Thursday, September 26, 2013

MORE as of Sept. 26/The Class of 2014 Blue-Chippers Are Finally Getting Picked Up

September 26--Cayla McMorris announced her choice a couple days ago--and it is the Wisconsin Badgers.

Tonoia Wade is going to St. John's (NY).

August 20--And more in the past few days:

Kendall Babb, Chaska--Marist (where she joins Sydney Coffey of Hopkins [2012])
Kaila Burroughs, St. Cloud Tech--Denver (where she joins Jordyn Alt of Cretin)
Michaela Rasmussen, Holy Family--Toledo (where she joins Lindsay Dorr of Rogers)
Grace Sawatzke, Monticello--North Dakota (where she joins Bailey Strand of Fergus Falls)

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August 11--Top 2014 recruit Cayla McMorris narrows list of colleges to 5: Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin. Speculation is that Minnesota came off the list when the Gophers got the verbal from Rangie Bessard of Dallas, TX. Like McMorris, Bessard is also a 6-1 forward.

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August 9--There have been a couple high D1 verbals since I wrote this. They are Tia Elbert (#4) and Hannah Grim (#13), both of whom are going to Marquette. Many of you know, of course, that Kenisha Bell (#3) is also going to Marquette. So that is quite the Minnesota backcourt, at least potentially.

Marquette compares, then, to Creighton which has Minnesota guards (but from different classes) Marissa Janning, MC McGrory and now Sydney Lamberty (#8 2013).

And that also compares with the Minnesota Gophers who have Rachel Banham, Shayne Mullaney, Mikayla Bailey and Carlie Wagner (#1 2014).

Cayla McMorris remains the top-rated 2014 who has not committed. I have been told that she has offers from Minnesota, Creighton and Marquette. And Pam Borton has said that with Rangie Bessard, the Gophers are done with the 2014s.

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With the announcement of Bailey Norby's verbal today and a variety of them in the past week, the recruiting process of Minnesota's blue-chippers in the class of 2014 seems to almost be done. 10 of the top 12 2014s have verbal led. Cayla McMorris remains the big prize but Tia Elbert will be a worthy recruit, and Hannah Grim and Grace Sawatzke can really play, too. Beyond that, there's a couple dozen D2 prospects and several dozen who are good enough to contribute at D3. But 1st we'll have to let the D1s play out. There are already 7 girls below the top 25 who have D1 offers and have verballed. But as a generalization, I think the top 25 are the real D1 prospects. So beyond the big 4, I expect Claire Lundberg and Tonoia Wade, in particular, to draw a high level D1 offer (not necessarily BCS high level but, you know, good basketball schools. Better perhaps than Valpo and Toledo, who have verballed MN girls in the past few days. Not that Valpo and Toledo aren't good offers--congrats to Anne Hamilton, Georgi Donchetz and Lindsay Dorr, who are going to those 2 schools.

And if that's correct--that the top 25 will command D1 opportunities, and 6 more below that already have offers--then that would be a total of about 31 D1s among the 2014s. That would be 1 more than the mighty 2013s, who got exactly 30. And the 2013s got 11 of those from BCS conferences and right now, I would expect 11 this year--10 of the top 12 plus Katie Quandt.

For the record the numbers for various years:

2014 (est.)--31 total and 11 BCS
2013--30 and 11
2012--23 and 8
2011--24 and 6
(numbers are courtesy of kjasr.com)

These numbers are perhaps skewed a little by the fact that Creighton was not high D1 (BCS) until now. I counted Creighton's recruits from previous years (Janning and McGrory) as BCS. The point is more that Creighton's change of status may have changed the way they recruit.

And, just for the record, the 2015s look more like a typical recruiting class--25 and 8--while the 2016s look more like the past 2 years--30 and 10ish.

But, returning to 2014, do the MN Gophers have any scholarships left? I didn't think so. Cayla McMorris would sure look in maroon and gold.

