

Clearly, this is a budding star whose stock is on the rise.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Paradise Jam

Never afraid to play a game anywhere, Pat Summitt will take her 2005-06 Lady Vols to the U.S. Virgin Islands to open their season -- and celebrate Thanksgiving. Tennessee, which lost 68-64 to Michigan State in the semifinals of the Final Four last March, could face the Spartans again in the Paradise Jam Nov. 22-27. The Lady Vols are in the St. John field, which includes Maryland, Gonzaga and Michigan State. The other half of the tournament, the St. Thomas field, features Alabama, Minnesota, Nevada and Virginia. Travel packages for the event are $1,000/person for a double room or $1,500/person for single occupancy. What's a little pocket change when coconut shrimp and umbrella drinks can replace turkey on Thanksgiving menus?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Hornbuckle preparing for heavier workload

Alexis Hornbuckle had an outstanding freshman season at the University of Tennessee.

But she is going to be asked to do more for the Lady Vols this year, so she is getting ready. Hornbuckle has spent the majority of the summer in Knoxville preparing for the upcoming basketball season.

“I have been working on my shooting,” Hornbuckle said. “Coach Pat [Summitt] asked me to work on that aspect of my game because I think I’ll be called on [to shoot] more.”

There has been little rest in the offseason for Hornbuckle.

“I’ve been taking classes, which ends this week,” she said. “And I have been working camps and working out. Shooting has been No. 1, but I have also been working on my strength and conditioning.”

The former Capital and South Charleston Class AAA all-stater and three-time West Virginia girls player of the year led the Lady Vols in assists, steals and defensive rebounds for the season, though she started just 21 of 35 games.

But even if Hornbuckle wasn’t penciled in the starting lineup, it wasn’t long before she made it to the scorer’s table.

“We had some injuries, but we were a pretty deep team to begin with,” she said.

Hornbuckle grabbed high-point honors in three high-profile games — against Louisiana Tech, UConn and a NCAA semifinal loss to Michigan State. For her efforts, Hornbuckle was a two-time Lady Vol Player of the Week and Co-Southeastern Conference Player of the Week once.

Playing for Summitt proved quite an experience last season as the coach reached the NCAA all-time basketball win record. Summitt finished the season with 882 career victories, breaking Dean Smith’s record of 879 career Division I victories with the North Carolina men.

“That was fun,” Hornbuckle said. “After the game, they announced the court was named for her and she was caught completely by surprise.”

Tennessee reached the NCAA Women’s Final Four before bowing out to Michigan State.

“It was great [making it to the Final Four],” said Hornbuckle. “But the atmosphere wasn’t much different from our regular-season games [at Tennessee], though. It was fun.’’

Never timid with her skills, Hornbuckle admitted that her confidence level is still growing.

“It’s an honor to play here,” she said. “It’s a whole new level of confidence. It adds a whole new swagger to your game.”

With former high school teammate Renee Montgomery heading to UConn this year, the possibility of matching two former West Virginia players of the year is an intriguing one.

“I can’t wait,” said Hornbuckle. “We still try to stay in touch. We haven’t played against each other since eighth grade when I was at Dunbar and she was at Hayes.”

The results?

“We won twice,” Hornbuckle said.