MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Divine Bourrage took off her sneakers and switched into a more comfortable pair of slides. It had been a long four days at a milestone event for women’s basketball.
Bourrage, who is one of the top 50 players in the high school class of 2025, was among hundreds of players and others at the NCAA’s first College Basketball Academy for female players, held over the weekend in Memphis. And she took full advantage.
It wasn’t just about the high-level basketball she got to play in, but also the information from sessions provided by the NCAA on recruiting, endorsement compensation, the transfer portal and other topics that will help as her recruiting journey heats up.
“It’s going to help me focus on when I look into the colleges,” said Bourrage, whose team All Iowa Attack won the tournament in both age divisions. “Ask more questions because I usually don’t. I’m not an ask-the-question person. They showed us a whole bunch of questions, I took a picture because I need to learn to ask questions about that.”
The event, sponsored by the NCAA in conjunction with USA Basketball, was the first of its kind for girls basketball and stemmed from a blistering 2021 report on a lack of equity. The NCAA ran an academy for boys basketball in 2019 and held it again this year in Memphis last month right before the girls’ one.
“This was a direct result from one of the recommendations of the report,” said Lynn Holzman, NCAA vice president for women’s basketball. “Invest in women’s basketball to help provide educational opportunities and exposure opportunities at an equitable level. We’ve been able to provide a mirror image and model for both men and women.”
The NCAA footed the $4 million bill for the four-day event, paying for travel, lodging and food for the nearly 1,000 players and chaperones. It was a welcome assist for families and teams that routinely spend thousands to play in tournaments.
“The College Basketball Academy for women has been a groundbreaking event,” said North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart, who is also the president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. “I believe this is the first time the NCAA has created something of this magnitude in the recruiting space for women’s basketball.”
Banghart was among the roughly 320 college coaches from 162 schools who were there. It was easy to pick out where the top players were competing by looking for the colorful shirts worn by the coaches courtside that included South Carolina’s Dawn Staley, Louisville’s Jeff Walz and Kim Mulkey of defending champion LSU.
The college coaches were evaluating some of the top young high school players in the country at the final event of the summer. It brought together the top AAU teams from around the country to play for the U.S. Open championship on 16 courts inside the Memphis Sports and Expo Center. Usually teams only play against other squads that are part of specific shoe circuits like Nike, Under Armour and adidas. This time, they mixed it up.
“It was a new weekend, the first time it’s been held and it was new to all of us. It was very different,” Mulkey said. “The more you can see kids and don’t have to go all over the country that’s always a good thing. Anything that’s created for women’s basketball, we’re always going to say is good, you can tweak a few things in it for the future.”
Players and their chaperones were required to attend seminars on various topics that will help them during recruiting and beyond. It was players’ only the first two days, then it was everyone for the final panel on Sunday that featured former Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw.
One of the teams from Pennsylvania was led by longtime Villanova head coach Harry Perretta, who retired a few years ago from the Division I ranks. Perretta loved the inaugural event.
“If I was still a college coach, I wouldn’t miss this because it’s a chance for me to see kids in a competitive environment and then also see individuals at the same time,” he said.
The NCAA brought in 144 officials from all three divisions and nearly every conference had a representative officiating. Veterans helped evaluate and work with younger referees on communication, leadership, play calling and mechanics.
“We focused on process of getting better more than an outcome,” NCAA coordinator of officials Penny Davis said. “A lot of times they go to summer training camps and their motivation is two-fold, to get hired and to learn. I opened with that I don’t have games to offer or contracts, all I have is knowledge to give you. It changed their perspective that they weren’t sitting next to the competition for the next five days.”
The NCAA also brought in a dozen players to be considered for future USA Basketball 3×3 opportunities. The three top players in the class of 2025 according to ESPN’s rankings — Aaliyah Chavez, Jasmine Davidson and ZaKiyah Johnson — all competed. Coaches packed courtside to watch the group play.
“It’s fun, it’s different, it’s fast paced,” Johnson said. “It’s not the normal five on five we’re used to. There’s no time to celebrate because there’s just 12 seconds each time to score.”
While there were 48 AAU teams competing, in one division, there were also hundreds of girls who individually signed up for the event. They were put on teams by commissioners that included former Division I coaches. There were nearly 100 coaches from the Division II, III, NAIA, JUCO and high school ranks leading those teams against each other.
“I feel like it’s been some pretty good competition,” said Crystal Hardy who is from Maryland and in the class of 2025. “It teaches you how to play with people you didn’t play with before and you have to learn quickly,”
The event also drew players from Mexico, Argentina and Brazil while Canada had nearly 50 players on hand.
This story is part of the AP’s Inclusive Journalism Initiative with The Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting.
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll