When Plano Senior’s Jordyn Merritt, Prestonwood’s Jordan Webster and John Paul II’s Nevaeh Tot hit the hardwood next season, they’ll do so having braved some of the top girls basketball competition in the country.
The three seniors all suited up for their respective club teams July 10-12 in Chicago to complete at Nike Nationals, the hallmark event of the Nike Girls Elite Youth Basketball League.
For three days, 32 of the country’s premier club teams scoured the blacktop-style hardcourts at the McCormick Place Convention Center vying for a national title with all manner of fans and college coaches watching nearby.
“It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Webster said. “I missed out on playing last year, so this was my first year on the 17U EYBL circuit. It’s a great feeling knowing that you get to play against the best of the best and to have a good showing. It’s one of the best circuits for girls basketball.”
Sidelined by a hip injury last summer, Webster made up for lost time by averaging 15.5 points – the ninth-highest scoring average in the 17U tournament – on 58.3% shooting to go along with 2.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals (ninth overall) as the leading scorer for Pro Skills, which finished 11th overall at the event.
Although Webster was a sure bet lead Prestonwood scoring on most nights, she, like most of the players on the EYBL circuit, has to prepare for a different role at the club level. With teammates like Irving MacArthur’s Sarah Andrews and Hannah Guster, The Colony’s Tamia Jones and LD Bell’s Myra Gordon, Pro Skills is littered with high-level scorers and Webster said that hot-hand approach often dictates where shots are distributed during a game.
Those chances materialized more often than not for Prestonwood’s star scorer, with Webster highlighting her stay at nationals with a 27-point outburst July 11 against Spiece Gym Rats where she converted 9-of-12 shots, including four from long range.
“Honestly, I was just feeling it that game,” Webster said. “I was making shots and finishing at the rim, and with our team, if you’re feeling it then you’re going to get the ball.”
Whereas a player like Webster was getting her first glimpse of the Nike Nationals stage, the event has become a routine part of Merritt’s summer. Making her third appearance, Merritt helped her club team, Cy-Fair, to a seventh-place finish – using her veteran platform as chance to develop as a leader both on and off the court.
“I’m the senior of the team and I’ve been around the circuit for a few years and know what the competition is like, so I feel like the team was looking up to me and I got to take on more of a leadership role,” Merritt said.
Averaging 7.8 points on 51.5% shooting to go along with 4.4 rebounds, Merritt admitted that undertaking was a little nerve-wracking at first, but something she willingly embraced throughout the week.
“After I spoke up and saw that some of the things I said worked, it makes you want to do it more and be more willing to give your input through the game,” Merritt said. “It’s a big responsibility, but I feel like I can carry it well.”
Along the way, Merritt and Cy-Fair earned some stateside bragging rights after closing out the tournament with a 56-49 victory over a DFW Elite squad where Tot helped anchor the backcourt. The John Paul II guard shined against Cy-Fair with eight points and five assists, averaging 5.4 points and 2.2 dimes for the tournament, but DFW Elite was ultimately unable to weather an early double-digit lead by Merritt and Cy-Fair.
“We’ve played against them a handful of times this summer, but at that point in nationals, everybody is tired and it’s just about who can pull through,” Merritt said. “If you do that, you’ll have an edge over the other team, and even though both of us were ready to compete, we started off pretty strong.”
With all comers anxious to ply their craft against some of the best competition they’ll see before college, Nike Nationals served its purpose as an iron-sharpens-iron battleground for the country’s elite hoopsters.
“It’s so different. In the EYBL circuit, if you see a team that’s 1-4, you can’t just go out there expecting that you’ll beat them by 20,” Webster said. “Records really don’t mean much at that level because every team knows how to compete and has great players.”
Players like Merritt, Webster and Tot now look to carry over the lessons learned cutting their teeth in the EYBL to their respective seniors years on the high school hardwood.
Tot and Webster will square off at least twice next season in the latest chapter of the John Paul-Prestonwood hoops rivalry, with Tot looking to build off an all-state campaign in her first year with the Lady Cardinals.
Webster, meanwhile, is thinking state championship as she and the Lady Lions seek a return to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools state tournament after a semifinal appearance last season. Dubbed by head coach Holly Mulligan as “the face of Prestonwood,” Webster is anticipating an uptick in responsibility during her last hurrah with the Lady Lions.
“I feel like my role is even bigger this year. I’m a senior and a leader on the team,” she said. “We don’t have our point guard (Payton Hicks) and top rebounder (Clare Traeger) on the team anymore, so I feel like my role is to step up even more.”
Merritt, the reigning District 9-6A Defensive Player of the Year, said she has spent her offseason sharpening her outside game and shot creation – trying to balance looking for her own shot more while getting her teammates involved – in hopes of turning in a memorable final high school season.
“I just want to make the most of my senior year,” Merritt said. “I’m ready to go out and compete but also want to have fun and enjoy the moment while I’m here.”