Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Elite 25: The Final Five

Ataira Franklin

You can quibble with the order here, and Lord knows we certainly agonized over who belonged where. But with all due respect to Nos. 25 through 6 on our list, you'll have a hard time convincing us that these aren't the five best returning Division I players in the state of Virginia.

5. Alyssa Bennett, Hampton
Efficiency score: 12.12
You know how they say NFL receivers who are being covered by cornerback Derelle Revis are
stranded on "Revis Island." Well, Hampton has "Alyssa Island," and most of the opponents who draw Bennett as their primary defender are, at least on that night, never heard from again. We've seen 20 ppg scorers reduced to scrounging for one measly field goal with Bennett on the case/in their face. On the nights when Bennett is also feeling it on offense, we'll put her two-way ability up against virtually anyone in Division I. But when evaluating Bennett's impact on games, offense is optional. We've seen nights in which Bennett was the best player on the floor without scoring at all.

4. Shae Kelley, 6-1 Jr. F, Old Dominion
Efficiency score: 16.25
It's tough to break into the pantheon of the greatest players in Old Dominion history, but if Kelley's career continues on the trajectory she established last season, it's not out of the question. It's not just that Kelley ranked in the CAA's Top 10 in scoring, rebounding, steals, blocks and field goal percentage; it's that she did so while showing the potential to produce so much more. Best of all, Kelley seemed content to blend in against overmatched foes and tended to save her best play for clutch situations against ODU's toughest opponents. We noticed this same tendency with Kelley during the 7-Cities Pro-Am Summer League. For most of the games she was just another good player. But when it was winning time, Kelley flat-out took over.

3. Robyn Parks, VCU
Efficiency score: 16.80
Not sure who was Division I's most improved player in 2012-13, but here's the case for Parks: Two
years ago, she averaged 6.6. points and 3.2 boards. Last year, she led the Atlantic 10 in scoring (18.7 ppg), finished second in steals (2.7 spg) and ninth in rebounding (7.9 rpg) and claimed first-team all-conference honors. Now granted, Parks was playing in a stats-friendly system and was the primary weapon almost by default given the Rams' shorthanded roster. But when you consider that Parks shot a highly respectable 47 percent from the field, it's clear she wasn't just out there jacking up shots. By any measure, Parks was a beast.

2. Kirby Burkholder, 6-0 Sr. F, JMU
Efficiency score: 17.38
Kelley and Parks could also make a claim for this spot, but remember, we're measuring not necessarily the "best" players, but the "most productive." And while Kelley and Parks were outstanding in 2012-13, Burkholder has been going off for two seasons. She was a third-team All-CAA selection in 2011-12 and cracked the league's first team last season after averaging 14.8 points and leading the Dukes in rebounding and steals. Burkholder now has 995 career points; not bad for someone who scored just 31 of those points as a freshman.

1. Ataira Franklin, Virginia
Efficiency score: 14.00
Despite battling a balky right knee seemingly her entire career - and particularly last season - Franklin earned first-team All-ACC honors and finished among the league's top 10 in scoring (14.3), steals 2.2), free-throw percentage (79.1) and, remarkably, minutes played (36.1). Her 1,192 points reign as the most by any active Virginia Division I player; the top four are:
Franklin - 1,192
Monet Tellier - 1,058
Kirby Burkholder - 995
Robyn Parks - 869
Now here's the best part - Franklin seemingly has responded well to the arthroscopic knee surgery she underwent last spring, as over the summer Cavaliers coach Joanne Boyle said Franklin was "moving better than she has in years." If a gimpy Franklin can put up these kinds of numbers, we can't wait to see how the pain-free version tears things up.

Top 25 - the full list

25. Jordynn Gaymon, Radford
24. Emily Frazier, Liberty
23. Jessica Pellechio, VCU
22. Jazmon Gwathmey, JMU
21. Kelsey Wolfe, Virginia
20. Janaa Pickard, George Mason
19. Jasmine Gardner, Liberty
18. Daiesha Brown, Longwood
17. Monet Tellier, Virginia Tech
16. Toia Giggetts, JMU
15. Ashley Rininger, Liberty
14. Sarah Imovbioh, Virginia
13. Kristina King, Richmond
12. Nikki Newman, JMU
11. Uju Ugoka, Virginia Tech
10. Genevieve Okoro, Richmond
9. Lexie Gerson, Virginia
8. Rachel Gordon, Norfolk State
7. Nicole Hamilton, Hampton
6. Becca Wann, Richmond
5. Alyssa Bennett, Hampton
4. Shae Kelley, Old Dominon
3. Robyn Parks, VCU
2. Kirby Burkholder, JMU
1. Ataira Franklin, Virginia

Just missed it: Tiffany Minor (7.58), Old Dominion; Precious Hall, JMU (7.11); Taijah Campbell, Virginia Tech (6.94); Rae Corbo, Norfolk State (played just one full game last year before blowing out a knee); Liz Brown, Richmond (6.80); Quineshia Leonard, Norfolk State (6.58); Mieke Elkington, Longwood (6.30); Katelyn Adams, Liberty (6.00); Becca Allison, Old Dominion (5.83); Kyra Kerstetter, William and Mary (5.03).

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