By Tom Robinson
OXON HILL, Md. – Gracie Guarino wasn’t thinking about the long term when she first came to Backcourt Hoops to play AAU basketball in fifth grade.
Through seven years, first with the NEPA Flames and then with the JB Hoops teams, Guarino has made connections, increased her commitment to basketball and developed into a multi-faceted player.
“I didn’t think I’d be around so long,” Guarino said Monday as she approached her final days as a JB Hoops player.
In the winter, where she will be entering her senior season at Western Wayne, Guarino is a team scoring leader and all-star. As a junior, NEPABasketball.com selected Guarino as the Lackawanna League Division 2 Player of the Year.
Playing with a different group of teammates and against a different set of opponents in AAU seasons, Guarino’s play stands out in different ways. She is hard to miss as a gritty defender and rebounder ready to battle with players of all positions and sizes, including those much taller than her.
Guarino also showed she could flip the switch from fiery intensity to cool under pressure in Monday’s overtime win over the MT Elite Ducks from Massachusetts. She scored 10 points, including going 6-for-6 from the line when her two foul shots in the extra session essentially clinched the win.
With the team at 3-1 with one game of pool play remaining at USJN 17U Nationals, JB Hoops Carra has a shot at extending the final tournament for Guarino, Victoria Toomey, Morgan Haefele and Gianna Delfino one more day.
“Most of us have been around for so long now that I feel like we just connect well together,” Guarino said.
The four players graduating out of the program have been teammates in the spring and summer since Guarino arrived in fifth grade.
“Good passing and good communication,” is how Guarino explains the tournament success.
Toughness doesn’t hurt.
Despite often being the shortest player on the floor in a frontcourt position, Guarino led JB Hoops in offensive rebounds in both Monday games, getting four against MT Elite and five more in a last-second loss to Team Wall.
When JB Hoops could use every possession possible late in that loss, it was Guarino who could be found getting a steal and fighting to pull in two offensive rebounds in a span of 41 seconds during the last two minutes of a one-point game.
JB Hoops Carra earned its spot in the Bronze Division Championship bracket Tuesday night when Guarino grabbed a game-high eight rebounds in a 61-28 rout of the Baltimore Charm.