Eye on Mercedes Russell

I got back from my run this morning to find that my dad had called and left me a message. I am old enough now that we do call each other early in the morning sometimes, but I still couldn’t guess what this voicemail could be about.

“Hey babe,” he said. “Check out the Guard today – there’s a story about a Springfield player who’s only a SOPHOMORE that is attracting attention from colleges all over the country. She’s 6-5 and will probably grow to 6-9!”

Bless his heart. Always watching out for my hoopheaded ass. And he’s brought Mercedes Russell to my attention:

At 15, she’s 6-foot-5, with growth plates the doctors say haven’t closed yet, and with skills that resemble the point guard she was back in grade school, before the big growth spurt.

Which is why the Millers’ games have become must-see events, at least to those coaches from schools like Tennessee and Stanford.

And sure, Oregon. Russell’s first recruiting letter came from the Ducks, more than a year ago now.

“It was cool,” she says.

Now, she’s got stacks of letters from everywhere. Tennessee keeps reminding her how much the Lady Vols like her. Connecticut, Duke and Kentucky asked for this week’s tournament schedule.

“It’s still cool,” she says.

But Mercedes seems unfazed by it all. Just like during games, when she’s the focus of opponents — sometimes, it seems she’s the focus of every opponent on the floor.

No matter what, her coach and teammates say, her demeanor never changes.

“She never gets flustered,” Springfield coach Bill Wagner says.

She comes home banged up and sore, completely exhausted. And sometimes, she quietly smiles.

“That’s the most you’ll get out of Mercedes,” says her mom, Tammy Hill. “Once in a while.”

A mature 15-year-old? Interesting. Tennessee, UConn and Duke? Very nice.

Springfield Coach Bill Wagner isn’t worried about his team of mostly underclasswomen, led by Russell, going into tomorrow’s state tourney.

Part of the reason is they’re 24-2 on the season and 13-1 in league. But Wagner appears to be one of those coaches who takes down all player numbers before the playoffs (GRRR!!), so Russell’s stats aren’t available. She’s the only one on Springfield’s maxpreps roster, in fact. There really isn’t much out yet on this girl, but I found a telling piece from last week’s playoff game: 36 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks for the youngsta.

I am keeping her on my radar now.

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