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Finally ready to go

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Clearwater forward Dominique Redding and Boca Ciega guard Kelcey Roegiers-Jensen have received thousands of letters from schools interested in recruiting them.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 4, 2002

A Basketball Bond

Dominique Redding and Kelcey Roegiers-Jensen are talented and dedicated players who have led parallel and intertwined lives. Basketball is how they met more than seven years ago, and basketball is the tether between them. Both are considered among the elite high school seniors in Florida. Redding plays for Clearwater, and Roegiers-Jensen for Boca Ciega. In August 2000, the Times introduced readers to them in the first installment of a periodic series.

In Part VIII, weary from college recruiting, the girls are rapidly closing in on the most important moment of their careers: signing a national letter of intent to play college basketball.

PART 7: Will they go their separate ways?
PART 6: Mom comes through in clutch
PART 5: Ball taking new bounces for best friends
PART 4: Success at the Summitt
PART 2: Going in different directions
PART 1: A basketball bond

Dominique Redding would not spend the most anticipated 48 hours of her life alone. When her Delta connector through Atlanta touched down Oct. 25 in Knoxville, Tenn., just about the whole gang was in tow.

Her mom, Mary Adams, older brother, Leman Adams, older sister, Felecia Adams, and aunt, Barbara McCluster, were there, as they often have been, nurturing her dream.

This was Redding's official visit to the University of Tennessee, and she wanted everyone involved. By NCAA rule, Tennessee can pay for two trips per recruit; the other three paid their own way.

"It will be a family experience," Redding said.

Redding has wanted to play for the mighty Volunteers since middle school, and UT has been recruiting Redding via mail for years. Legendary coach Pat Summitt has called Redding for months. She came to Clearwater High in September to watch Redding practice, then went to Redding's home for a visit that lasted several hours.

Summitt and her staff want to know more about the 6-foot-1 forward than her divine shooting stroke and myriad skills. Would Redding fit in with the UT coaches and players? Would she respond to their coaching style? And most important, could she handle the pressure of playing for the nation's most prominent women's athletic program in front of 12,000-plus orange-clad supporters?

The Vols will sign two or three players this year. There is no margin for error.

Summitt had not officially offered Redding a scholarship when she arrived Oct. 25. Signing day, Nov. 13, was closing fast. The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported the Vols had whittled their potential recruits to four. They had received an oral commitment from one, Sidney Spencer, a forward from Alabama. It was uncertain if they had offered anything to the other two, Brittany Hunter from Columbus, Ohio, and Tiffany Jackson from Duncanville, Texas.

Redding's itinerary included a premidnight Midnight Madness-type event Friday at Thompson-Boling Arena; Saturday meals with the team sandwiched around practice; visits with academic advisers and a campus tour; dinner at Summitt's house; and the Saturday night Alabama-Tennessee football game, along with more than 100,000 fans, at Neyland Stadium.

Redding said she had been given every indication that this was a formality, that she would depart Knoxville as the next member of the Tennessee women's basketball program.

"It will all be over Sunday," she said before she left.

It would, and she would be smiling.

* * *

The odyssey is nearly complete. Mercifully.

It will most likely end on signing day, not a day too soon for Redding and her longtime pal, fellow prep basketball whiz Kelcey Roegiers-Jensen.

College recruiting began for Redding in sixth grade, as best she can remember, with a letter from a college she can't recall. For Roegiers-Jensen, a point guard for Boca Ciega, it was a letter from Michigan State, she thinks, that arrived in seventh grade.

That was the beginning. The 17-year-old seniors have spent roughly a third of their lives receiving recruiting mail.

The girls, close friends for more than seven years since meeting -- where else? -- on a basketball court, have shoe boxes filled with letters stacked against their bedroom walls. At the height of schools' interests, 10 to 15 envelopes a day were delivered into their respective mailboxes. Roegiers-Jensen has discarded hundreds and kept more than 2,000, she estimates. Redding says she has 10 shoeboxes filled with a few hundred letters each.

"Every letter in the alphabet has been put into my two last names and my first name," Roegiers-Jensen said. "They mess up Kelcey as much as Roegiers-Jensen. The ones that got it right, I figured they were more serious."

Redding and Roegiers-Jensen long intended to go to the same college. Through the years, as they bonded while capturing six straight AAU state championships with the Clearwater Green Wave, they decided they would be a package deal.

It became clear in recent months that wouldn't happen. They now realize the odds were stacked against it.

"I'm disappointed about it, but it's hard to get two people at the same school; it's hard to get two sisters at the same school," Roegiers-Jensen said. "The opportunity just didn't present itself."

Redding and Roegiers-Jensen listed Tennessee first, then Florida, as their favorites. This spring, however, at the end of their junior years, recruiting heated up and everything changed.

Roegiers-Jensen determined that even if UT wanted her, it was unrealistic to expect much playing time. Florida's previous coach, Carol Ross, had offered Roegiers-Jensen a scholarship, but new coach Carolyn Peck showed no interest.

