In only six years, since their first senior class of 2011, the Tucson Rattlers youth girls basketball program has produced 36 players who have signed to play in college.
All of them are from Southern Arizona. The program, directed and coached by Chris Klassen, added two more to that list last week.
Cienega senior guard NaKeva Mack (Colorado Northwestern) and Walden Grove forward Briana Gamillo (Pima College) are the latest.
“It’s just exciting and it’s a total reflection for how hard the girls work,” said Klassen, who is a Pima women’s basketball assistant coach. “We can drill them. We can coach them. But at the end of the day, they have to go out in front of these coaches and use what they’ve worked on with us, their high school teams and on their own and to get noticed by (college) coaches.”
Cienega forward Lauren Green, who recently received scholarship offers from Long Beach State and New Mexico State, said he will make her decision soon. Grand Canyon and Cal State Bakersfield have also offered her a scholarship.
“I am kind of waiting until after all the tournaments are over for clubs and then I’ll make a decision,” said Green, who is 6’1″. “I’ve gone on a visit to all of the schools (that have offered a scholarship) except New Mexico State.
“There’s two schools in the lead — GCU because it is close to home and Long Beach State. I had a previous offer from the previous coaches there. The coaches left to Washington, so I had to start over. But I really like the campus.”
The last AAU tournament of the summer for the Rattlers’ Black team (comprised of players 17 and under) runs tomorrow through Saturday at the Nike Tournament of Championship in Atlanta. The Red team (15 and under) will play in the Cal Storm Grand Finale in Anaheim, Calif., this week.
Kiya Dorroh, an incoming 6’0″ freshman guard at Tanque Verde High School, already has scholarship offers from Arizona, ASU and Texas Rio Grande Valley.
She will take an unofficial visit to Washington’s campus in September. She has also received a letter from Princeton inviting her to that program’s elite camp.
Former Ironwood Ridge sharpshooting guard Natalie Bartle is playing her last tournament with the Rattlers this week before moving to Michigan to play her senior season there. She recently recently received a scholarship offer from Northern Michigan.
“All these players who are able to move on to college … it’s just a great reflection from the entire organization from when we started until now,” said Klassen, who along with his wife Katie started the Rattlers in 2008, when only eight players made up the 13-and-under team.
“It’s just a steppingstone every time a new kid goes out and gets signed. Every year, as we keep getting more people and more attention, it’s just a great reflection on our staff. We have an amazing staff. I’m truly blessed with the staff I have. The players and the families that are dedicated to getting the kids here to practices and not missing them, getting them into tournaments and doing the fundraisers and finding ways to get their kids where they need to be. It’s just a whole family effort and it’s a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Observing the Rattlers’ practice makes it obvious why players in Klassen’s program have succeeded and continue to do so.
Klassen handed me a one-page typed practice itinerary that broke up the two-hour segment into 12 segments. Each day has its own page in case any workouts need to be changed or implemented.
The practice, with the 12 segments averaging about three minutes each, keep the flow going constantly. The players stay more in tune with Klassen and his staff that way.
“I like playing with this team because it pushes me to get better,” Palo Verde junior guard Aaliyah Ortiz said. “Every one is aggressive. Everything is about hustle. I like how every one is friendly and pass the ball. Everyone gets an open shot.”
Green indicated the benefits of playing for the Rattlers goes beyond a higher level of competition at the national AAU events, such as the one in Atlanta this week.
“We basically played tournaments only in Tucson with the clubs teams I previously was with,” Green said. “Traveling to all these places like Chicago and Atlanta is really helpful because that’s where all the college coaches are.
“It’s great, looking over and there’s like 20 college coaches watching us play.”
Mack and Gamillo can not participate with the team in Atlanta because they have signed with a college. They still participated in Tuesday’s practice at Pima.
Summer Fox, a junior guard from Pueblo, has joined the team for the trip to Atlanta. Ella Berg, a sophomore at Tanque Verde, was elevated from the Red team to the Black this week.
With a slight change in personnel, the Rattlers go to Atlanta with the focus mostly on playing to their potential rather than on who they are playing.
“It’s really about can you bring your game and adjust to how the game unfolds,” Klassen said. “That’s something our girls do a really good job of, being able to know our stuff and know our schemes, know our game plan, but then being able to go into a game able to make adjustments.
“Maybe we’re used to switching every screen but then they have a huge dominant post player that we can’t switch our guards on. Then we’d go to hard hedges and zoning overs and being able to adjust on the fly and stay competitive and do what we need to do to stay in the game.”
The Rattlers went 4-1 in the Las Vegas Invitational and 3-2 in Nike Tournament of Champions in Chicago. They will face more stiff competition in Atlanta.
“I like challenging us in playing tougher, newer teams,” Klassen said. “That’s what’s really good for them too because when they get to the next level, they’re going to play with people all over the country and they’re going to play against people from all over the country. They need to get out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.