Each year, superbly talented young basketball players from around the country descend on the Deep South Classic. In 2013, the list of standouts at the event will include a stellar 2014 forward out of the Southern Starz program in Birmingham, as well as a magnificent young phenom from the Class of 2016 out of the Bolingbrook Panther program in Illinois. The Deep South Classic, which will include 200 teams, will be played at the Raleigh Convention Center from April 19-21. This the second in a series of reviews about the Classic, and we’ll highlight other outstanding programs in the coming weeks.
The Southern Starz will be led by 6-0 Shakayla Thomas, who is rated as the No. 11 recruit in the Class of 2014 by the All Star Girls Report. The Bolingbrook Panthers have a number of quality players, but the spotlight will be on 2016 guard Nicole Ekhonu, who is listed as the No. 8 recruit in her class by ASGR.
According to Doug Bush, the director of the Southern Starz program, Thomas’ recruitment is wide open. She has received offers from programs from across the country, including the past two NCAA champions (Baylor and Texas A&M) as well as in-state SEC schools Auburn and Alabama.
“Shakayla has a rare combination of speed, athleticism and power that is probably unmatched for her age,” Bush said. “Her leaping ability gives her one of the most dangerous jump shots I have ever seen in the girls game. The has the ability to rebound the ball and take it coast to coast because she has real speed even with the basketball, and she has the strength and power to absorb contact.”
Chris Smith, the travel basketball commissioner for the Bolingbrook Panthers, is equally effusive when he talks about Nicole Ekhonu, who will be playing up on the Panthers’ 17 National team.
“Nicole just has unlimited athletic ability. She has 32 offers from BCS schools, and she is only a freshman. I think that says a lot,” Smith noted. “Nicole is 5-9, she can grab the rim with two hands, she is explosive off the dribble and she has three-point shooting the range. The thing that really separates her, though, is that she has already mastered the mid-range jump shot.”
ASGR analyst Bret McCormick is a big fan of both players.
“Shakayla is a super athlete, she has a very strong body, and she can score in bunches” said McCormick. “She just has a tremendous amount of potential. Nicole is an explosive athlete who handles the ball well, and she can score.”
The Panthers will also be expecting big things from Jasmine Lumpkin, a 6-0 wing who is listed as the nation’s No. 53 prospect in her class.
“Jasmine has a first step that is second to none, and she finishes well with either hand,” Smith said. “She already has 27 BCS offers. She is wide open right now, but she plans on narrowing her list to 15 after the Deep South.”
Two other Panthers who have received Division I recruiting attention for the 2014 class are 6-2 post player Ryaen Johnston and point guard Christina Ekhonu (Nicole’s big sister).
The Southern Starz have made a tradition out of bringing top-flight prospects to the DSC. For the Class of 2012, the Starz’s roster included Jasmine Jones (who currently is enjoying a tremendous freshman season at Tennessee) and Hayden Hamby (now with the powerful Purdue program). Both Jones and Hamby competed in four DSCs.
In addition to Thomas, this year’s lineup for the Starz will also feature three more Division I prospects for 2014: point guard Leah Strain (whose sister, Courtney, is a sophomore guard for the Auburn Tigers), 6-2 power forward Quanetria Bolton, and 6-0 wing Destiney Elliott.
Bush expects to bring a total of five talented Starz teams to Raleigh. The 2015 roster will highlight 5-11 combo guard Shaquera Wade and 6-1 wing Trista Magee. Wade is a tremendous athlete out of Huntsville, Ala., while Magee is currently completing her sophomore season at Presbyterian Christian School in Hattiesburg, Miss. Magee’s sister, Katye, is a sophomore at Tulane.
Here is a quick look at some of the other top-flight programs that will be competing in the National Division at the Deep South Classic: