Western PA Bruins earn No. 5 seed for 16U national tournament

Thursday, July 18, 2019 | 12:01 AM

In the first year of its girls basketball league-style AAU circuit, the Under Armour Association has been providing players from around the country a unique opportunity they didn’t quite have before.

Since April, elite travel teams nationwide have participated in league sessions in Manheim and Westfield, Ind. Not only have those sessions given players the opportunity to hone their craft and improve their talents, but they’ve also had the opportunity to play in front of several college coaches.

“Under Armour went with specific age groups when they created their circuit, where all the freshmen were playing against each other, all the sophomores against each other and so on, and I think that’s what made all the coaches want to come out,” Western PA Bruins coach Brian Murray said. “When we travel, my team had 100 coaches at every game in Indianapolis. In previous years, there might have only been 10 coaches at your games.”

Murray coaches the 16U Western PA Bruins squad, a team that consists of players from around the Pittsburgh area, including Kennedie Montue from Plum, Aislin Malcolm from Chartiers Valley, Corinne Washington from Quaker Valley, Journey Thompson from Peters Township and plenty of others.

Over the course of the summer, this squad has amassed a record of 8-2 during two UAA league sessions. Because of their performance, the Bruins earned the No. 5 seed at next week’s final tournament, where they’ll have the opportunity to play for the 16U national championship.

“For us to play for that in our first year is awesome,” Montue said. “It’s a lot of exposure, and there’s a lot of heart and passion that is going into it because people could look back on it and remember us for playing in the first tournament.”

The Bruins also will gain exposure from playing on a national stage. Eight of the 10 players have received offers to play at the collegiate level. While they might eventually have gotten those offers as juniors or seniors, playing on the UAA circuit has put them in front of more coaches at a younger age and has accelerated their recruiting process.

“That’s when it starts now,” Murray said. “There will be more offers, too. But getting offered early now means all those coaches are showing up at the games, and then they see other kids, and it just snowballs.”

Malcom, who last season as a freshmen contributed to Chartiers Valley’s undefeated season and WPIAL and PIAA championships, has garnered offers from schools like Pitt, Kent State, Western Michigan, and most recently, West Virginia. While she has displayed the ability to play at the Division I level someday, she never thought her recruitment would start this early.

“Even when I talk to other people, they are already asking me like ‘you’re already visiting schools?,’ ” she said. “AAU has helped so much to get that attention.”

Not only does receiving offers at such a young age get the process started for players like Malcom and Montue, but it also gives them a sense of hope and accomplishment as they continue their high school career.

“It’s crazy to think that as a sophomore, it’s just like ‘wow,’ ” said Montue, who holds three offers. “To see what other people have to do and that don’t get there till maybe they’re a junior, and to me that’s still amazing. But at such a young age, 16, to get offers and go to school for free, that’s just amazing.”

Over the course of it’s inaugural year, the UAA AAU circuit has given high school girls the opportunity to grow their game, gain greater exposure, and ultimately take advantage of a national stage in several different ways.

On Tuesday, the 16U Bruins will start their run toward a national championship with a first-round matchup against South Beach Elite at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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