It was the first day of the Easter weekend for much of the world, but 60 of North Carolina’s best girls’ high school basketball players spent most of Saturday in a high school gym, just trying to get noticed.
“This is an opportunity for me to learn, but it’s also a chance to be seen,” said A’lea Gilbert, a South Mecklenburg High sophomore was who among players invited to the Select 60 Camp at Rocky River High School in Mint Hill.
The invitational camp provided the girls with a chance to upgrade their game, see how they rate against other top players, and be seen by college scouts who sat in the bleachers at Rocky River.
“We started this because girls’ basketball is behind the boys,” said Cristie Mitchell, head girls’ coach at South Mecklenburg and director of Saturday’s camp. “This is our third year, and we’ve built a really good relationship with coaches across the state.
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“Coaches nominate some really good players, and this camp gives them a chance to learn and be seen.”
In the crowd at Rocky River was Prentice Beverly, a California-based scout whose recruiting ratings are closely watched by college coaches. Mitchell said Beverly told her “six or seven girls” at Saturday’s camp who had not received much publicity in the past would “be a lot better-known after this.”
Gilbert, a 5-11 forward who averaged about 16 points and 9 rebounds a game for the Sabres this season, hopes to be among that group.
“I know people are watching, and I’m trying to do my best out here,” she said. “But to be honest, I’m trying to take advantage of the opportunity to learn.”
Her father, former Carolina Panthers’ defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, said, “I told her this was a showcase. But we also talked about this being an opportunity to learn from coaches and other players.”
It meant giving up the day before a holiday, but Nicole and Sean Gilbert said they were willing to do that for their daughter.
“This was the first time she’s been invited to the Select 60,” Nicole Gilbert said. “She was excited. So it was important for us.”
Mitchell said the Charlotte camp, in its third year, is an effort to elevate girls’ basketball to the boys’ game.
“There are a number of camps for boys, but not many for the girls,” she said.
Emphasizing that point was North Carolina freshman player Stephanie Watts, a former Weddington High standout who spoke to the group Saturday morning and told them to keep pushing themselves, because the difference between good and great players is often hard work.
The lure of a top-notch showcase convinced Jennifer Lovitt to bring her daughter Lola, a 5-10 sophomore, from Wilmington to Mint Hill on Saturday.
“Lola has been invited to some Elite-level camps, but a camp like this gives exposure, and that’s important,” said Lovitt, whose other daughter, Lacy, came along for the ride. “Lola wanted the scouts to see her.”
But probably no parent had a more challenging trip than Sydney Austin and her mother Gwen. Sydney Austin, a 5-9 junior guard, plays at Ocracoke School (grades K-12) – and that means catching a ferry, driving six hours to the Charlotte area, and then hoping to get back in time for the midnight ferry (the last of the day) to Ocracoke Island.
“Not many people see these kids,” Gwen Austin, a teacher at the Ocracoke school, said of players at 1A coastal schools like hers. “They have to work very hard to be seen. The coaches and the whole island community are very supportive, but a camp like this is something special.”