From left, John Casale of TC Basketball, Steve Gardner of ABA, and Sarah Sullivan of TC Basketball
On the surface, it always looks like top-notch college talent would have trouble evolving in the Pacific Northwest, but the examples that say otherwise are too numerous to ignore.
In the world of girls youth basketball, quality competitors continue to work through Steve Gardner and the ABA, based in Vancouver WA, since its start in 2009-10. This spring, ABA is projected to have 4-6 girls teams (8th grade through junior class, 2020-24) and will feature a number of skilled athletes:
Beyonce Bea – Idaho
Cassidy Gardner – Portland State
Haley Hansen -- Northwest Nazarene
Monka Hickok – TBA
Mason Oburg (2020)
Eastyn Reeves -- Oregon Institute of Technology
Taylor Stephens -- Central Washington
Brooke Walling – Fresno State
Gardner passed through the TC Basketball offices earlier this month and stopped to answer a few questions.
What got you into the business of coaching girls basketball?
I didn’t think there were enough people doing it the right way, and I thought we could do a better job. It started with my niece, who was at a young age, and then with my daughter. Along with some other people, I thought we could do a better job; maybe I was one of those crazy parents who thought I could it better. But that’s how it worked out.
It was a good group of kids right away. Around 2012 is when we started to get (very talented) kids, and they are juniors in college now. We had a handful of D-I kids, D-II kids and so forth. That team was pretty competitive, and it just built from there.
How tough was it getting to the right competition?
We’d drive back and forth to Seattle, Portland, Salem -- they had some decent tournaments there) -- and as the girls got better we began to branch out. If you play in the right tournaments, like the kind Triple Crown runs and in the right division, the college coaches gravitate to those games. Play another good team, and coaches are there. Some teams are so afraid to lose sometimes, they’ll play in the second division to win a tournament, but that’s not where the coaches are at. In our area volleyball is big, but basketball has grown tremendously in the past five years.
What makes the ABA special?
It’s our skill development piece. We have some of the best trainers in the area; we look at your skills above just going out there and playing more games. For us, that’s the big deal, along with getting them in front of college coaches. I think we’ve done a good job with our connections and the relationships we’ve built.
We are blessed with a lot of gym time, but have to work with the local high schools. Our strength and conditioning guy has his own facility, so kids go to him for that part. We check (academic) progress reports and make sure they have the SAT and ACT info and are studying right for that. It won’t matter if they can’t get into (college).