1. Carlie Wagner, NRHEG, 5-10, combo guard--Minnesota

2. Cayla McMorris, Park Center, 6-1, center-power forward--not verballed yet

3. Kenisha Bell, Bloomington Kennedy, 5-9, point guard--I've heard a report that she's verballed Marquette but it hasn't been confirmed

4. Tia Elbert, Tartan, 5-7, combo guard--not verballed yet

5. Chase Coley, Mpls.Washburn, 6-3, center-power forward--Iowa

6. Taylor Thunstedt, New London-Spicer, 5-8, combo guard--North Dakota State

7. Ellie Thompson, Chaska, 6-2, power forward-post--South Dakota State

8. Sydney Lamberty, Park, 5-10, off guard--Creighton

9. Bryanna Fernstrom, Chisago Lakes, 6-5, post--Iowa State

10. Bailey Norby, Forest Lake, 6-2, power forward-post--Creighton

11. Grace Coughlin, Benilde-St. Margaret's, 5-7, point guard--Minnesota

12. Kylie Brown, Simley, 6-3, forward--Creighton

13. Hannah Grim, Rosemount, 5-9, combo guard--not verballed yet

14. Maddie Dean, Jordan, 5-9, shooting guard--Drake

15. Grace Sawatzke, Monticello, 5-9, point guard--not verballed yet

16.-22. Michaela Rasmussen, Holy Family; Tonoia Wade, Kennedy; Clare Lundberg, Anoka; Bailey Strand and Brianna Rasmussen, Fergus Falls; Brooke Yaggie, Thief River Falls; Darby Youngstrom, North Woods--all not yet verballed

23. Alexis Alexander, Champlin Park, 5-8, point guard--South Dakota State

24. Katie Quandt, Lakeville South, 6-2, post--Boston College

25. Claire Ziegler, Mankato East, 5-11, forward--Mankato State

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31. Anne Hamilton, Minnetonka, 6-0, small forward--Valparaiso

39. McKenna Happke, Providence, 6-1, post-power forward--North Dakota State

41. Daijzah Morris, Centennial, 5-8, wing--Army

43. Georgi Donchetz, Burnsville, small forward-shooting guard--Valparaiso

45. Kyrah Fredenburg, Anoka, 5-11, small forward--Concordia (St. Paul)

47. Lindsay Dorr, Rogers, 6-2, power forward--Toledo

54. Destinee Morris, Centennial, 5-9, wing--Army

68. Alli Knuti, Mountain Iron-Buhl, 6-2, center-power forward--Bemidji State

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Orris Jirele won 4 Minnesota state basketball titles


Orris Jirele, who knew almost nothing but success on the basketball court, died last Saturday evening, September 21, 2013, of natural causes while duck hunting.

Orrie played high school ball at Austin Pacelli, leading the Shamrocks to the 1958 state Catholic championship. Austin High School won the MSHSL state championship that year, too, making this the only season ever in which teams from the same city (other than Minneapolis or St. Paul) won both the Catholic and public school titles in the same year. He then played college ball at St. Bonaventure (NY). He was the Bonnies' point guard at a time when they were rated as high as #3 in the nation (in 1961).

He returned to Minnesota where he taught math at Pacelli in 1964-1965. It was there that he met, and married, his wife of 48 years, Marie. They moved to Rochester the following year, where Orrie coached the Lourdes Eagles to the first three state Catholic basketball championships in the school's history. 

His first team, in 1965-1966, had no returning starters, no size to speak of, and no expectations of success. What they had was an aggressive full-court pressing defense—from baseline to baseline, and for 32 minutes. Nobody in southern Minnesota had ever seen anything like it, and Orrie and his kids just devastated teams with it. In the 1966 Catholic final, they hammered the DeLaSalle Islanders, who had won seven state titles in the previous dozen years, 64-43. 

The following year, Steve Fritz (yes, that Steve Fritz) transferred to Lourdes, rendering the Eagles unbeatable. But, as good as Fritz was in the lane, even he can tell you that the full-court defense of the Galuska brothers and Tom Resner was the key to their success. At the conclusion of Lourdes' unbeaten season, Jirele sent a letter to Duane Baglien, coach of the equally undefeated and two-time defending state (public) champions, proposing that the two schools meet during the 1967-1968 season. Jirele never received a response.

