Cal Sparks Win Nike Nationals

Cal Sparks Win Nike Nationals
Tajianna RobertsTaj Roberts

Kennedy Smith of Etiwanda, California, put on a show in the Nike Nationals championship game. *Photo by Sumeet Kumar/Eliteye Media.

CHICAGO – The Nike Tournament of Champions is a staple event of the summer.  For 25 years it has been home to Nike’s sponsored teams.  Since 2017 the TOC has hosted Nike Nationals, the championship tournament for the Nike Girls EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball League).

The finale, which was live on ESPNU in addition to the standing room only local audience, saw two very different finalists.  A mainstay in the Platinum Division, All Iowa Attack, faced off with a Cal Sparks team making its first ever appearance in the championship game.  What’s more is the two were in the same pool to start the event and went the distance.

The Cal Sparks came out red hot with a 28-point first quarter.  The confidence exuded by Tajianna Avant-Roberts and Kennedy Smith gave the short-benched Sparks the punch to carry all 32 minutes.  Smith finished with a team high 20 points and 8 rebounds while Avant-Roberts finished with 19 points and 7 rebounds.  

Divine Bourrage of Davenport, Iowa.
*Photo by Sumeet Kumar.
But in true championship fashion All Iowa Attack came roaring back in the second quarter, cutting the lead by more than half, trailing by just eight at the break.  Divine Bourrage played an incredible game as the team’s feature player, scoring 21 points on 12 shots and not missing from beyond the arc (4-4) or from the free-throw line (5-5).

But this moment was the Sparks.  The program has a rich history.  The Sparks joined the Nike circuit in 2013.  Prior to that the Sparks were a staple adidas program with a twilight year at the now defunct Fila circuit.  A program built and sustained in an era of rise and fall programs makes this result all the more meaningful.

The inaugural year for the Sparks on the Nike circuit was in 2013 on a roster loaded with talent including WNBA champion Jordin Canada.  Another teammate on that squad, Caila Hailey, went on to terrific career at Washington State University.  Coming full circle, Hailey has been on the Sparks bench the past few summers, getting a chance to cut down nets with her father Will, who coached along with program director Elbert Kinnebrew and longtime Sparks coach and high school coach James Anderson.

The new four-day format for the viewing periods make the treacherous run for teams to make the Platinum Bracket run even harder.  

The West made a big comeback.  All six teams based on the west coast, one based in Seattle (Tree of Hope Team Bird), one based in the Bay Area (Cal Stars Team Ionescu), and all four Southern California based teams (Cal Sparks, Sports Academy, Team Taurasi, WhyNot Premier) made the Platinum bracket.  Three made the round of eight, two (Stars and Sparks) made the semifinals.


Nike Girls EYBL – Nike Nationals 17U

CHAMPION: Cal Sparks
RUNNER-UP: All Iowa Attack


Nike Girls EYBL – Nike Nationals 16U

CHAMPION: Philly Rise
RUNNER-UP: Missouri Phenom


Nike Girls EYBL – Nike Nationals 15U

CHAMPION: Jersey Gemz
RUNNER-UP: Mountain West Premier


Chris Hansen is managing editor of and serves on the McDonald’s All-American and Naismith Trophy selection committees.  He was a co-founder of and the national director of scouting for ESPN HoopGurlz from 2005 until 2012 and is the director of the Check Me Out Showcase and ELITE is EARNED events.  He can be reached at

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