2003-04 COLLEGE FRESHMEN TO WATCH

So much more than talent determines whether a high school star will successfully make the transition to Division I basketball. Can they handle going 100% every minute of practice? How will they deal with no longer being “the best player” on the team? Can they balance a full load of classes with the demand of four hours a day of practice and weight training? Can they sublimate their ego for the good of the team? Or handle the pressure of a coach who expects them to make an immediate impact? How will they match up with the bigger, faster and stronger players they’ll go against game after game?

Only the start of the season can answer these questions. Here, then, through the eyes of those who’ve coached or recruited them, are some of the incoming freshmen to watch for as the 2003-04 season unfolds.

Alison Bales – Duke University

During her career, 6’7″ center Alison Bales led Beavercreek High School (OH) to an undefeated season and State Championship and her AAU team to the National Championship three consecutive years. As a senior, Bales averaged 17.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, and was named a WBCA, McDonalds and Parade All-American. “She’s very intelligent,” says her high school coach Ed Zink, “and knows what she can and can’t do. She’s an unselfish kid, and a tremendous young lady.”

Despite her accolades, Zink knows it’s unrealistic to expect Bales to earn an enormous amount of playing time, considering Duke returns almost everyone from last year’s Final Four team. Once on the court, though, Bales (deliverer of 500 blocks in high school) can make an immediate impact defensively. “Offensively,” admits Zink, “she’s going to have to be more aggressive and stronger.” Summer commitments to AAU prevented Bales from hitting the weight room as often as Zink would like, so he’s tried to prepare her for the realities of college.

“They basically tell you what you can and can’t do,” explains Zink. “I don’t know if any kid really realizes the extent of that until they actually get there.”

Jessica Davenport – Ohio State

6’6″ center Jessica Davenport brings impeccable credentials to Coach Jim Foster’s Ohio State team. A straight A student, Davenport earned both WBCA and McDonald’s All-American honors this year. One of the state’s best shot blockers, there’s no doubt of her role at Ohio.

“She’s going to bring an inside presence,” explains Bill Spencer, Davenport’s coach at Independence High School (OH). “When [Jessica and Latoya Turner, a 6’3″ forward] play together, they’re going to have a twin towers.” A player who runs the floor with surprising speed, Davenport’s ball handling skills are equally impressive. “If you come out on her too quickly,” warns Spencer, “she can take you.”

Considering Davenport didn’t start basketball until the seventh grade, Spencer knows there’s tremendous potential her game, and eagerly anticipates her seeing her talent come to fruition under Foster’s tutelage. “Ohio State has a diamond in the rough,” says Spencer with a grin, “and when they get that carbon off her, they’re going to be surprised at what they find.”

Lauren Ervin – Kansas

Kansas University coach Marian Washington and Tim Eatman, her assistant coach in charge of recruiting, know exactly how good a player they have in Lauren Ervin. A top ranked recruit (#2 by both Blue Star and All Game Sports recruiting services, #6 in the All-Star Girls Report), the 6’2″ power forward averaged 24 points and 18 rebounds per game as a senior at Inglewood High School (CA).

Quick and athletic, Ervin brings a size to the perimeter game that will force double teams on defense and, says Washington, “allow other players on our team to flourish.” An upbeat personality, she’s positive and full of enthusiasm. Additionally, the Kansas staff Ervin’s arrival on campus is viewed as more than a recruiting coup.

“She will bring back the respectability to the talent level that Coach Washington has coached in the past,” explains Eatman, “which will therefore show others for the future that we’re back up to where we need to be.”

Crystal Erwin – Notre Dame

Crystal Erwin, says Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, “is different than everybody we have. A very physical presence on the court, she’s a great rebounder, and very willing to bang inside.” After playing for St. Paul High School (CA) where she averaged 22 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists per game, the 6’2″ power forward comes to Notre Dame a very confident young woman. “She’s going to come in looking to take somebody’s spot,” warns McGraw, “not sit back and say, “Hey, I’m just a freshman.”

McGraw anticipates Ervin’s biggest asset will be her effervescent personality. “She was here this summer, and she already knows everyone on campus,” says McGraw. On the court, McGraw expects that will translate into being the kind of leader that is not afraid to demand excellence of herself and others. “She’s one,” adds McGraw, “that will be willing, even as a freshman, to say, ‘Hey, this is what we’ve got to do to get it done, because we want to win a National Championship, and that’s why I’m here.'”

Katie Gearlds – Purdue

“It’s the dream of every coach to have a player like Katie Geralds,” says Steve Cox, assistant coach at Beech Grove High School (IN). Which explains why Purdue’s coach Kristy Curry has had her eye on her since Geralds was a sixth grader.

The 6’1″ wing finished her career with over 2000 points, averaging 27 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 steals per game, and was a key element in Beech Grove winning the 2003 Class 3A Championship – their first in any sport. But the impressive statistics only reflect small measure of what Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year will bring to Purdue.

“Her integrity, willingness to care about others, and leadership ability is tremendous,” said Cox. “She just makes everybody around her a better player. Even though she’s the state’s fifth all-time leading scorer,” Cox continues, “I think she’d just as soon pass the ball, get a great assist, or bring the ball up the court under pressure. The bottom line is,” concludes Cox, “she’s going to have a major impact in college basketball.”

