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Hoop Group Girls' Championship Recruiting Notebook (Pt. 2)

07/13/2022, 10:15am EDT
By Josh Verlin & Sean McBryan

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Sean McBryan (@Sean_McBryan)

MANHEIM, Pa. — The Hoop Group Girls’ Summer Championship took over Spooky Nook Sports from Sunday night through Tuesday afternoon, with just under a couple hundred teams vying for different brackets, including the 15U, 16U and 17U Hoop Group Summer League (HGSL) championships. 

Here’s the second part of our recruiting coverage, featuring players we spoke to on Monday:

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More HGSL Girls Championship coverage: Standouts (Pt. 1) | Recruiting Notebook (Pt. 1)

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Kiyomi McMiller (2023 | NEPA Elite 17U | Trinity Collegiate, S.C.)

There are certain players that turn heads whenever they take the court — whose abilities are so much better than everybody around them that it seems at times they’re playing a different game, almost toying with the competition. That was the case with McMiller, who from the first time she touched the ball Monday was a nonstop highlight reel.


Kiyomi McMiller (above) said she has around 30 Division I offers going into her junior year of high school. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

It wasn’t just that she scored 41 points with five assists in a win over NJ ShoreShots, it was how she did it.

A slight-but-muscular 5-foot-7 guard, McMiller had everything in her bag: a lethal crossover paired with a lightning-quick first step; step-back 3-pointers from WNBA range (and then some); the ability to get to any spot on the court and find open teammates. You get the idea. 

The daughter of former Mount St. Mary’s guard Ravivia (Alexander) McMiller and Mike McMiller said she grew up idolizing Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, that she’s been in love with basketball as far back as she can remember.

“My whole life,” she said with a laugh. “My parents used to coach, so I was always around it. I think I started playing when I was five or six, in a church league, so that’s when it all really started.”

Fast-forward 10 years, and she’s one of the best players in the country. ESPN’s HoopGurz has her No. 7 in the country, a 5* recruit. But she’s trying to play it as cool as possible.

Even though McMiller admitted she had “about 30” offers the last time she counted, she didn’t want to share any details about who was involved, or even which schools she visited.

“I like to just do things my own way,” she said. “A lot of people like to put stuff out there, I don’t want to be one of those people who likes to show off and brag about what I have. What I have is what I have, what you have is what you have.”

The Silver Spring (Md.) native is playing with NEPA for the first time this summer, after previously playing with Maryland-based teams on the Nike and Under Armour circuits. But after Kevin Clark’s NEPA squad beat her teams twice, she decided to give them a try after she said one of their former players reached out to her about joining the program.

McMiller didn’t share any details about when she might commit, but said it would be a “family decision” that would hinge on several factors.

“At the school, I think trust is a big part for me,” she said. “Also the distance away from home, and how comfortable I am with that coach. I just need to have a good relationship with the coach, to pick which school I want to go to.” — Josh Verlin

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Sydney Fenn (2024 | XGen Elite 16U | Compass Prep, Az.)

One school that’s certainly going to be in the mix for Fenn, no matter what happens in the next year: Canisius. Fenn’s father, Darren Fenn, was a standout for the Golden Griffins during his college career (1997-2001), the 6-10 forward scoring 1,414 points and grabbing 852 rebounds, earning him a spot in the school’s athletics Hall of Fame in 2012. 

Not surprisingly, Canisius was the first offer for Fenn, a 6-3 post with a well-rounded game, but it hasn’t been her last. She’s up to five, with UMass, Saint Joseph’s, Binghamton and Monmouth coming aboard after a strong tournament in Atlantic City. She’s already visited SJU and UMass, the two Atlantic 10 institutions, saying that St. Joe’s assistant Katie Kuester was her main point of contact on Hawk Hill.

“I took an unofficial there a few weeks ago,” she said. “Beautiful camps, great coaching staff, really really really loved it.”

Though she admitted her connections to Canisius gave them “a little bit” of a boost in her eyes, she’s far from just locked in on continuing the family connection to the Buffalo, N.Y. institution. 

“Right now it’s not really location-(based),” she said of what mattered to her in a school. “It’s just where I can see myself fitting in — in the game, and off the court.”

A mobile stretch-forward, Fenn prides herself on her abilities to take her defenders inside-out, posting up smaller defenders and scoring around the rim or playing on the perimeter against slower defenders, where she can shoot from the 3-point arc or drive to the rim with a step advantage, something she’s been working on this summer, along with her defense. 

In terms of a college decision, don’t expect anything soon.

“Definitely not this year,” she said. “Probably towards the end of next (summer). I want to enjoy my senior year.” — Josh Verlin

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Jada Elston (2023 | NJ Soldiers 16U | Middle Twp., N.J.)

