‘Amazingly talented’ 9th graders: Multiple colleges court 2 Delaware high school basketball teammates

Fans and scouts are flocking to Ursuline Academy’s games to see phenoms GG Banks and Taylor Brown. They starred as eighth graders, too.

Brown, known for her hawklike defense, guards Sanford's Adrianna Chambers. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

About 400 fans packed the stands at Delaware’s Sanford School on a recent weekday afternoon for a girls varsity basketball game.

Even though the Warriors are the defending state champions, they wouldn’t normally draw anywhere close to a near-capacity crowd for a daytime game.

But this day is different, in a big way.

Sanford is playing Ursuline Academy in a rematch of the 2023 high school title game. That means fans get a chance to witness the brilliance of Ursuline’s two freshman guards — Jezelle “GG” Banks and Taylor Brown.

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GG Banks and Taylor Brown posing on the basketball court
Brown (left) and Banks are all smiles before taking on Sanford, which beat Ursuline in last year's title game. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

It’s rare when a school has one ninth grader receive a college scholarship offer. But teammates  Banks and Brown, who also are strong academically, already have more than two dozen offers between them from major programs.

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Fans cheering in the stands during the game
The stands were packed for the weekday mid-afternoon game. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Brown, known for her silky moves and hawk-like defense, rattles off the universities that already want her.

“So far I have Michigan, Florida, Penn State, Delaware, Harvard, Columbia, Providence, St. Joe’s and Michigan State,’’ Brown says.

Taylor Brown warming up on the court
Taylor Brown has her game face on during pregame warmups. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Banks, who routinely makes NBA-length three-pointers and fires precision, laser-like passes to teammates for easy layups, has an even longer list.

“Mine is South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio State, Texas, Harvard, Columbia, Penn State, Providence, and it’s like 10 more,’’ Banks says.

GG Banks taking a practice shot
Banks prepares to launch a pre-game three-pointer. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

These are girls, mind you, who won’t even take their SATs for two years.

So while there is definitely interest in the Sanford-Ursuline rematch, the eyes of many fans are focused on Brown and Banks.

University of Maryland head coach Brenda Frese was among those in the bleachers. Frese told WHYY News she couldn’t comment about the Ursuline girls because of NCAA rules but spent several minutes speaking with their coach, John Noonan.

Brenda Frese and John Noonan
University of Maryland head basketball coach Brenda Frese was in the bleachers and spoke with Ursuline coach John Noonan after the game. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Matt Wilson, a coach on Sanford’s outstanding boys team, had nothing but praise for the girls who started for Ursuline last year as eighth graders, generating a buzz that continues growing

“They’re amazingly talented,” Wilson said. “I’ve been coaching basketball for 21 years at Sanford and they’re probably up there in the top 10 of players I’ve seen come through the state. I think the sky is the limit on how high they could go.”

Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson, assistant coach for the Sanford boys team, says Banks and Brown are ‘amazingly talented.’ (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Once the buzzer sounded to start the game, Banks and Brown dominated play. The pair combined to score 55 of Ursuline’s 76 points in a double overtime thriller won by a resilient and resolute Sanford team.

Yet even in defeat, the girls exuded effervescence during a postgame interview.

Banks, who had 32 points, wasn’t deterred afterward, saying Ursuline’s eyes are on a sweeter prize — the state title that eluded them last year. The tournament kicks off next week, and if Ursuline gets the chance, Banks anticipates avenging the losses to Sanford.

“We still got more to come,’’ Banks quipped. “Sanford’s definitely a good team and we’ll see them again.”

2 players during the game
Banks (right) jokes with her friend, Sanford freshman Adrianna Chambers, before the opening whistle. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The girls express mutual admiration for each other’s talents.

Banks explained what makes her backcourt mate Brown so special.

“Definitely her defense is what stands out the most,” Banks said. “I could count on her to get any type of steal and then we always see each other on the court. We know each other’s game, so we just play off each other and play to the best of our ability.”

A scene from the basketball game
Banks prepares to launch a pass to a fast-breaking Brown. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Brown returned the kudos.

“I think the best thing about GG’s game is definitely her passing, like she always makes sure she gets everybody involved. She passes the best to the bigs I’ve ever seen. And just the way she pushes down the floor and puts pressure on the defense.”

Banks squaring up at the free throw line
Banks takes a free throw while Brown observes. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Brown said the attention from fans and coaches fuels her desire to reach her potential.

“It means a lot to me, being out here as a freshman and getting all this recognition,’’ she said. “Every time we play we have people coming up to us saying, ’Good game.’ We’re putting Ursuline back on the map and I really enjoy it.”

Banks dribbling the ball up the court
Banks brings up the ball near mid-court. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The ninth graders ‘make plays that other kids don’t make’

Banks lives in Delaware and Brown lives in suburban Philadelphia, but the two have been playing together for several years on AAU travel teams that compete on the regional and national level.

So it’s natural that despite their geographic differences, they wanted to play together in high school.

GG Banks and Taylor Brown
Even after a double-overtime defeat to defending state champ Sanford, Ursuline’s two freshman phenoms exuded effervescence. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

GG’s dad Freddie Banks says it’s no accident that the duo chose Ursuline, an all-girls Catholic school in Wilmington that’s a perennial Delaware basketball powerhouse. The Raiders have won 17 state titles, far more than any other school, but none since 2017.

Ursuline also was the proving ground for two of the best female players to ever come out of Delaware — Val Whiting, who played in the WNBA a quarter-century ago, and current pro superstar Elena Delle Donne.

“It’s a dream come true. It was calculated,’’ Freddie Banks said. “They’ve been playing together like the last five, six years. So we thought it’d be a great idea for them to play in Delaware, build a legacy” and prepare for college and perhaps even the Olympics and the WNBA.

Freddie Banks sitting in the stands
Freddie Banks (blue sweatshirt) says having the girls play together in high school is a “dream come true.” (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Kelli Brown, who drives her daughter to Wilmington every morning and works remotely while she’s in school and then practices or plays, said her family is grateful for the opportunity.

“It’s an honor and a blessing for her to be in the situation she’s in,’’ Brown said at the Sanford game’s halftime. “And to play with one of her closest friends, that’s another blessing. They already had chemistry growing up.”

Kelli Brown sitting in the stands
Kelli Brown drives her daughter from their suburban Philadelphia home to Wilmington, where she works remotely until her daughter’s day is done. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

While the girls have big basketball aspirations, they are also eyeing the future once they hang up their colorful sneakers  — currently neon green for Banks and pink/orange for Brown.

Banks hopes to be a coach, Brown a pediatrician.

But for now, they’ll grace the courts and push each other while shooting for state titles and weighing their college offers.

Scoresheet at the end of the game
Banks and Brown dominated the scoresheet, scoring 55 of Ursuline’s 76 points against defending state champion Sanford. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

No matter what the future brings, Noonan says it’s a joy coaching such talented players.

“It’s enjoyable to watch kids playing sports that they love and have passion for,’’ Noonan said. “They make plays that a lot of kids don’t make and that’s why they’re drawing so much attention.”

Coach Noonan on the sideline during the game
Coach Noonan says his two ninth-graders make plays that other high schoolers cannot. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Coach Noonan also emphasized his responsibility to the girls goes beyond what transpires on the court, and that academics and maturation are a priority.

“It’s also part of the coaching staff’s responsibility to try to prepare them not only for basketball situations, but also life, to try to help them develop as young women.”

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