WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Bryana Henderson occasionally took a quick glance at the line of high-profile college coaches watching her game Saturday.
There tends to be some natural nerves when the likes of 60 college women’s basketball coaches representing 46 programs are at your school on a Saturday morning in early July.
But, it’s a fact that didn’t overwhelm the Lakota West sophomore guard.
“I kind of embrace it,” Henderson said. “I love looking over and seeing all the scouts watching my game and watching my team play.”
The first Ohio Girls’ Basketball Report Crystal Ball event presented by Beacon Orthopaedics and The Christ Hospital Sports Medicine accomplished plenty this past weekend.
At its heart, the event gave exposure to high school girls’ basketball programs and allowed dozens of college programs take advantage of up-close recruiting opportunities in a highly competitive environment just off Interstate 75.
“I’m looking at a row down there of Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida State – just to name a few,” Mason coach Rob Matula said in the main gym late Saturday morning. “And I’m thinking to myself, I’m not sure where else you would want to be. To put kids in front of those type of coaches is a great thing.”
As Matula spoke to WCPO.com, Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant walked by giving more credence to his point. "That's a pretty big name in the college world," Matula said. "That's very impressive."
The OGBR Crystal Ball was a one-day, eight-team high school tournament in which each squad played three games.
The eight teams that competed likely will produce more than 35 NCAA Division I players over the next four graduating classes. Plus, three of this upcoming season's four state champions likely could be from the event.
Area powers Mason (2016 Division I state runner-up) and Lakota West (2016 Division I regional runner-up and 2015 state champion) were invited, along with highly reputable programs such as Berlin Hiland, Huber Heights Wayne, Pickerington Central, Reynoldsburg, Gilmour Academy and Wadsworth (reigning Division I state champion).
UC, Xavier, Ohio State, Iowa, Connecticut, Florida State, Michigan State, Indiana, Pittsburgh, Northern Kentucky, Miami University and Penn State were among the schools in attendance.
The significant part of the exposure event was its 3-to-1 ratio of college coaches to high school players between the main gym and auxiliary facility. Even if a high school player doesn't project to be Division I at the collegiate level, the opportunity for Divisions II or III exposure definitely exists.
“Any time you can assemble some of the best programs in the state of Ohio, it’s a great thing,” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said. “There are a lot of great young players in the state of Ohio, and this is a terrific opportunity for me to see them.”
The NCAA-certified event was reminiscent of the annual Classic in the Country Challenge played each January during Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend in Berlin, Ohio. Dozens of college coaches sit on the baseline for that event, too, at the highly energized atmosphere of the Perry Reese Jr. Center in rural northern Ohio.
OGBR organizers started to coordinate the Crystal Ball event at Lakota West two days before the tournament. College and high school coaches along with event organizers offered a great deal of positive feedback from this past weekend. The event is planned for Lakota West in 2017 and could include up to 16 teams.
Not all the standout players from each high school team were present, however. Some opted to continue playing with their AAU teams out of the area. But, the 2017-2020 players who participated received plenty of recognition within the format.
“When you think about what’s the experience they get with their club basketball team compared to the experience that they are getting here, in an event where there is less games going on and yet there is still about the same amount of college coaches that would be in a facility with multiple gyms,” Lakota West coach Andy Fishman said. “They’re able to focus on just two games, so it’s an awesome opportunity.”
Ohio High School Athletic Association official practice doesn’t begin until Oct. 28, but OGBR director Tom Jenkins, who lives in Berlin, Ohio, says his aim was to have an environment conducive to high school programs.
“It just got to the point where high school coaches desired to take back part of the summer,” Jenkins said. “I think not only with them but with the OHSAA, with its new rules of four-person training you can do. I think the AAU myth is getting more exposed. Don’t get me wrong – I think there is benefits from AAU – but I also think there is a tremendous downside.”
Jenkins, a longtime statewide girls’ basketball expert, said he’s in the fourth year of a five-year study. He said 74 percent of all girls’ basketball injuries in Ohio that require surgical repair occur in the spring and summer.
“I’ve come up with four reasons – body fatigue because they are playing too many games, playing surfaces, bad officiating and lack of strength and conditioning in AAU programs,” Jenkins said.
“What do they have in high schools? They play on better surfaces and they have a strength and conditioning program. They have a limited schedule.”
Jenkins said the convenience for the college programs for the Crystal Ball is a win-win for everybody involved. Several college programs traveled to Chicago or Nashville for other AAU events this past weekend, so Lakota West was a convenient stop on their schedule.
“The whole idea is to try to re-empower the high school program,” Jenkins said. “I try to run an event that actually looks at the well-being of the kids without running them into the darn ground.”