OXON HILL, Md. – Leah Hodick, Lauren Charlton and Mackenzie Steele have all proved they can compete well with older players.
The three not only started as freshmen post players on District 2 contenders, but were among their team’s leaders in some of the biggest moments in the 2016-17 season.
Each has followed up that high school success by taking spots on the JB Hoops team that rarely go to players before their sophomore year in school starts.
Hodick, Charlton and Steele helped JB Hoops make it through pool play into Tuesday’s elimination brackets for the first time ever at the USJN 17U Junior Nationals.
“We don’t normally do that in our program,” JB Hoops director and coach John Bucci said of having three that young on the top team, “but, they’re very talented.”
While Hodick and Steele perform in roles similar to what they did in high school, Charlton is able to use AAU basketball to work on parts of her game that are more likely to be in her future as a college prospect. She plays on the wing and scores from the perimeter while getting work defending similar players.
The test for each in the spring and summer is not just continuing to go head-to-head with some older players, but often against those who are more polished than some high school opponents and already established as prospects.
“It’s definitely making me a better player,” said Hodick, who has shown strong post moves, the ability to make interior passes to other post players and the willingness to hit the floor for loose balls. “Traveling out of state, playing better competition has me working on some things I need to work on.”
Hodick was the top rebounder, third-leading scorer and nearly 80 percent free throw shooter for the Pittston Area team that went 14-10 and reached the District 2 Class 5A semifinals before losing in overtime.
The AAU competition has been tough at times on Hodick, who contributed 5.0 points and 3.2 rebounds per game while going 7-for-9 (77.8 percent) at the line during pool play at nationals.
“It has definitely had its ups and downs,” she said. “But, overall it’s good. It’s been very beneficial.”
Charlton, a 6-foot, 15-year-old from Dallas said she does get “stressed out at times,” thinking about trying to play in college and how her game will probably need to continue to evolve.
“I’ve always been a center,” said Charlton, whose shooting range has made her the only JB Hoops player to hit a 3-pointer in each of the first five games of the tournament. “I’ve had to learn how to handle the ball.”
That was part of her decision to switch AAU programs and join JB Hoops.
“I wanted to keep learning more at the things I’m not as skilled at,” she said.
Charlton has already shown she can handle the inside work in high school and she realizes she may continue to be asked to be two different types of players in the two seasons.
“Playing for my high school team and this team is very different,” said Charlton, who was the top rebounder and third-leading scorer at Dallas, which won 12 games and gave eventual champion Nanticoke a one-point game in the District 2 Class 4A semifinals. “Here, I’m a guard only. In high school, I’m a post only.”
Charlton averaged five points during national pool player.
Steele’s offense has been limited at 2.4 points at nationals, but the rebounding and defense she showed while leading Susquehanna to its first District 2 title and first state tournament win have been evident.
The 6-foot-2 center is second on the team during the tournament with an average of six rebounds.
Steele also had two blocks in a 52-50, come-from-behind victory over Nike CyFair Shooters from Texas that started a three-game JB Hoops winning streak and propelled the team to a tie for the best record in Pool GG at 4-1.
Blocked shots are nothing new for Steele, who set multiple records in that category while at Susquehanna, including setting a record for most during a championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena with nine.
“I like playing, but it’s also to advance my game a lot,” said Steele, who is in her third season in the program at Backcourt Hoops in Scranton. “I’m playing against older guys and tougher girls, so I can get better going into my game in high school.
“It obviously helped me a lot to know everything I need to know.”
JB Hoops is one of eight teams entered in Tuesday’s Bronze Division Consolation Bracket after losing a tiebreaker for the top spot in its pool.