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Oregon prep star Mercedes Russell emerging from under the radar

Published on May 15, 2011

By

MR2web

POMONA, Calif. – She is not yet 16 years old and from a small town in Oregon. Her stats are hard to find. She is not on the ESPN Hoopgurlz class of 2013 watch list. But college coaches know who she is—you better believe it.

“She’s had eight offers so far,” said Tammy Hill, the mother of 6-foot-5 sophomore Mercedes Russell of Springfield, Oregon (Springfield High School).

Hill reeled off the names, and most were top 15 schools. This, plus a visit from Tennessee assistant coach Mickie DeMoss last winter.

“Mercedes has had a lot of attention this year.”

The reasons why were patently obvious Saturday, as Russell and her Game Time Basketball team played two games in West Coast Premier Basketball Academy’s Spring Invitational tournament. Though Game Time racked up two losses, Russell put on a show in both games, doing virtually everything: putting up shots, pulling down boards, blocking shots and dribbling the ball.

Russell, who has been playing ball for 10 years already, said that her versatility on court comes from having played different positions.

“Through middle school I played a wing,” she said. “I didn’t really start in the post until eighth grade.”

Her post game is so strong that it looks like she’s been playing in the paint all her life. Russell’s long arms reach up and get almost every rebound; she’s got boxing out down to a science; and she has a knack for making improbable shots. She’s also got excellent court vision, and she often calls out heads up to teammates during games. Russell said she owes that skill to practicing dribbling with her head up.

But one of Russell’s most impressive traits cannot be found on the stat sheet: she is amazingly poised and composed on the court. While she moves fast and plays with urgency, her facial expression never changes, and she doesn’t seem to get distraught when things don’t go her way. Russell also plays with the ease of someone who lets the game come to her, rather than trying to force it. It is a quiet, laser-like focus not often found in a player so young.

“That’s what everybody says about Mercedes,” Hill said. “It’s nothing I’ve taught her, and I don’t know where she gets it. She’s just always been like that. She’s had the scream-in-your-face coaches, and whatever the case, she’ll just nod and say ‘OK.’ She’s very, very coachable.”

The soft-spoken Russell said she enjoys shooting, but doesn’t get to do it as much since she got moved to the inside. Her favorite thing to do in games nowadays is block shots. She did so an average eight times per game during this past high school season, which culminated in her leading her Springfield Millers team to an Oregon state championship.

Hill said they are in the process of making decisions about Russell’s future. But in the meantime, there is the USA Basketball U16 camp in two weeks.

“We’re excited about that,” said Hill.

The U16 trials take place May 26-30 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The 12-member team will be selected on May 30 and resume training camp June 3-11 at the training center prior to their departure for the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, June 13-18 in Mérida, Mexico.


 

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