OXON HILL, Md. – Sometimes a suggestion from a friend carries a lot of weight.
Kiana Williams and Erin Worzel each came to the JB Hoops program at the suggestion of friends who are also high school teammates as well as now spending the spring and summer together playing AAU basketball.
Williams and Worzel had their time in the program ended at the USJN 17U National Championships July 22-25 at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center, but each said they developed their games along the way.
The tournament likely represented the end of their careers at JB Hoops for four players about to enter their senior years in high school.
Cassie Ksiazek from Abington Heights was the team’s second-leading scorer during the tournament. Lexi Walsh from Holy Cross hit game-winning free throws with 5.4 seconds left in one game and late free throws to help secure another win.
While JB Hoops was going 4-1 in pool play and advancing to the elimination bracket at the National Championships for the first time, Williams and Worzel had to walk away from their finale with mixed results. Each had their tournament cut short.
Williams, a 6-1 center from Mid Valley, went out with an ankle injury in the fourth game.
Worzel’s tournament ended as it was getting started with an injury in the first quarter of the first game. Health issues kept the 6-foot forward from Wallenpaupack out of the remainder of the tournament.
Williams played well in three-plus games of what she thought was an important event for her.
“I feel like it’s my last chance to have coaches look at me for college,” said Williams, who has talked to coaches from Cedar Crest, Alvernia, Carbini and Keystone and plans to follow up with King’s in the near future. “But I just need to play like no one’s watching and play like I always do.”
Williams was not necessarily thinking of herself as a college player before being seen by JB Hoops director John Bucci, who coached the team that went to nationals.
Bucci saw Williams while watching former JB Hoops player Erica Haefele and current player Morgan Haefele play at Mid Valley.
“He saw potential in me and reached out to me and I took the opportunity,” Williams said in an interview following the tournament opener.
Encouragement from Morgan Haefele helped lead Williams to join the program in the spring of 2016.
“I saw potential in myself, but I felt like I needed more help in different aspects of the game to gain more confidence,” Williams said. “I feel like I found that here.”
During the tournament, Bucci praised Williams for her tough defensive play inside.
Williams used her time at JB Hoops to try to develop more of an offensive game, which she hopes to be able to show as a senior at Mid Valley and carry into the college game.
“I wasn’t really scoring much in the high school season,” Williams said. “I was fine defensively. Obviously, I’m still getting better defensively, but I got a lot better offensively.
“I was seeking to get better there.”
Williams grabbed 13 of her 15 rebounds on the defensive end in the first three games while also adding nine points and two blocked shots. She had a steal and a blocked shot before leaving the win over the Blue Crush from New Jersey in the first quarter after playing just 2:13.
Worzel’s tournament lasted just 42 seconds before she was struck in the face by an elbow.
Prior to tipoff, however, she spoke about what she had gained being in the program after having it recommended to her by Hannah Smith.
Smith was already playing in the Backcourt Hoops programs in Scranton before Worzel joined in going into her freshmen year when she was at a key point in deciding her athletic future.
“She introduced me to it and her Dad said it was a great program,” Worzel said. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to play basketball, but I joined this team and saw it was a great experience.”
Worzel had also played field hockey and softball and was trying to decide which one or two to concentrate on in high school. A year later she dropped the other two sports to devote more time to basketball throughout the year.
The final year in the JB Hoops program for Worzel was about becoming a better defensively player.
“I”ve been working hard on my defense,” she said. “ … I knew this year that I had to step it up there.”
Worzel says she is interested in the University of Scranton program and has also spoken to Alvernia and other Division III schools while getting some interest from coaches on the Division II level.