Chicago, IL: Opening night of the annual 2019 Nike Nationals got off to a great start as we saw all of the Nike 16U & 17U teams hit the hardwood at the McCormick Center in downtown Chicago. Some of the top players in the country were on fill display and many rising prospects looked to make a name for themselves.
Nike Nationals Day I Top Performers
2021 Christina Dalce 6’2” PF NJ Sparks Hines-Allen 17U EYBL
Kids with great motor and energy will stick out like a sore thumb. Cheers to Christina Dalce for running the floor hard and seemingly getting at least a hand on everything coming off the rim. Dalce showed the ability to impact the game in so many areas. Defending on the perimeter and post as well as rim running and getting several offensive rebounds. You simply can’t buy what she has and that’s the will to compete on every possession.
2021 Shannon Wheeler 6’2” PF Michigan Crossover 16U EYBL
Here is a kid who is improving every year. Though her team suffered a tough double-overtime loss to Essence, Shannon Wheeler was consistently good. With soft hands, she grabbed multiple shovel passes from PG Kailee Davis and finished in traffic. Wheeler also defended the rim and grabbed crucial rebounds to limit the opponents to one possession. She showed off her stroke from the free throw line and even calmly sank a baseline triple to bring her team to within one in the final seconds of the second overtime. Wheeler did a little bit of everything and is rounding herself into BCS player.
2023 Jada Williams 5’7” PG Missouri Phenom 16U EYBL
Jada Williams short-lived career is already well chronicled so I’m only here to report the growth and maturity in her game. In the matchup vs. Michigan Crossover, Williams showed the ability to do the simple things at a high level. She made all her layups in transition, kept her man in front of her, and knocked down the open shot. When called upon, she initiated the offense or created offense for herself or her teammates. The composure and confidence at her age is unparalleled. Williams made the layup to force overtime and gave her team a chance in OT by knocking down a deep three under duress to tie the game at 63. Phenom would go on to drop a great game, 66-63 vs. a tough Michigan Crossover team.
2021 Okikiola Iriafen 6’3” PF West Coast Premier 17U EYBL
In a society where we glorify the ball dominating play of the scoring guard, seeing a big dominate a game off the ball was refreshing. Okikiola Iriafen is a tremendous asset on the offensive boards where you will find her grinding it out just for the possibility of even getting a fingernail on the ball. She got plenty of extra possessions for her team including offensive rebounds and putbacks, steals, and a few forced turnovers. She’s a rim protector too. And she did just that with several blocks and shot-altering plays. Iriafen is an anchor you can build your defensive scheme around.
2021 Khylee-Jade Pepe 5’11” SF West Coast Premier 17U EYBL
Khylee-Jade Pepe is the plug for West Coast Premier 17U. She’s strong and has a great motor. She was able to guard all perimeter positions and forwards that were taller than her. But the most appealing thing about Pepe is her dominance on the boards at 5’11”. I’m not sure if that’s the norm for Pepe, but her rebounding kept West Coast Premier in the game though they would eventually fall 63-52 to Pro Skills.
2021 Tatiana Popa 6’6” C Team Takeover 16U EYBL
At 6’6” Tatiana Popa is not hard to miss. She has a wingspan to die for and she used that length to block and alter shots in Team Takeover 63-52 win over Drive Nation. Popa is still developing some essential skills like chinning the ball and pivoting to through better outlet passes but she does some things well too. She stays big and wide and is an imposing sight for those who dare to try to score in the paint. She also was very aware of her role to box out and rebound. The sky is the limit for this kid.
2021 Maria Gakdeng 6’2” PF Team Takeover 17U EYBL
Listed at 6’2”, Maria Gakdeng looks and plays longer than her listed height. She leveraged her length, agility, and athleticism to make an indelible impact on the game. She doesn’t have the stats to show for it, but every great team needs a kid who does their job consistently and plugs up holes when rotations aren’t right or loose balls need to be had. That’s what Gakdeng does, she plugs up the holes.
2023 Zoe Brooks 5’9” PG New Jersey Sparks Hines-Allen 17U EYBL
Youngin has a whole lot of game and the confidence to match. Zoe Brooks played with pace and poise this morning. Though she did not shoot well from the field, the feel for the game is there. She had a few assists here and a few buckets there. Listen, she will have some growing pains at the 17U level, but Brooks has the IT factor and I’m looking forward to seeing how high this elite talent can go.
Nike Nationals Day I Top Team
Team Takeover 17U looks poised to make a run at the EYBL 17U championship. Size, depth, and versatility are present 1 thru 11. All those same attributes are bodied in one player in particular and that’s Angel Reese. The 6’3” small forwards are just different. Her elite agility and ability to move fluidly on the court is unmatched and makes her impossible to match up with. Team Takeover has six players over 6’2” and they control the boards. 6’2” SF Madison Scott is one of those hybrid players that just seems to pull everything together with her unselfish play and ability to create for herself and others. Team Takeover has the firepower to compete for the crown.
Nike Nationals Day I Top Game
Michigan Crossover 16U - 66
Missouri Phenom 16U - 63
Back and forth...and then back and forth again in this overtime thriller. four players made three triples or more as the pace was fast and furious. Logan Lewis was hot early for Michigan Crossover. She’s a kid you can’t leave open and she has proven that over the spring and summer. PG Kailee Davis is the catalyst for the Crossover attack and made great plays down the stretch. 2023 Jada Williams made a layup in the final seconds of regulations. Then in overtime, Williams made a triple to tie the game but it was not enough as Michigan Crossover closed the deal by making free throws.