Hidden Gems enjoying strong campaign
During its inaugural 2009 season, the Columbus Hidden Gems semi-professional team fell just short of advancing to the Women's Blue Chip Basketball League's national tournament.
They made the 16-team tournament the next season, but lost in the second round.
With the addition of players such as Star Allen and Crystal Murdaugh this summer, the Hidden Gems believe their current squad could be their best yet.
With Allen in the lineup for the first time June 9, Columbus beat the Cleveland Crush 92-77 in a Northeast Division game.
Neither Allen nor Ashleigh Brown, a 2006 Delaware graduate, was in uniform May 12 for the Hidden Gems' 79-73 loss to the Crush in their opener.
"A few years ago we were the No. 1 team in the nation (during the regular season), and we should have one of those type of seasons again this year," coach Lucius Jones said. "I really think this should be probably the best group we've had from a depth standpoint."
The Hidden Gems play their home games at Lazelle Woods Recreation Center and have three regular-season games left.
Columbus beat the Detroit Black Hawks 76-51 on May 13 for its first win and was 2-1 before playing host to the Detroit Black Hawks on June 16 and the Crush on June 17.
The Hidden Gems travel Saturday, June 23, to play the Flint Lady Monarchs. They play host to the Monarchs on July 8 and close the regular season July 14 at Flint against the Black Hawks.
The WBCBL will hold a national tournament Aug. 3-5 in Miami for qualifying teams. There are 54 teams competing among 12 divisions.
Allen is a 2005 Independence graduate who averaged 10.8 points and 7.7 rebounds as a senior for Ohio State in 2008-09. She previously played in Portugal and last winter played in Romania, but doesn't yet have a contract for the coming season.
Allen, like many players on the Hidden Gems, hopes to be playing overseas a few months from now.
"I wanted to just keep in shape this summer and do something around Ohio," said Allen, who had eight points and five rebounds in the win over the Crush. "Playing overseas is fast-paced, and there are a lot of good players everywhere. I've known (Jones) for about four years and always wanted to play for (the Hidden Gems)."
Murdaugh is the all-time leading scorer at Dublin Scioto and was the ThisWeek Super 12 captain as a senior in 2007.
She spent one season playing for Bowling Green before transferring to North Carolina A&T. Murdaugh was a key contributor for the Aggies as a junior but had her career cut short because of an injury.
She was averaging 10.7 points and 8.3 rebounds through three games with Columbus.
Other Hidden Gems with central Ohio ties are 2004 Scioto graduate Tapre Young, 2006 Africentric graduate Janicia Anderson, 2003 Walnut Ridge graduate Tina Huff and 2003 Beechcroft graduate Lorrie Poindexter.
Through three games, Brittany Smart (18.7 points per game), Jeannie Saunders (15 ppg) and Michele Miller (12 ppg) were the leading scorers. Smart played for Cedarville University and Saunders played for Long Beach State and Salem International. Miller played for Xavier and has played in Germany.
"This year's team is probably the best team they've had, especially now that we have pretty much all of our players back," Murdaugh said. "We have a lot of talent and girls with a lot of goals, team-wise and individual-wise. I definitely am hoping to get an opportunity to play overseas, so hopefully I can do well this summer and put some stats up. Just wherever I can go is where I want to go."