St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Will they go their separate ways?

The recruiting process has been wildly different for two talented prep seniors.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 24, 2002

The recruiting process has been wildly different for two talented prep seniors.

This is the seventh installment of an ongoing series on two girls, best of friends, with similar dreams to play basketball in college:

* * *

In the high-stakes game of Division I basketball recruiting, it's all about the mode of communication.

Letters? Thousands of athletes might receive correspondence. E-mails? Hundreds might get electronic messages. The phone call, however, is priceless.

Not until June 21 before a basketball recruit's senior year of high school can phone contact commence. Coaches can call to say, "We want you in our program."

At about 10:30 a.m. on June 21 it happened for Dominique Redding. Tennessee's Pat Summitt -- her dream coach, her dream school -- called Redding.

"She said she's very interested in recruiting me, that she was very excited," said Redding, a 6-foot-1 forward for Clearwater High. "So was I."

Actually, Redding missed the call -- she was out looking for her lost pit bull, Sapphire. Saffy turned up safe -- with a few scrapes from a run-in with a car -- and Redding returned the call.

Thus began the final stage of a process years in the making. Redding has wanted to play for Summitt and her fabulously successful Tennessee Volunteers since she began playing basketball as a tyke.

"She said she wanted to come down in September for an in-home visit," Redding said of Summitt, whom she met last summer at a camp at Tennessee. "I said, 'Come on down.' "

A face-to-face sit-down on your couch with Pat Summitt? Beyond priceless.

Yet the quest is far from over. Summitt has said she is recruiting Redding, and as per NCAA rules they can talk by phone about once a week. The remaining steps are: 1) a scholarship offer, 2) acceptance, also known as an "oral commitment," and 3) Redding's signature on a letter of intent during the early signing period in November.

There are other key elements -- Summitt's visit to Redding's home, Redding's official visit to UT -- but Redding hopes they are formalities. Just in case, though, the backup is ready. Her longtime No. 2 school, Florida, has offered a scholarship.

Redding's master plan, hatched in middle school, is unfolding as fluidly as her jump shot -- remarkable, considering how tumultuous the recruiting experience usually is.

The far more typical saga resembles the story of her best buddy, Kelcey Roegiers-Jensen. It is like bouncing around inside a clothes dryer.

This month, Roegiers-Jensen, a 5-7 point guard for Boca Ciega, and Redding, who averaged 22 points a game last season, embarked on an 11-day, three-tournament, two-city, cross-continental hoops bonanza with the Florida Starzz AAU team.

"It's the most important (recruiting) period," Roegiers-Jensen said before departing. "Everybody's going to be there. (The tournaments) will have 300, 350 coaches watching. This is the important time."

Members of every major Division I staff would be mining for prospects, making fresh evaluations, tweaking old ones, adding or dropping players from their lists. The bottom line: impress them now -- or likely never.

The trip began with a four-day tournament in Las Vegas, followed by a four-day tournament and three-day invitation-only event in Atlanta.

"There is a lot of pressure, knowing your scholarship's on the line," Roegiers-Jensen said.

Last year, Roegiers-Jensen and Redding had identical college lists: Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Duke. They long have planned to go to the same college as a package deal.

In April, however, the reality of recruiting began to set in for Roegiers-Jensen. UConn, the 2001-02 national champion, and Tennessee didn't seem like realistic options. It was a candid self-assessment.

"I realized I wanted to go somewhere and make an impact as a freshman," Roegiers-Jensen said. "At Tennessee, UConn, I don't see that happening."

Roegiers-Jensen traveled with the Starzz to a tournament in North Carolina. By her own estimation, she played poorly. Members of the Florida staff were there. Former UF coach Carol Ross had offered Roegiers-Jensen a scholarship, but the new staff, under coach Carolyn Peck, spread the word that she was not in their plans.

In a matter of days, everything had been jumbled. Suddenly, it seemed Roegiers-Jensen and Redding would be parting ways. With the string of critical summer tournaments lurking, Roegiers-Jensen's list of colleges -- and her future -- was due for a major overhaul.

She began researching schools, looking for a place that: needed a point guard; was interested in her; could challenge for major conference and national titles; was in a comfortable locale; and had a coaching staff she liked, among other things.

From June 21 until she left for Vegas, she received calls from many colleges, including Ohio State, Louisville, Vanderbilt and Kansas State, saying they were recruiting her. A few, among them Florida International, quickly offered scholarships.

"I have it all written down in a booklet, all of the schools and what I know about them, and everything we've said to each other," Roegiers-Jensen said.

The foundation for a new list was established, and she prepared for the most important 11 days of basketball in her life. For years, she had played in big games in elite tournaments against top competition in front of college coaches. But now the ante had been raised.

"I felt like I had to impress," she said. "Both sides are narrowing things down, and coaches can turn their heads away as quickly as they'll look back at you."

A coach might be watching, but what is he or she thinking? Since they can't talk in person, recruits only know for sure if they receive a phone call.

Roegiers-Jensen was pleased with her performance in Vegas and the first few days in Atlanta.

Then the rumor hit.

Word began circulating Roegiers-Jensen had committed to Florida. In Atlanta, her father, Chuck Jensen, learned about it from Old Dominion coaches, who told him they thought his daughter was a "done deal" with the Gators, who weren't recruiting her.

It was a jolt.

"Stuff like that happens all the time," said Bret McCormick, scouting director for the All-Star Girls Basketball Report. "Things get started and take off. You can just hope to get it straightened out."

"When my dad told me about that, it was very disturbing," Roegiers-Jensen said. "This is a scholarship, and a rumor could have hurt my chance. I felt more pressure."

The good news: Old Dominion, a fabled program that reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament last year, called Roegiers-Jensen to express its interest.

A runaway rumor, like a ring of the phone, can dramatically alter the landscape.

Sunday night, Roegiers-Jensen told the Times she had four schools on her list: Rutgers, Old Dominion, Vanderbilt and Kansas State. Several others were candidates for the fifth spot (recruits can take five official visits), among them Auburn, Western Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Miami, Tulsa and Central Florida. Two hours later, she called back with an update.

"You can scratch Kansas State off the list. They just called to say another point guard accepted a scholarship."

In the next couple of weeks things will whittle down considerably. Final decisions will be made about on-campus and in-home visits.

Recruiting, exhilarating at first, is becoming a grind. Roegiers-Jensen and Redding want to sign in November rather than after their senior seasons.

"I'm just ready for it to be over with," Roegiers-Jensen said.

Most important, though, they want to get it right: To find the program, the teammates, the coaches, the campus, the academics -- the all-around best situation for their future.

For years, through hundreds of games and tournaments, workouts and practice sessions, laughter and tears, finding the best situation also meant attending the same school. Now fate seems to be pulling them in different directions. As they have learned, though, the swift currents of recruiting can shift at any moment.

"Tennessee and Florida are my top two schools, but it's still up in the air," said Redding, who has LSU and Auburn as her third and fourth schools. "We don't know. Some colleges might still call. We're not closing the door."

"There's still a slight chance we'll end up together, maybe 5-10 percent," Roegiers-Jensen said. "We both have that fifth spot open."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.