Lourdes won its third straight state title in March 1968, making it a clean sweep in the three years in which I lettered in high school hoops. The last game of my high school career was shellacking by Jirele's Eagles in the old Catholic regional tournament.

Jirele moved on to Green Bay, WI, in the fall of 1968, where he coached for five years. He returned to Minnesota in 1973, and coached (and taught math and was a counselor) at Albert Lea for 15 years, before retiring from coaching in 1988. Orrie took on a tough challenge, coaching basketball at the smallest school in the Big Nine and in what is generally regarded (and correctly so) as a "wrestling town." His son David was a wrestler. Still, his Tigers won three Big Nine titles, though they never played in the state tournament.

I had the pleasure of meeting Orrie many years later, thanks to his son David and granddaughter Andrea, who now plays ball at Eden Prairie. Among other things, I asked him where he learned the full-court defense that his Eagles deployed to such devastating effect. He said, oh, that was back east. Nobody played like that out here in the midwest in those days.

Jirele molded his strategies to the available talent

At Pacelli, Jirele played for legendary coach Marty Crowe who, like his protégé, also won four state Catholic titles—three in Wisconsin and the one at Pacelli. He "was known for molding his strategies to the abilities of his players," according to his obituary (in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 1999). So it was with Jirele. He said he used full-court pressure because the Galuskas, in particular, were good at it. He never played the full-court defense at Albert Lea, he said, because he never had enough players who were good at it.

He also reminisced about the days (and confirmed that it happened) when the dads of great athletes from various and sundry southern Minnesota towns would mysteriously receive offers of good jobs at the Hormel meat packing plant in Austin on the condition, of course, that their sons would play for the Packers. He named names.

Jirele is survived by his wife, Marie, of Albert Lea; four children; and ten grandchildren. Funeral services are at 11 a.m. Thursday, September 26, 2013, at St. Theodore Catholic Church in Albert Lea. Visitation is from 4 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, September 25, at Bonnerup Funeral Service, and one hour prior to the service at the church. Memorials are requested in lieu of flowers. 

Orrie was a great basketball player, a great basketball coach, a devoted husband and father, and a wonderful, warm, engaging and very likable man who will be missed by many.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Look Out!

The Lynx got off to a good start in the WNBA playoffs, thumping Seattle 80-64 at home and winning again 58-55 on the road. Yeah, that 2nd game was a little closer than one would like. Seattle was ahead 55-54 when Seimone Augustus made the game-winner with 39 seconds left. But it's a sweep and a much stronger effort than the 2-1 win over Seattle a year ago, in which the Lynx lost game 2 on the road and won game three at home by 1 point.

Like I said in my previous post about the Lynx: So far, so good.

But wait! In another sense, I don't like what I'm seeing at all. Looking more broadly at the other 3 playoff series, the WNBA playoffs have started out like last night's Emmys: Surprises galore. And that could mean one of two things. Or it could mean two of two things. Some of these playoff teams are not that good. Or, some are peaking at the right time. Or both.

Take Indiana, please. Indiana 2 Chicago 0. Chicago, after all, won the Eastern Division title this year, while Indiana finished 4th. But this is the same Indiana team that put it all together last year at this time and clobbered the Lynx 3-1 in the finals. Well, they're obviously putting it together again this year. So there's the second case--a playoff team peaking at the right time...again.

In the other surprises, #3 Phoenix won at #2 L.A. in that 1st game, then L.A. turned around and won at Phoenix. This may indeed be a case of both teams showing off their weaknesses. And the visitor has won both games in the Atlanta (#2 in the East) vs. Washington (#3) series. Again, maybe both of these teams are signaling their weaknesses and their inability to contend for a WNBA final.

But, again, there can be little doubt that Indiana has the ability to contend for the WNBA title, and to play out of their heads at playoff time. And it's not as if they finished strong, they finished 4-4 to get to 16-18, when 1 more win could have gotten them the home court in the 1st round, at least. They did beat Chicago, however, 82-77, in Chicago. And in the 1st playoff game, the hero of last year's NBA finals, Shavonte Zellous, led the way again with 20 points. And in game 2, their other hero a year ago, Tamika Catchings, scored a game-high 18 points.