Thanks to being young for her grade, not turning 17 for several more months, Elston is able to play on the 16U circuit on a Soldiers team full of girls from Middle Twp. and nearby Wildwood Catholic, a group that’s got plenty of familiarity with one another on and off the court.


Middle Twp. (N.J.)'s Jada Elston is hearing from a trio of area Division III programs. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

It doesn’t hurt that she can bring three years of varsity starting experience to the floor, giving her a big step up in experience compared to most of the girls she’ll play against on the summer circuit.

“I’ve been a starter since freshman year of high school, so [I can] bring my knowledge of the varsity level, being able to bring it and help these girls out, because I do have that year advantage over there,” she said. “Just being able to help communicate and do what I’ve gotta do [...] be able to come in as a leader, to just help them get to where we need to be and help them get ready for the season.”

Elston looked good in a win over the LI Lightning on Sunday night, scoring 16 points and grabbing seven rebounds. The athletic 5-8 point guard had a smooth floor game, finishing with ease with both hands, and making a pair of 3-pointers with a nice-looking jumper. 

A trio of Division III programs — Stockton (N.J.), Cabrini and Neumann — are involved, and Elston said she’s visited both of the Pennsylvania schools already, mentioning that she “really liked Neumann.” What’ll make the difference for her as she makes her pick?

“School size, because I come from a smaller town, so just to be able to be in a smaller community,” she said, “and find[ing] a coach that will believe in me and my abilities.” — Josh Verlin

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Caleigh Sperling (2024 | Lady Runnin’ Rebels 16U | North Penn)

Sperling plays on a Lady Runnin’ Rebels squad that made it all the way to the 16U championship.

The Rebels feature tournament standouts such as Germantown Academy’s Isabella Casey and Governor Mifflin’s Taylor Koenig and run a free-flowing offense emphasizing layups and 3s.


Caleigh Sperling (above) showed off her shooting, rebounding and passing abilities all weekend. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“We like to do a lot of spread offense,” Sperling said. “We usually get a lot of layups but today it was the 3s.”

The Rebels scored 53 points or more in every game; they won their games by an average margin of 22.5 points until losing 60-57 on a buzzer-beater to XGenElite in the final.

Sperling demonstrated a smooth stroke from 3-point land, hitting three and scoring 15 points in the first half of the Rebels’ quarterfinal victory. She finishes effortlessly around the rim and covers a ton of ground when handling the ball.

“[The competition] gets better here,” Sperling said of the AAU circuit. “And I love my team. I feel like we get better every time on the court.”

It’s different during the high school season at North Penn, where the Knights went 8-12 last season and Sperling is a primary scorer. 

In fact, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster the past few seasons in Lansdale as North Penn has gone 8-12 in 2021-22, 2-9 in 2020-21, 18-9 in 2019-20, 10-13 in 2018-19, 7-15 in 2017-18, and 25-5 in 2016-17. The Knights and Sperling are looking for consistency.

“We did pretty good last year,” Sperling said. “We were a young team so I’m expecting big things this year.”

The 5-10 rising junior guard has seen a six-game win increase from her freshman to sophomore seasons, albeit her freshman season was cut short due to COVID, and wants to improve on that.

She’ll take a bigger leadership role as an upperclassman and will have to continue scoring while finding other ways to impact the game and get wins.

“I’m working on my drives a bit and finishing through contact,” she said. “Definitely rebounding too.”

Sperling mentioned that she’s been emailing a few schools, but wants to keep them private for now. She said it’s been a mix, with D-I and D-II’s involved.

“I want to play Division I,” Sperling said. “I’m not sure how far away from home. I just want to like the schools and the coaches and make sure it’s the right fit.” — Sean McBryan

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Kara Meredith (2023 | Mid-Atlantic Magic 17U | Archbishop Wood)

Meredith promises she doesn’t get sick of Mike McDonald. The Wood girls’ head coach is also her coach with the Magic, meaning she sees him year-round, and has done so since freshman year, as McDonald’s in his third year coaching the Magic’s 2023 group.


Kara Meredith (above) has a pair of Division II offers, from Holy Family and St. Thomas Aquinas (N.Y.). (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

She’s one of four Wood girls on the team, along with classmates Allie Fleming, Lauren Tretter and Campbell McCloskey.

“(McDonald) always has confidence in you, and he’s always trying to make you better,” Meredith said. “He’s there in the offseason, he’s always open to work you out and he’s always there for us and he puts so much time and effort into helping us and he really cares for us and I’m so grateful to have him as my coach.”

Meredith played hero for the Magic on Monday afternoon in a win over a talented NY Royals squad. In a first-to-five points extra period, with the score 52-51 Royals and the target score at 54, Meredith pulled up from straightaway and knocked down the triple to send them into the Elite Eight, where they lost to the NJ Freedom. 

