Gonzaga Women's Head Coach Kelly Graves has brought his Zags from the bottom to the top, and on the verge of a WCC championship and NCAA Tournament appearance. Last year, the women just missed the NCAA's and were promptly invited to the WNIT.
It all starts with recruiting, and being selective while doing so. Gonzaga is doing just that nowadays and the following nine guards are a testament to the high quality of recruiting Graves' staff is now implementing. ZagsHoops takes a look at the guards atop the Gonzaga wish list.
Briann January: Probably the best point guard to ever play in the Greater Spokane League, this Lewis and Clark High School star is as athletic and talented as can be. Briann plays a steady, under control style on offense, scoring when it's called for but more intent on running the team and distributing the ball. However, if a team backs off of her or gives her an inch, she'll burn them with a good outside shot or an even better knack for quickly taking it at the hoop and finishing. January is a defensive nightmare for opposing teams. She possesses some serious hops as evidenced by being a high jump champion in Track and Field. Briann will spend her summer playing for Ron Adams' Spokane Stars AAU team. Gonzaga's staff's toughest task will be keeping Briann January in Spokane.
Tamika Lipford: The San Diego area's best point guard resides in Oceanside and attends Bishops School. The 5'5" dynamo impresses almost every game she plays. In fact, look up her list of accomplishments and accolades like MVP or All-Conference or Player of the Game or 1st-Team are awarded Tamika for her outstanding play. Lipford usually scores in the teens, looking to dish first, score second. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Tamika is just how much of a winner she is. She has been a key to her school's six year conference domination. The southern California star plays on the same AAU team as new Gonzaga Bulldog Dominique Harris: FBC.
Sade Bunch: Las Vegas is known for gambling but Sade is as sure a thing as you'll find anywhere. Perhaps the purest point guard of them all, Bunch distributes the ball like crazy and simply makes her teammates better. If she gets 10 to 12 points, that's good. It's her assist numbers that are most important to Sade. Sometimes recruits from Nevada are overlooked, in the shadow of California prospects, but the GU staff couldn't miss on this outstanding guard. She will continue to star at Las Vegas High School for another year, then take her game to the next level. It could be in Spokane.
Emily Tay: Player of the Year. That just about sums up Emily. #42. You want 25 points a game? You want 10 assists? Need some big numbers in the rebounds and steals departments? Look no further than Marlborough School in Los Angeles and their 5'8" star point guard. Tay is the calibre of player that warrants the term "difference maker" and a commitment to Gonzaga would ensure that the Zags stay on top AND seriously upgrade at the point guard position. One of the top players in the west, regardless of position, it goes without saying the daughter of Leonard and Betty Tay would be a huge coup for the Gonzaga program.
Tay Hester: "Everyone knows the ball is going to Tay Hester but few have been able to do anything about it," wrote one sportswriter who watched Hester average 20.8 points per game and earn almost every award possible. The Perris High School product in Moreno Valley, CA., is an unstoppable ofensive force, able to create her own shot and shoot 3-balls or spot up and catch-and-shoot from anywhere. She also has the talent to drive to the hoop and either stop-and-pop a mid-range shot or lay it in or float a runner over a post player. Tay will spend her 2004 summer playing for the vaunted AAU team West Coast All-Stars.
Zag target Jen Risper defends an opposing guard.
Jen Risper: All-CIF Southern Section Division 1A. But accomplishments such as this don't tell half the story on this sharpshooter deluxe from Canyon Springs High School in Moreno Valley, CA. Risper is not only a great 2 guard but a born leader and is fully able to handle point guard duties if her team needs it, and her team did need her when their point went down with injuries. How did Jen respond? Wrote one sportswriter: "Filling in for standout Ebony Ward, who played just a handful of minutes because of knee and ankle injuries, Risper scored 13 of the team's final 15 points en route to a game-high 31. Most of her shots came over a zone defense that had given many of her Canyon Springs teammates fits in the second half." Jen embraces the leadership role and provides many of the intagibles that the Gonzaga coaches cherish.
Ebony White: From Los Angeles High School, Ebony has a way of doing whatever it takes to win against the toughest competition that L.A. has to offer. Be it a 30 point, 10 rebound, 5 steal game againt Franklin High School or a more modest 14 point, 12 rebound double-double against rival Fairfax, Ebony is an amazing athlete with great upside. For a guard, she is active around the hoop and grabs more rebounds than most opposing teams' forwards or centers get. She is a warrior on the court and a definite inside threat as a slasher and owns a good trey shot from outside. Very versatile.
Nicole "Nikki" Hayman: Rated number 31 in the nation by Fullcourt Press, a website dedicated to women's basketball, this outstanding 5'10" Troy High School guard is a natural talent and a big-time basketball player. The Fullerton, CA., native can deliver impressive numbers in multiple categories: scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. Co-Captain of her high school team, Nikki is a combo guard who is comfortable at the 2 guard spot or point. Referred to as Miss Outside (a nice shooting performance) in a big showdown over vaunted Norco High School, Hayman was a vital part of Troy's 2003 California State Championship held in Arco Arena where she was praised for her passing.
Traci Springston: One of the top guards in Colorado, Traci is a sharpshooting talent who, in a game that saw her Highlands Ranch High School team fall far behind 22-7 in the first quarter against powerhouse Horizon High, came out in the second quarter and not only shutdown Horizon but buried three straight treys to help tie the game at 31-31 by halftime. Springston doesn't get the publicity of many top guards in the west, but Colorado has long been a hotbed for great women's hoops talent, and Traci is further proof of that. All-State, All-Conference, the awards she'll earn her senior year (2004-05) will be tops in the entire state. She seems to be an ideal fit for Gonzaga.