Zag Targets shine in All-Star Event

Stars galore showed up at University High School in the Spokane Valley to showcase their skills. The girls put on a terrific show with plenty of D1 talent on display, including a few who are targeted by Kelly Graves' staff at Gonzaga.

Speed kills, that's for sure when it comes to high school girls hoops. With guards applying ball-pressure and wings shooting the gaps in the passing lanes, the Spokane Metro all-stars racked up 116 points to defeat a regional team that was arguably stronger in the paint but was "held" to 88 points after turning the ball over 32 times. Gonzaga University players Rae Jewell, Shannon Mathews, and Katy Ridenour along with 1500 other fans were treated to a fast-paced exhibition of local female basketball talent in the Jack Blair All Star Game Wednesday night.

The game was played at University High School in Spokane Valley, pitting the Metro Stars against a team of Regional All-Stars from North Idaho and the outskirts of Spokane. Both squads included players of interest to Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves and his staff. Featured performers included University High junior Jami Bjorklund and her precocious sister, freshman Angie, lightening-quick junior Briann January from Lewis and Clark High School. The regional team included six foot three inch post player Angela Hartill from Riverside High. Several seniors also played including D-1 signees Reagan Pariseau, who will be joining her former Central Valley teammate Emily Westerberg at Arizona State (cousin Danny Pariseau is point guard at EWU), and Eastern-bound center Abbie Johnson, who was the female all–conference counterpart to new Zag Josh Heytvelt at Clarkston High School.

The rules of the Jack Blair game preclude full court pressure in the first half of play. The Regional All-Stars took full advantage of the lack of a press to work the ball into their taller posts, lobbing over the heads of the fronting Metro defenders and tossing some nifty interior passes to hang with the Metro team for a close and entertaining first half. Center Angela Hartill showed good hands, positioned herself well, and finished in traffic despite weak side help as she battled the determined fronting tactics of the Metros. Jami Bjorklund demonstrated her nose for the basket, scoring on a variety of jump shots off the dribble and offensive rebounds. Brianne January wasted no time in bringing the crowd to their feet when she entered the game as she blew through the Region's defenders to score on an acrobatic flying one-handed scoop shot worthy of Elgin Baylor. Rangy Angie Bjorklund plays confidently facing the basket despite being the tallest guard on the floor and the youngest player in the game. Fellow freshman, Nikki Nelson, also played well for the regional squad facing the daunting task of handling the ball against two formidable defenders in January and Pariseau. Her Maravich-like ability to handle the basketball was the featured entertainment at half time and was worth the price of admission.

In the second half the no-press rule lifted, and a second rule peculiar to the game came into play, the allowance of six fouls before disqualification. Those two items were all January and Pariseau needed as they and Gonzaga Prep point guard Corrina O'Brien began to pressure the ball. With the Bjorklunds lying in wait in the passing lanes, it was turnover time for the Region and the game eventually became one-sided as there was little opportunity to control tempo and work the ball inside.

Jami Bjorklund ended the game high with 20 points and had 13 rebounds, showing why she is rumored to be high on Kelly Grave's wish list. Briann January soared to steal passes from mid-air, grab offensive rebounds, and ran the floor with speed and change of pace that left defenders looking frozen to the floor. She is the type of player who does not need to score a basket to control the game as she can create mis-matches and find the open man and throw the opponent's offense in to disarray with her ‘D'. What a pleasure it would be to watch her and Jami team-up at GU like they have for the past few years in AAU ball. Angela Hartill is a legit 6'3" post who is athletic and skilled. Another starter on the Spokane Stars AAU team that reportedly may be the best ever (and Westerberg's team won back-to-back national championship tournaments a few years ago!!), Hartill will be in high demand. It's intriguing to imagine her progress with some serious position coaching and playing against quality bigs day in and out. Finally, there were plenty of others who look to be ‘locks' as future D-1 players. Besides Angela Bjorklund who is already on the national radar, there is sophomore post Heather Bowman who posses quick hops and a soft one-handed jumper, three point threat Emily Kuipers who is teamed with the Bjorklunds on a loaded University High team, the darting O'Brien from Prep, and as Nikki Nelson begins to pass and shoot like she dribbles, look out world! In summary, the area is deep in talent and Gonzaga has some opportunities at its own doorstep to provide some talented young women the chance at a great education while playing in front of appreciative friends and family.

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