Coming off what it deemed a disappointing postseason, the Columbus Hidden Gems added a group of talented - and tall - players for its second season in the Women's Blue-Chip Basketball League.
Coming off what it deemed a disappointing postseason, the Columbus Hidden Gems added a group of talented — and tall — players for its second season in the Women's Blue-Chip Basketball League.
The results have been exactly what they were seeking.
With four regular-season games remaining, the Hidden Gems appear to be the favorites to win their division of the WBCBL and advance to the national tournament.
"Each game I get more excited because I see all of the tools we have," said Ashleigh Brown, a Delaware High School and Miami graduate who is in her first season with the Hidden Gems. "Once we get deeper into the season, we're going to be a tough team to beat."
The Hidden Gems won eight of their first nine games, with their only loss coming June 12 when they fell 85-81 to the Flint Flames. The Flames' roster includes former Ohio State players Larecha Jones and Tamarah Riley.
Columbus won six of its first seven in the North East Division and has regular-season league games remaining against the Toronto Lady Elite 1s (July 11 at home), Lexington Lightning (July 17 at home), Cleveland Crush (July 24 away) and Flint (July 25 away). All of the Hidden Gems' home games begin at 4 p.m. and are held at Lazelle Woods Recreation Center in Worthington.
Also competing in the North East Division are the Detroit Lady Dolphins and Toronto Stealth.
There are 58 teams competing among 10 regions in the WBCBL, and each region will play a tournament in early August to determine which team will represent it in the national tournament Aug. 21-22 in Miami.
Brown is one of eight players with central Ohio ties playing for the Hidden Gems and has used her 6-foot frame to become an immediate contributor (10 ppg, 4 rebounds).
Through seven games, former Ohio State player Brandie Hoskins and former Bowling Green player Niki McCoy both were averaging better than 16 points.
Jeannie Saunders, a co-captain who participated in training camp for the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA in April, averages 14 points and 6.5 rebounds.
The other co-captain is returnee Tapre Young, a Dublin Scioto graduate who averages more than eight points.
Former Ohio State-player Andrea Walker (11.5 ppg, 11 rebounds) and Walnut Ridge graduate Tina Huff are a pair of 6-foot-5 players who also have been contributors.
Michele DeVault, an Upper Arlington graduate who averages 12 points, previously played in Iceland before joining the Hidden Gems.
"When you get to this level, everyone is a good player and everyone is very versatile," McCoy said. "We have two 6-5 girls on our team. I'm a really competitive person, so I really like the team.
"It's not just like a rec league. Everybody played in college and either has played overseas or wants to."
Both Brown and McCoy are among the Hidden Gems' players who hope to play overseas.
Although the players in the WBCBL are paid little beyond minimal spending money and despite the fact that games usually are attended by fewer than 100 people, team president and coach Lucius Jones has had little trouble getting his players to be motivated.
Several members of the team also play together in a separate league against college players.
"It's a semi-pro league and women's basketball doesn't draw as much as men, but other than there being no dunks, it's a fast-paced, exciting game of bas-ketball," Jones said. "Our games can be entertaining.
We feel we can run the table, and it'll probably come down to us playing in the regional final again."