They'll play Atlanta or Washington in the Eastern final. Washington or Atlanta will have home ice, and Indiana will be favored.

The Lynx now move on to face L.A. or Phoenix in the final. They'll have the home ice and they'll be favored. L.A. remains a dangerous opponent. But for now, all eyes are on Indiana. A repeat of last year's finals are likely--in terms of the two contestants--hopefully not in terms of the outcome. The Lynx will have to slow down Zellous, and nobody could do that last year. And they'll have to find a way to score inside against Tamika Catchings, and nobody could do that last year.

But, first, L.A. Or, Phoenix. Like I said, L.A. remains a dangerous opponent. Phoenix, not so much. But all eyes are on Indiana. Go, Lynx!

Monday, September 16, 2013

So Far, So Good

The Minnesota Lynx met their 1st goal for 2013, clinching home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Considering the Lynx are 15-2 at home and 11-6 on the road--and considering the L.A. Sparks are also 15-2 at home and just 9-8 on the road, and considering that Chicago is 14-3 and 10-7--home court advantage is not window dressing.

A reasonable conclusion, without getting into the number crunching too deeply, is that the home court advantage at least doubles the Lynx' likelihood of winning their 2nd WNBA title in 3 years. They can do it without ever winning a road game.

And they finished strong, winning 8 of their last 9, including 7 in a row before a 1-point loss at L.A. and a finishing 79-66 homecourt win over the East Division champion Chicago Sky.

At the beginning of the season I said that the Lynx' chances of winning the WNBA title would ride with Maya Moore, now in her 3rd year and ready now to play like a WNBA MVP. And, indeed, she's done that. She is now listed on the WNBA Web site as 1 of 5 MVP candidates--along with Elena Delle Donna of Chicago, Angel McCoughtrey of Atlanta, Candace Parker of L.A. and Diana Taurasi of Phoenix.

Moore increased her scoring by 2 points per game to more than 18, 3rd best in the league, mostly by virtue of her deadly 3-point shooting. She leads the league, making 50 percent of her attempts. She is now perceived as being the Lynx' best player, a perception that last year at this time leaned toward Seimone Augustus. Moore has been player of the week several times, and her 35 points against Indiana are the most by any WNBA player this year.

But, somebody is quoted on the WNBA Web site saying that Maya is now the "focal point" of the Lynx, and this perception is somewhat flawed. Moore played every game for the Lynx while Augustus missed 3 games with injury. On a per game basis, Augustus took just as many shots as Moore did, and Augustus shot .516 to Moore's .509. The difference, of course, is those 3s. But Seimone's scoring average is the same as a year ago, surprisingly.

There's also been no slippage in Lindsey Whalen's game, which I had erroneously predicted. I mean, she's 31 years old. But her scoring average increased more than Moore's, from 11+ to 14+. Her shooting percentage dropped from 50 to 48 percent, but her assists increased from 5.4 to 5.8.

Put it all together and the Lynx look a bit tougher than a year ago, which is a good thing because a year ago they weren't quite tough enough.

First Round Match-Ups

Minnesota 26-8 vs. Seatttle 17-17

Seattle might have a very slight advantage inside with Tina Thompson but, seriously, that would be very slight and Minnesota has the advantageLynx sweep. at the other 4 positions. That's why the Lynx swept the season series 4-0 by an average of 79-62.

L.A. 24-10 vs. Phoenix 19-15

We keep waiting for some kind of explosion from Phoenix, but it hasn't happened yet. Meanwhile L.A. boasts one of he WNBA's top talents in Candace Parker and a solid supporting cast. Of course, Phoenix boasts one of the WNBA's top talents in Diana Taurasi, but the supporting cast is not quite as ready for the playoffs. L.A. in 3.

Chicago 24-10 vs. Indiana 16-18

This could be interesting. Indiana cranking it up a notch at playoff time a year ago to win a surprising WNBA title. Chicago presents a formidable obstacle, but is Elene Delle Donna 100 percent? She suffered a concussion late in the year and was subpar vs. Minnesota in the regular season finale. Indiana in 3.

Atlanta 17-17 vs. Washington 17-17

Angel McCoughtrey should be the difference here. Atlanta in 3.