ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
For the country's top high school girls basketball players, summer vacation can wait. July is full of tournaments that showcase players for college recruiters, which means Glenn Nelson's summer plans have to wait, too. Nelson chronicles all things girls' basketball on his Web site HoopGurlz.com - girls is spelled G-U-R-L-Z. As NPR's Tom Goldman reports, it has become the place to go for news about girls' basketball.
TOM GOLDMAN: Glenn Nelson wanted in on the world of girls' basketball. Follow him around the summer tournament, as I did in Oregon City, Oregon this month, and you understand just how far in he's gotten.
Mr. GLENN NELSON (HoopGurlz.com): Hey, how are you doing?
Unidentified Man: Good, how's it going?
Mr. NELSON: All right, good to see you, man.
GOLDMAN: From the endless greetings — Nelson admits he doesn't always know who's saying hello — to the moments when worried moms and dads want to use him as a sounding board…
Mr. NELSON: You know, like the team we just saw, there's a bunch of parents that I know are giving the eye about their kid. Their kids aren't playing. They were probably promised something…
GOLDMAN: To the happier conversations with a satisfied coach.
Mr. NELSON: These girls look like they've been playing together all year long.
Mr. ALBERT KINEBREW(ph) (Basketball Coach): Great. That team was a pretty good squad, and we just killed them.
GOLDMAN: When Nelson walked away, the coach, Albert Kinebrew, weighed in.
Mr. KINEBREW: I love what he does.
Mr. NELSON: People like seeing us walk through the door. People thank us for what we're doing. So we feel like we're feeding into something.
GOLDMAN: What is now we — a staff of six writers, men and women — once was just Nelson. He started the Web site nearly 10 years ago as a way to chronicle the girls' team he coached in Seattle. Then it grew: scouting and player evaluations on more girls from more teams around the country. One of his two daughters came up with the name HoopGurlz.com, and it all felt right, especially after his pre-HoopGurlz career: 17 years covering the NBA as a sportswriter for The Seattle Times newspaper.
Mr. NELSON: I kind of fled away from that, looking for what I thought was the last innocent corner of the sports world, a bunch of girls playing basketball, ponytails bobbing.
GOLDMAN: Nelson largely found that innocence in the relative lack of money, greed and scandals, but in the roughly five years since HoopGurlz really took off, Nelson has witnessed an eye-popping evolution of players — still with ponytails but bigger, faster, more skilled and tougher.
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GOLDMAN: During one of the tournament games, a player from a Berkeley, California, team went down with a badly twisted ankle. Her face was contorted but no tears. Her coaches came out to help her off the court, but she waved them off. Standing next to me, Ron Beard, a club coach from the Seattle area, watched and smiled.
Mr. RON BEARD (Basketball Coach): Back in the day, two of the coaches might have had to pick her up and drag her off, carry her off. Look. She said: Back off. I got it. Walk off by myself. I can walk by myself. Basically what she's doing is she's showing the gym that I'm still tough. It's a personal thing. That's boy stuff.
GOLDMAN: Nelson agrees boys' basketball is influencing the girls' game more and more, but he insists there still are fundamental differences in the two basketball worlds.
Mr. NELSON: Females are a lot more communal, and so this sport is not just a sport. It's a happening. It's a community. I know to play to that.
Ms. ERICA PAYNE: I'm Erica Payne. I'm a sophomore from (unintelligible).
GOLDMAN: Nelson does it with video player profiles on the Web site.
Ms. PAYNE: My favorite author is (unintelligible), including J.K. Rowling, and I love the Harry Potter series, kind of a nerd, and…
GOLDMAN: And with interviews like the one Nelson did in Oregon City with a player named Morganne Comstock. A couple of years ago, her good friend and teammate died suddenly.
Mr. NELSON: Do you think you were able to maintain, or did that throw you off at all emotionally?
Ms. MORGANNE COMSTOCK: Yeah, emotionally, just playing and thinking about her was just what made me move forward and that she'll always be with me when I play.
GOLDMAN: Last year, HoopGurlz.com arrived. ESPN, the sports media empire, bought the site, but Nelson says selling it wasn't a slam dunk. He worried ESPN would force him to make HoopGurlz more like a boy's recruiting site: heavy on stats, light on personality. Nelson's ESPN supervisor says that never was a consideration.
The supervisor adds, laughing, Glenn's entire goal is to make girls basketball the most viewed sport in the country. It isn't going to happen, but if Glenn didn't care so much, we wouldn't want him. Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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