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AAU basketball players back in front of college coaches again, but challenges await most high school prospects
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GIRLS BASKETBALL

AAU basketball players back in front of college coaches again, but challenges await most high school prospects

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It’s time to announce the winners of the 2021 Prep Sports Awards. These high school athletes have had amazing seasons this year and we are proud to celebrate their achievements.

Dyvine Harris got used to playing in front of limited crowds.

She played her sophomore season at Lincoln North Star where spectators were greatly limited because of COVID-19 protocols. Her AAU team, Team Factory out of Omaha, played in nearly empty gyms last year at this time.

That has changed this summer.

Girls basketball teams are traveling around the country for AAU tournaments, and players like Harris, unlike last year, are getting a chance to showcase their skills in front of Division I and II coaches, who were limited to watching games on digital devices.

"It's really fun to play in front of coaches, and it's a lot different because there's a lot more people now," said Harris, a 2023 prospect who is transferring to Lincoln High. "There's more teams out now that COVID is not as bad, so it's better."

The NCAA shut down many aspects of recruiting, including live evaluation periods, in March of 2020 when the pandemic took grip of the world. The dead period was not lifted until June 1 of this year.

July, typically a big month for prospects and coaches, is here, and for the first time in a long time, college coaches can attend tournaments. There are 11 live recruiting dates in July (J6-12 and 21-25), and area AAU girls teams are looking to take advantage, competing in events in Indianapolis, Des Moines, Chicago and Wichita.

"(I'm) really excited for our 23s and 24s," said Brittany Wilson, who is one of the directors and coaches with Team Factory. "Two years ago they were eighth- and ninth-graders, so they really haven't had opportunities to be directly in front of coaches."

Harris is a 2023 recruit, so she still has some time to figure out where she wants to live out her dream of playing college basketball. Still, there is a sense of playing catch-up.

"It did, definitely," Harris said when asked if last year's lack of live recruiting hurt her process and timeline. "They weren't able to watch you play, so it was very hard."

For Mattie Campbell, her recruiting window is a bit shorter as she prepares for her senior season at Lincoln East.

"This is my first summer that I actually got to play for a traveling team," said Campbell, who is playing for the Cornhusker Shooting Stars. "Now I have to hurry up and find something.

"It's been a little stressful."

Campbell is not alone in the stress department, as there are other obstacles facing the 2022 and 2023 basketball recruits. The transfer portal and the extra year granted to college athletes because of the pandemic is limiting the number of scholarship opportunities for high school prospects.

"The bottleneck certainly we know it's going to hurt the 22s," said Andy Markowski of Nebraska Lasers. "The coaches have said it and some coaches don't even recruit 22s right now because they just don't have the need. They're retaining so many upperclassmen."

AAU program directors believe the bottleneck will smooth its way out and have less effect on the 2024 and 2025 prospects. But it remains a challenge for girls basketball players who at times will receive Division I offers and make commitments sooner than boys.

"I just think instead of that school offering that kid now, it may be something that takes time throughout the high school season, and it just delays the process," Wilson said. "I don't know if it will bump them down a level."

Said Markowski, "It's squeezing both classes but the 23s I think if you're good enough, you're going to find the right level. They're not going to pass on kids they think can help in help them in that class."

Because college coaches are behind in their evaluations, July 2021 serves of greater value for recruits trying to get noticed before they return to school and prepare for the winter season.

Wilson said she stresses her Team Factory players to be patient and wait for the right fit. Markowski tells his players to make the tournaments about the experience, have fun with teammates, get better for high school ball, and the recruiting part will take care of itself.

And while Harris and Campbell work on their shooting this summer, another skill of theirs will be put to the test — patience.

"I'm hoping by the end of summer, someone at least comes and (offers) something," Campbell said. "If not it will lead off into the fall."

Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.

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