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Some girls basketball teams growing bigger guards

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Not long ago, a 5-foot-11 high school girls basketball player like McDonogh's Dajah Logan never would have brought the ball up court. Her job would have been to get inside, get open and take the feed.

The taller you were, the less likely you were to be a guard. That started to change on the college level a while ago and now the trend has trickled down.

Tall players, such as Logan, Aberdeen's 6-1 Stephanie Jones and Patterson Mill's 6-foot Qalea Ismail, are developing skill sets that allow them to excel in the back court and play multiple positions. They've continued to improve their ball-handling and shooting skills through their growth spurts and onto the high school courts, where the public school season tips off on Thursday.

"Dajah's almost 6-feet tall and in the past, I think she would have been raised a post player," McDonogh coach Brad Rees said, "but all of these AAU and travel coaches emphasize ball handling now and it's made a big difference.

"Plus, I think the way the game is played has changed so much that it's a lot of one-on-one and ball screen and things like that, so you really have to be able to handle the ball if you're going to be effective offensively. With Dajah, Stephanie and Qalea, they're all kids that if you look at them, you'd say that's a forward-type kid, but they're bringing up the ball."

When Logan, a junior, began playing AAU basketball at 9, she said, the coaches stressed ball handling with everyone and she just kept working at it.

"I actually started off as a point guard," Logan said. "I wasn't that tall, but I wasn't that short either, and I just kept up my dribbling. Then I went through a growth spurt and I had to keep dribbling because I couldn't really move as well [inside]. Now since I've been dribbling for so long, I can still play the 1 position with my height, but I evolved to the 2-3 and now I work on the 4 too."

For girls fortunate enough to have the height, being a versatile player who can swing through the point guard, shooting guard and small forward positions is not only an asset to their teams but also a sought-after attribute by college coaches.

Maryland coach Brenda Frese points to Alyssa Thomas, the Terps' 6-2 All-American senior as a prime example. Listed as a forward, Thomas wasn't limited to one position in high school and has played every position during her Terps career.

"Potentially, the WNBA has maybe helped foster some of that," Frese said. "When you talk about the next level, the more versatile you are, the better ability you have to play at that next level. You're seeing players come out that are bigger, taller, stronger than in years past.

"Coaches won't just limit a 6-2 player and put her in the post if she has guard skills and the ability to face up. From AAU to high school to college to the WNBA, coaches want to put these players in the best position to be successful given their skill set.

Western coach Dafne Lee-Blakney said the change was already happening at the college level when she graduated from Western and went on to play at Maryland from 1988-92

"At the high school level, it hadn't quite caught up," she said. "Before it was more so about having somebody have IQ over the height, just the savviness. Now that you can have someone that's tall and also have the IQ and the know-how of how to run the point, they can see over the defense, which makes it hard if you're not so tall."

Logan already has committed to East Carolina, and Jones, a sophomore, and Ismail, a junior, are drawing lots of attention from major Division I programs.

"I feel like it's easier for a college coach to look for a taller guard than to look for a strict position player, especially if you're versatile, so I feel like that put me out there on the map a little bit higher," Logan said.

Early in the summer Logan, Jones and Ismail went to Colorado Springs to try out for the under-16 national team. With a wealth of backcourt talent in the Baltimore metro area, they were joined by Annapolis Area Christian's Taylor Murray, Milford Mill's Dionna White and McDonogh's Danielle Edwards — all first-team All-Metro picks last winter, along with Jones. Logan and Ismail were second-team.

Murray was the only one to make the U.S. team and helped win the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Cancun in June.

White, 5-9, along with Murray and Edwards, both 5-6, are getting lots of Division I college attention too, but those extra few inches can mean the difference between playing for a major college team or a mid-major.

"A lot of players don't get the looks because colleges say they're too small," Dunbar coach Wardell Selby said. "That's one of the things I always preach: Let your bigger girls play different positions so when it's time to go to college they have more choices, more chances to play. On my team, LaShay Stackhouse, she's 6-foot, 6-1 and I want her to dribble the ball, because one day she might not be the biggest kid."

Jones, who helped Aberdeen to its second straight state Class 3A championship, can play any position and led the Eagles last season with 17.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Ismail, whose Patterson Mill team reached the state semifinals her first two seasons, can move around the court too, averaging 15.1 points and 7 rebounds per game.

"I think the game's changed in that the kids are better athletes," Roland Park coach Scott Buckley said. "They're developing better skills earlier so they can come right in and be a big guard in high school where in the past we've had some guards who played inside as freshmen and had to learn guard skills to move out. Now they're developing those skills when they're younger no matter what size they are."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kdunnsun

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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