The Philly Belles AAU girls program and the Haringey Angels of London have a unique arrangement that both hope will benefit each other and, in the long run, perhaps help the British national women's team.
The Belles and Angels have been sister programs for the past several years, with the Angels sending a few of their better players to the U.S. to play high school and AAU ball, with an eye toward player and individual development.
The latest is Temi Fagbenle, an athletic 6-foot-4 forward from northwest London who plays for Blair Academy in New Jersey during the school year and for the Belles' AAU program. She is one of the top prospects in the class of 2011.
"My game is much, much, much improved," said Fagbenle, who probably said "much" one or two more times. "In the States, it's much more competitive and aggressive. The coaching is very good. England basketball isn't really a big thing."
Belles director Mike Flynn became aware of the Angels after a number of English girls played at Notre Dame Academy in Middleburg. Flynn eventually contacted Angels coach Dan Bowmaker, and the two made a formal arrangement.
"Dan has a like-minded vision for his program that we do with the Belles," Flynn said. "Develop great players, grow the game, be impactful in your sport and in your area."
Bowmaker, a London native, was at Boo's Nike Invitational by accident. He was supposed to fly home to London late in the week, but his flight was canceled because of the Icelandic volcano ash that scrapped European air travel.
Stuck in the U.S. until at least the middle of this week, he flew to Virginia to watch Fagbenle and take in a major AAU tournament.
"There's not a facility like this in the whole country," Bowmaker said, referring to just the larger Howard White Pavilion at the BooPlex. "Never mind the facility across the hall. It's dire."
The Angels have won the national under-18 title for three consecutive years and have begun to send girls to U.S. colleges. Notably, Azania Stewart plays for Florida, Josette Campbell has committed to Long Beach State and Kashmere Joseph is at Seton Hall.
"We kind of pride ourselves on taking kids from a depressed area in north London," Bowmaker said, "and working with them to develop them as players and people. We don't really recruit. We just take the players in our area and a neighboring borough, and we've had some success."
National champsConnecticut coach Geno Auriemma was conspicuous by his absence, but Boo's tournament coincided with U.S. national-team practices and a game in Storrs and Hartford. As coach of the national team, Auriemma was unable to attend Boo's gig for the first time in years.
UConn assistant Chris Dailey, Auriemma's right hand for 25 years, was front and center Saturday before heading back to Connecticut on Sunday for both competitive and celebratory purposes. She parked herself between games on adjacent courts played by Boo's team and the Philly Belles.
"I don't know if you can put it into words," Dailey said, talking about UConn's second consecutive unbeaten season and title. "It's just a great reflection on the kind of kids that we have. They took the challenge and they met every challenge that was put in front of them the whole year."
Despite the fact that UConn was a prohibitive favorite all season, she said that the players embraced and appreciated every game, every moment.
"We never say that we're defending anything," Dailey said. "We didn't have to defend last year's championship because no one could take it from us. I think we approach it like we're going after something. We're going after history, and they understood that.
"They kept it in perspective, definitely better than most fans and maybe better than the coaches. Their mind-set was one that you really couldn't argue with."
The Huskies have won 78 consecutive games by an average of 33 points per game. Dailey said that she doesn't compare UConn's unbeaten teams — there are now four of them — or national champions, but given the numbers the past two years and the conversation about the numbers, she said you have to take notice.
"This year, and even last year, the way we beat some of the teams we beat was really impressive," she said. "To be undefeated is one thing, but to do it in the fashion that we did it is probably most impressive to me. You're talking about games at Oklahoma, at Duke, at Notre Dame. Two other teams in the top 10 in our league we had to play.
"There were a lot of opportunities for a misstep and we handled it really well."
NCAA presenceElizabeth Ramsey, the NCAA's assistant director of enforcement, gravitated through the crowds Friday and Saturday, chatting up coaches and players.
"It's typical for people in our department to come out here to these certified events," Ramsey said.
She said that she wasn't here for "Gotcha!" purposes — mostly to see and be seen and to make herself available to anyone with questions.
After Boo's team's Saturday morning game, Ramsey met with Elizabeth Williams, the high-profile recruit from Virginia Beach, and her parents for a few minutes.
Ramsey declined to discuss details of the conversation, but Williams said that the discussion centered around recruiting practices and making sure that rules were being followed. Ramsey offered the NCAA's services if they had questions.
Makeshift promBoo's tournament coincided with various spring proms and dances. Several girls with the Philly Comets 16-and-under team decided to play ball instead this weekend, and the team held a small, makeshift prom at their hotel Saturday night.
They brought dresses — not prom dresses — and the team reserved a room at the hotel for dancing and socializing.
"Every year the tournament conflicts with some people's proms," Comets coach Todd Githens said. "I gave the girls the option of coming or not coming. Whatever they decided was fine."