"I understand each coach has their own philosophy. I hold nothing against (Florida)," Roegiers-Jensen said. "They were looking for more athletic point guards. I feel I have all the skills. I just need to work on my athleticism and quickness."

On June 21, when college coaches could begin phoning rising seniors, schools jumped on and off Roegiers-Jensen's list: Kansas State, Louisville (the first school to call), Rutgers, Florida International, Miami, Vanderbilt and Ohio State, among others.

"You would think one thing one day, then sleep on it and wake up the next day thinking something else," Roegiers-Jensen said.

By August her list was three: Old Dominion, a storied program that had not offered a scholarship but was her top choice; Northwestern, a prestigious academic school in the Big Ten; and Georgia State, in Atlanta, where her uncle lives, and whose coaching staff she enjoyed the most.

Redding had offers from Florida and several others but put them on the back burner while Tennessee courted her.

On the weekend of Oct. 12, Roegiers-Jensen and her father, Chuck Jensen, went to Georgia State for her official visit. About the same time, ODU said it had gotten a commitment from another point guard. Northwestern suddenly seemed too far away. Her priority was going somewhere she could play right away, but staying closer to home also was becoming important.

"I absolutely adored Georgia State. My dad did too," Roegiers-Jensen said. "It was real cool, it was nice. The players were great, the coaches are wonderful.

"It's just the lifestyle of Atlanta I'd have to get accustomed to. Downtown Atlanta, that was wild."

Georgia State has made consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and is 69-24 the past three seasons. As a member of the low-profile Atlantic Sun Conference, it is not the big-time program Roegiers-Jensen had anticipated joining.

But it was feeling more and more like the right place, and she was tired of recruiting.

"Recruiting definitely has been a learning experience," she said. "You can get so much out of it, and it can be very frustrating. It's part of growing up, seeing how shady people can be. Politics, lots of politics.

"It's a long process with ups and downs. The first letters were exciting, in seventh, eighth, ninth grade. Then filling out questionnaires was exhausting. The 10, 15 pieces a day sophomore year, that was exhausting. That first call, in June, that was exciting.

"Then it got stressful and aggravating. The politics is tough. Telling people no is tough also. It's so hard to tell them (directly). Sometimes I'd call (a coach) late at night to get their voice message. When you've got a good rapport with them, it's so hard to make that call.

"I know it can be hard for them too. (ODU assistant) coach (Susan) Montgomery said, 'Kelcey, this is the hardest part of my job.' "

Roegiers-Jensen orally committed to Georgia State a few days after her visit.

In a twist of fate, Lea Henry, the Georgia State coach, was the point guard at Tennessee under Summitt in the early 1980s. Also, the Vols beat Georgia State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament this spring.

"I like everything about Georgia State." Roegiers-Jensen said. "I'm 95, 96 percent certain I'll go there. I want to, that's the plan right now, just to get it out of the way and done with (on Nov. 13). But things can always change. Everything's not final until you sign on that dotted line."

* * *

Kelcey Roegiers-Jensen drives Dominique Redding home after practice. After playing together for seven years, the girls will attend different colleges.

In a sense, Summitt has been Redding's coach for four months. Since the morning of June 21, when the coach first called to say she would recruit her, Summitt has challenged Redding.

"I had to prove to her I could work hard every second on the court and that I take conditioning seriously," Redding said.

She responded, impressing Summitt with her effort at AAU tournaments during the summer. Redding also began regular workouts with a personal trainer.

A couple of weeks ago, Summitt told Redding she wanted to wait until the official visit weekend before allowing Redding to make an oral commitment. It was the final hurdle.

Redding's host for the weekend was UT junior guard Tasha Butts, a familiar face. Redding and Butts hit it off in the summer of 2001 when Redding and Roegiers-Jensen attended a camp at Tennessee.

Redding arrived Friday, and by Saturday it was as if she already was part of the team. She jotted notes during practice, and when a player came off the court, she would sit next to Redding to help explain the nuances of the Vols system. Meanwhile, her brother, Leman, a die-hard Florida State fan, was taking some ribbing from the UT folks as the Notre Dame-FSU football score was updated.

The final hurdle turned into an exclamation point.

"They had decorated a locker for me. It had jerseys with my name on it, gear, things like that," Redding said. "It was my number, No. 13. (UT senior) Gwen Jackson has it now, but next year it's all mine."

The offer was official, the acceptance a no-brainer: Redding would be a Volunteer.

On Sunday, from Knoxville, she called Roegiers-Jensen to break the news.

"We still love each other. Just because we (won't) end up together (at the same college), it doesn't affect our friendship," Redding said. "We're sad that we're not going to the same school, but we're both happy for each other."

Summitt, entering her 29th season, has guided UT to six national titles, the most in women's college basketball. She has more wins, 788, than any other school.

It was a brash, almost preposterous goal, to play for Summitt's Vols. Redding made it happen.

"There was never a doubt in my mind, I always felt I would go there," Redding said. "But you never know until you get the offer.

"I have a thousand more steps to take. This is just like the 25th."

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