The 6-foot-tall wing currently has two Division II offers, from Holy Family and St. Thomas Aquinas (N.Y.), and also did a virtual tour with Central Connecticut State. She’s going to play out the rest of the month and see if anybody else comes on board, then evaluate her options and make a selection.

“Team chemistry’s a big thing,” she said, “and the coaches, I love all the coaches I’ve been talking to, they’re all so nice and I could see myself at either of those schools. School-wise [...] I like my academics, it’s a really important thing for me, so that’s a really big factor too.” — Josh Verlin

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Jaida Helm (2023 | Mid-Atlantic Magic 17U | Lansdale Catholic)


Helm will play her senior year at Lansdale Catholic after a family move. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Helm knew she was going to have to change schools for her senior year of high school, the result of moving with her dad from the Abington school district up into Lansdale. She chose to enroll at Lansdale Catholic instead of going to North Penn, where she’ll team up on the court with St. Joe’s pledge Gabby Casey this winter.

“She was on my team for the All-City Classic, we had good chemistry there and I had a lot of fun playing with her,” Helm said of playing with Casey. 

Of course, going to the PCL means she’ll be playing against most of her Magic teammates, making the Wood/Lansdale game that much more interesting this fall. 

“Yeah, they were mad when they found out that I transferred, but we’ll see what happens during the season,” she said. “I’m very [much] looking forward to playing against them.”

A 5-11 guard with a high-arcing 3-point shot who doesn’t mind playing physical inside, Helm hit the game-tying shot with 10 seconds left in regulation in in the Magic’s win over the NY Royals to sent the game to overtime. 

Two weeks ago, she picked up her first offer, from D-II St. Thomas Aquinas (N.Y.); she also said she’s been in touch with multiple Division I programs, and will be visiting UMass-Lowell at the end of the month, with plans to visit STAC in August. — Josh Verlin

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Aniya Rowe (2023 | XGen Elite 16U | Bishop Kearney)

There’s no denying Rowe’s a winner. The Bishop Kearney team she starred for won the New York State class AA championship; now her XGen Elite squad won the HGSL title in their first year together. 

“We’re really competitive,” she said. “I like how well we work together, our team chemistry on and off the court.”

A 5-8 point guard, Rowe is an excellent drive-and-kick type who can score it as well, with a reliable 3-point shot and mid-range game; she’s also a good rebounder, attacking the glass and then starting the break, where she could pull up in transition or make the right read. This summer, she said she’s working on her footwork and becoming a faster defender.

Binghamton, Buffalo and Canisius have already offered; Manhattan, Delaware and others are talking to her as well. — Josh Verlin

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Isabella Casey (2024 | Lady Runnin’ Rebels | Germantown Ac.)

As the Runnin’ Rebels made their runnin’ all the way to the 16U championship game, Casey was their most consistent performer, with some big-time outings. She scored 20 points with seven rebounds and four assists in a Sweet 16 round win over the Mid-Atlantic Magic, then had 24 points with four and-ones in the quarterfinals; in the championship, she scored 13 of her 16, though the Rebels lost by three.

The game against the Magic was an opportunity for her to play against GA teammate Jess Apolnik in live competition for the first time, with their Patriots’ teammate Gabby Bowes also on the Magic. 

“I mean, she’s really competitive, definitely knew that from practice,” Casey said, “so it was fun to play against her in a competitive game like that.”

A 5-10 guard, Casey is excellent around the bucket, where she’s capable of finishing at all sorts of odd angles and through contact, and she’s got an improving jump shot as well. As of Monday, she said she wasn’t hearing from many colleges, but it’s hard to imagine that staying the case after her productive live period. 

“I’ve been trying to communicate more on defense, so I think I did a good job of that today, and just competing and playing my hardest,” she said. “I’m trying to work on my handling, I think that’s really important, and rebounding and just contributing all over the court.” — Josh Verlin

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Madison Palek (2024 | NJ Soldiers | Middle Twp., N.J.)

Palek’s got an intriguing mix of skills, which she flashed for the Soldiers during a win over the LI Lightning on Sunday evening. The 6-1 forward opened the game with a driving layup, taking her defender off the bounce from the 3-point arc, then added a pair of 3-pointers before the half was over. She also posted up, blocked shots and grabbed a few rebounds. 

That versatility has a number of programs interested; Palek mentioned Bucknell, St. Thomas Aquinas (N.Y.), and East Stroudsburg as having made contact, while she said some D-III programs had also reached out.

“In high school, they want me to play shooting guard,” she said, “but [in] AAU I’m more of a post, so outside of AAU I have to keep working on my shooting, and dribbling, I need to get better.” — Josh Verlin

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