Saturday, June 19, 2010

Recruiting season heating up: sixth annual GymRat Challenge at Siena

The parking lot behind Siena College's Alumni Recreation Center told the story of the sixth annual GymRat Challenge girls AAU basketball tournament Saturday afternoon. Cars with license plates from around the country packed the spaces, as some of the best players in the country hoped to catch the eye of the many coaches on hand.

Women's college basketball coaches were out in force at the first day of competition in the sixth annual GymRat Challenge held at Siena College and the University at Albany Saturday afternoon. Action continues Sunday at both locations. (First three photos by Mike McMahon - The Record).

It was a beautiful day to be outside Saturday, but 1,750 girls decided to spend the day indoors, competing against each other in the sixth annual GymRat Challenge at Siena College and the University at Albany.

Pool play wraps up Sunday morning and championship round action begins early Sunday afternoon. Tickets are still available. Admission is $10 at the door.

Greenwich native Dani DeGregory, of the Albany City Rocks, looks to make a pass during Saturday's game against the Central Jersey Cardinals. Albany won, 60-41.

A number of local teams were in action Saturday, including the Albany Capitals and the Saratoga Sparks. I decided, however, to catch up with two local small-school stars, Dani DeGregory and Katie Roth, who play for the Albany City Rocks.

Playing in the Wasaren League and Patroon Conference, respectively, they don't get the caliber of competition day-in and day-out during their high school regular seasons that they need to prove their worth to Division I college coaches.

AAU tournaments provide them that opportunity.

"It’s good to play here (with the City Rocks) because it’s really where you’re going to get better over the summer and take things back to high school," Roth said. "I wouldn’t say one is more important than the other, though. Here, you’re getting looked at by college coaches. But high school is representing where you go to school and where you come from. I enjoy playing with both and I like everyone on both teams."

Spectators were scattered among the seven courts seeing action Saturday at Siena College, but unlike most high school basketball games, the atmosphere was subdued.

"The Wasaren League is really competitive and the game Katie and I played against each other in was really intense," DeGregory said. "Everything we play here is equally intense. I like playing with both teams. Both teams are awesome to play with. Getting looks from college is great, but high school is really important, too."

The Saratoga Sparks' 16-and-under team, featuring Cohoes High School star Bailei Tetrault (right, with ball) was among the 156 squads in action Saturday. 1,750 players are involved in the event.

Although DeGregory and Roth both list basketball as their favorite sport, they're both three-sport athletes in high school.

Roth plays volleyball and throws the shot put and discus for the Maple Hill track and field team.

DeGregory plays field hockey and softball for the Witches.

We'll have more on the supposed decline of the three-sport athlete ( I think these two athletes are a great example of how that trend is not going out of style, even with their basketball specialization) when our Ben Franklin Project is published on July 4th.

Greenwich High School sophomore Dani DeGregory is hoping that a stint with the Albany City Rocks this summer will increase her exposure among college coaches.

DeGergory and Roth squared off when their teams met on March 8 in the Section II Class CC/C playoff. (Click here to read about that game in the archive).

The gym at Adirondack Community College was packed that day with fans and fellow students, who carried signs and banners and screamed at the top of their lungs. The action at Siena on Saturday was much more subdued...a bit of polite applause here and there...but the intensity on the court was just the same for the players.

"I guess the intensity is always pretty high," DeGregory said. "Out here, you’re looking for college coaches, but in high school, it’s the same thing. Here, you get more exposed so you definitely want to play as hard as you can every day."

And for small-school players like Roth and DeGregory, AAU basketball offers them an opportunity they just could not get playing for their high school teams.

Maple Hill High School junior Katie Roth recently made a verbal commitment to the University of Hartford, an opportunity she attributed to her time with the City Rocks the past two years.

For some video highlights and more quotes, click on the video below.

The Albany Capitals' 16-and-under team, featuring Holy Names' Sarah Agan (right, with ball), won the 15-and-under title a season ago. Over 100 local players will be competing in the two-day event.

For the full story, be sure to check out Sunday's edition of The Record.

We'll also have a big story on former Catholic Central High School boys basketball coach Don Bassett and more on this year's class in the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame.

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