By Tom Robinson, NEPA Elite News.com
The NEPA Elite Clark 17U girls team will make its longest road trip to date when it heads to Texas to take on different challenges in front of new observers.
The team plays in the Premier Basketball Super 64 National Championship, an ESPN Affiliate tournament, in Dallas Tuesday through Thursday, then travels back east to take on more familiar opponents. It begins the Hoop Group Championship Weekend in Atlantic City Saturday with defense of its Hoop Group Showcase League title on the line.
NEPA Elite opens Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. against Texas Elite 17U 3SSB, an Adidas-sponsored team, as part of the 32-team Stanford bracket. The team returns to action at 8:45 that night, if it wins, or 10, if it loses.
With National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I coaches allowed to recruit in person for the first time since restrictions went in place for the pandemic for more than a year ago, NEPA Elite founder and head coach Kevin Clark said Texas was the place to be this week.
Dunmore High School’s Moriah Murray and Riverside’s Kylie Lavelle are already committed to Division I scholarships as future teammates at Drexel; Dunmore’s Ciera Toomey is one of the nation’s most sought-after players in the Class of 2023; and other NEPA Elite players are being observed by college recruiters.
“We had a lot of interest in some of our players on a collegiate level,” Clark said. “Obviously, all the top universities and colleges in the country have their eyes on Ciera. This was a tournament, after getting invited to it, that we felt fit our best interests to be seen on a national level.”
Clark said the event was appealing for multiple reasons.
“One, it’s going to be all new competition for us,” he said. “Two, it gets us out of the Northeast Region. And, three, it will be our first event back in over a year that allows college coaches in the gym watching us.
“All the conversations I’ve had with the top colleges in the country, they’ll all be in attendance. It made a lot of sense for us from an exposure and recruiting standpoint and a national competitive standpoint.”
The team has been in competition for less than a calendar year because of pandemic-related alterations to the 2020 AAU schedule. During that time, it has gone 40-8, including 15-5 when playing against opponents sponsored by the three major sneaker companies – Nike, Under Armour and Adidas.
NEPA Elite can expect to face more of those teams in Texas.
“We’ll get to see the southern, Midwest and western, EYBL, Under Armour and Adidas teams,” Clark said.
The Clark 17U girls are the only ones headed to Texas.
The other NEPA Elite girls teams will join in for the Atlantic City trip and a shot at Hoop Group Showcase League championships. First, they will play Tuesday through Thursday in the Select Basketball Events Summer Showcase at Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim.
A year ago, NEPA Elite claimed both 17U titles at the Hoop Group Championships, including the Clark team claiming the first HGSL title. The NEPA Elite Genco 17U team won the 2021 Division title.
Hoop Group on Saturday announced seeds for the three HGSL Championships that will be on the line in the three-day event.
The Clark team is the third seed out of 20 teams in the 17U Division. It will open in the Round of 16 against the winner of the game between 14th-seeded NEX Elite and 19th-seeded Connecticut Attack.
The Empire State Blue Flames are the top seed, followed by the DMV Lady Tigers, a team that defeated NEPA Elite in the Platinum Championship Bracket at the Hoop Group Southern Jam Fest in Hampton, Va. in June.
The NEPA Elite Sheehan 16U team is seeded 14th of 18 teams in the 16U Division. It opens against third-seeded United New Jersey.
The NEPA Elite Scoblick 15U team is seeded eighth out of 16 teams in the 15U Division and will begin its tournament against New Jersey Shoreshots. A win would create a likely quarterfinal matchup with the Empire State Blue Flames, who also have the top-seeded team in this age group.
I-90 Elite has the top-seeded team in the 16U Division.
It was the I-90 Elite-Wright team that NEPA Elite Clark rallied late to defeat in the 2020 HGSL Championship game, 62-60, on Toomey’s tip-in in the final second.
Toomey went 19-for-29 (65.5 percent) from the floor and 10-for-13 (76.9 percent) from the line in the four games of last year’s tournament. She is coming off a tournament in which she made 30 of her first 37 shots when the Clark team won its first four games to reach the final of the 32-team Prime Event East Platinum Championship Bracket before losing.
The Clark team had won nine straight prior to that, including winning the championship of the Hoop Group’s Pennsylvania Showcase June 11-13 at East Stroudsburg University.