Tiffany Jackson – Texas

For three years Tiffany Jackson led Dallas’ Lincoln High School to the Class 4A Titles. Then the 6’3″ forward joined Cathy Self-Morgan’s Duncanville High School team for her senior year and helped lead them to their first 5A title since 1997, averaging 16.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.2 steals a game.

“I keep asking my husband,” says Self-Morgan, “‘Do you think there’s any hope of someone of that caliber walking in [this year]?’ I don’t think that happens very often in a coach’s career.”

She knows, then, exactly what coach Jody Conradt and Texas can expect from the WBCA Naismith Player of the Year. “She loves a challenge,” says Self-Morgan. “She’s been at the top of my full court press, taken the ball out of bounds, even played the point in the half court game. In practices,” adds Self-Morgan, “she wants to go against the first string. She wants to learn and get better. She’ll give you everything she’s got.”

Ivory Latta – North Carolina

Sylvia Hatchell’s North Carolina teams have a history of big point guards – most recently the 6′ WNBA all-star Nikki Teasley. But York Comprehensive High School’s (SC) Ivory Latta convinced Hatchell there was a place for a 5’4″ point guard on her team. “Ivory has so many positive things that outweigh her size, explains Hatchell. “The kid has so much heart, it’s incredible.”

A Member of the National Honor Society with a GPA of 3.94, Latta leaves South Carolina with a armful of basketball records, including most 30 and 40 point games, and a career point total over 4,000. “Of course she can score,” says Hatchell. “She had one game in the [state] playoffs where she scored 70 points. She’s hard to guard, because she so fast and quick. And,” adds Hatchell, “I love the transition game, and that’s Ivory. She gets the outlet pass and she’s gone.”

The Tar Heels are reaping the benefits of Latta’s charisma and talent before she’s even stepped out onto the court. “She’s helped out recruiting,” acknowledges Hatchell with a grin. “There are a LOT of players out there that want to play with Ivory.”

Liz Podominick – Minnesota

Liz Podominick joins the Minnesota Gophers after having amassed over 2000 points and 1000 rebounds and two Class 4A Championships during her career at Lakeville High School (MN). Her 21 points and 11 rebounds a game combined with her 61% shooting earned Podominick WBCA All-American status as well as Gatorade and AP Minnesota Player of the Year honors.

But, says her High School coach Andy Berkaum, Minnesota doesn’t expect superstar numbers from the freshman. “They need a banger and she fits that,” explains Berkaum. “I told her, ‘Look to be a blue collar player your first couple of years.’ She can get you 10 points and 8 or 9 rebounds a game. She’s solid and doesn’t make mistakes.” Even more importantly, adds Berkaum, who’s coached Podominick since eighth grade, “Liz never gives up.”

An over-achiever and perfectionist, Podominick also boasts a 4.0 grade point average. “She has big goals,” says Berkaum. While her main love is basketball, Podominick will red-shirt in track and field which, says Berkaum, she does “as a hobby.” Already throwing the shot put over 51 feet, there’s talk of the Olympics in her future.

“She’s pretty special,” admits Berkaum. “I named my youngest daughter after her.”

Noelle Quinn – UCLA

Noelle Quinn has attended UCLA basketball camps since entering Bishop Montgomery High School, so there’s no hesitation in Bruins coach Kathy Olivier’s assessment. “She’s a winner. That’s the only thing the girl knows. Bishop Montgomery wins four state Championships with her.”

In the process, the California Gatorade Player of the Year put up numbers that would make any coach proud: 19 points, 8 assists, and 7 steals per game. “She’ll make and immediate impact,” says Olivier, “and I know that for a fact. She’s so gifted in some many ways, and people just adore her.”

A point guard in high school, Quinn will play both the 2 and 3, occasionally handling the ball on the break because, says Olivier, “she makes so many good decisions and she sees the court so well.” Both a shooter and a scorer, Quinn doesn’t scrimp on defense. “She’s quick, savvy, like a cat, and reads peoples eyes. That’s what makes her such a good defender. And, adds Olivier, “she goes hard all the time.”

“I’m a lucky coach,” says Olivier appreciatively. “I am the luckiest coach on earth.”

Kiana Robinson – UConn

Watching Kiana Robinson spark the East to a 106-103 overtime win in the l’adidas Roundball Classic, fans caught flashes of the versatility and strength she’ll bring to the University of Connecticut. A natural point guard, the 5’7″ Robinson joined Laurenburg Charter High School her senior year and was asked to play the 2-guard.

“She sacrificed her game for the team,” says Coach Quentin Hillsman. “She led the country in scoring before she came to us, and averaged 20-22 points a game when she could have averaged 40. She’s a very humble kid, very team oriented, and strong mentally and physically.” Robinson is also mature beyond her years, having to self-monitor because of asthma attacks. Of course, notes Hillsman, the two times she did suffer an attack, she managed to score 62 and 51 points.

A very physical guard, Robinson will put the ball on the floor twice, take the contact and finish. Used to having her way with defenders, Hillsman anticipates Robinson’s defining moment will be the first time she tries and the defender doesn’t bite. “That’s when people are going to see the best of Kiana Robinson,” says Hillsman. “When she gets challenged.”

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