Years of hard work, determination and sacrifice have paid off for NFA point guard Saona Chapman, who achieved her dream when she earned a Division 1 college basketball scholarship.
They Said It:

"I think a lot of girls, including myself look forward to the big games as a challenge. Especially in end-of-the-game situation. Usually you have a better chance of making the shot than missing, so take that chance. That's what it's all about. And you've got to have confidence - that's the main thing."
Saona Chapman

"As a coach I look at her weaknesses more than I look at her strengths. If you ask me how great she is I'll tell you I haven't seen a better point guard in the country, and I haven't. But when I talk to her about basketball, I say, 'Saona, you've got to work on this, you've got to work on that.' I'll tell her whats wrong with her"
Clark Chapman - Saona's father and Montville girls basketball coach

"She brings a tremendous enthusiasm and energy to every practice she attends. She's probably one of one or two kids I ever coached who really got after kids in practice for not practicing hard. A lot of kids will show some leadership in a game, but Saona doesn't tolerate you not practicing hard."
Art Knapp - Chapman's AAU coach

"Even if she wasn't a good runner, Saona is just a wonderful person. She was really a spark plug on the team. I always tried to convince her that should be her first sport. She could have done much better than what she did (in cross country), and what she did was pretty good."
Gil LaPointe - NFA cross country coach

Cold weather doesn't stop Chapman from getting in a backyard workout  photo:Rory Glaeseman

"She certainly is as hard a worker as anyone I've ever seen. She's done cross country, and she's not a distance runner, but she worked hard at cross country, knowing that it would get her in shape for basketball."
Gary Makowicki - NFA director of athletics

"She's a great competitor and she works very hard at getting better at the game. Every year she comes back and you can see a marked improvement on some aspect of her game. For someone like Saona who has natural ability and the ability to work hard, the sky's the limit."
Bill Scarlata - NFA girls basketball coach

"The point guard for Coach (C.Vivian) Stringer is extremely particular They're born, not made. And (Saona) has a unique ability to lead. She's been a leader all her life. And being able to command the respect of anybody she comes in contact with just because of her personality, people are attracted to her because of that. She has the innate intangibles that you can't teach a person."
Betsy Yonkman - Rutgers assistant coach

She's a kid that runs cross country, and that's a lonely kind of sport that requires a tremendous amount of discipline. And she's such a team person. When you have a guard that's so disciplined and has that mental toughness, that's hard to beat."
C.Vivian Stringer - Rutgers coach

--Float mouse over pics for more info--
NCAA rules concerning the recruitment of prospective student-athletes:

Telephone calls-
In basketball, phone calls from faculty members and coaches are not permitted until after completion of the student's junior year. After that point, a college coach or faculty member can call each prospective student-athlete once per week. The player and her parents may call the coach as often as they like.

A college coach may contact an athlete off the college campus on or after July 1 following her junior year. Coaches may contact a student off the college campus no more than 3 times, though they can visit her high school once a week during a contact period.

Official visits-
During a players senior year, she has one expenses-paid visit to as many as 5 schools. Each visit may not exceed 48 hours. The paid expenses include transportation, meals, lodging and tickets to on-campus athletic events for the student and her parents.

Printed materials-
Following Sept. 1 of a player's junior year, coaches can send her printed materials, including letters, university-related information, game programs, and media guides.
Norwich Bulletin

Editors note: This is the first of a three-part series chronicling the recruitment of Norwich Free Academy senior basketball player Saona Chapman.

All-State player Saona Chapman

Saona Chapman sat alone in her house the afternoon of Nov. 15, the last day before next spring to sign a national letter of intent to play college basketball. She had been leaning toward Rutgers for a couple of weeks, but she held out until the last few hours to make her decision. She picked up the ringing telephone - a sound she had heard consistently over the previous five months - and her mother, Tami, was on the other end, calling on her way home. "If I were to ask you right now where I should go, what would you say?" the Norwich Free Academy senior asked her mother. She answered honestly "George Washington." She believed Chapman would have it made there, primarily because the competition for playing time and from opposing teams in the league would be less fierce. But she knows her daughter. "But if you choose Rutgers," Tami Chapman continued, "I'm all for it because you'll be more challenged there. Later that night, she chose Rutgers.
    Chapman, a 17-year-old point guard, had spent most of her life playing basketball, working to improve her skills. The last eight months had been the most hectic of her life; she traveled from shootouts to camps to colleges, all with the goal of playing Division I basketball. Finally, with every basketball and academic detail researched, Chapman went with her instincts. "The last week it's been winding down and everything resorted back to Rutgers," she said the night she signed and made her decision official. "I went toward my gut feeling and I'm really happy with it." It was that gut feeling that prevented her from committing to North Carolina State or Notre Dame in August, or Virginia Tech in October. Each of those schools came dose to signing Chapman, but something held her back They didn't "feel right," she said. Chapman had narrowed her choices from more than 10 schools to Virginia Tech George Washington and Rutgers by mid-October The last days were spent pitting Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, against GW, a school in the heart of Washington, D.C. Although Chapman enjoyed GW's location and basketball program, it's not Rutgers, it does not have coach C. Vivian Stringer and her three Final Four appearances, and it would not have provided the challenges that make Chapman tick. "Her decision to go to Rutgers kind of follows her pattern of operation as long as I've known her," said John Iovino, NFA's director of student affairs. "Take on the biggest (challenge) and go after it, that's how she is."

Biggest Challenges

Chapman appears to be an average teen. She is 5-foot-8, blonde and slender- though she's trying to build muscle. Her mother is a nurse, her father, Clark, is a high school teacher and coach and her brother, Reynolds, is a sophomore at Griswold High. They live with their pet dog in the small town of Voluntown. But average? Yes and no.
    On the court she is among the elite. She displays quickness, leadership, knowledge, great vision, tenacity and hustle. Similar to many great athletes, she is driven by a hunger for challenges and a love for her sport. "This is her passion," said Art Knapp, who coached Chapman and other top Connecticut high school players during a summer AAU program that took the team to a series of tournaments throughout the East. "That's the right kind of kid to go to a high-level Division I school. Some kids go there because they're athletically gifted and they have the talent to play there, but the other kids, like Saona, have the talent, but they also have the love. I don't think she can ever get enough basketball." Had Chapman selected George Washington or Virginia Tech, neither of which has a top-20 basketball team, getting playing time would not have been a problem. Nor would winning accolades. But not playing deep into the month of March and falling out of NCAA championship contention would have been a problem for Chapman. "Coach Stringer put it all on the table," Chapman said. "She said, 'this is your role, if you want to come in and lead this class. Our goal is to win a national championship. You can be part of it or not.'"
    Winning is Chapman's main focus. As Knapp said, she hates to lose and will do anything to avoid it. "Some of the kids set some goals in cross country like, 'I want to beat last year's time, or I want to be the fifth or the fourth runner,"' said Gil LaPointe, who coached Chapman in cross country for four years. "Saona was always, 'I want to win the state championship.'" The Wildcats were Class LL state champs this season.
    In addition, Chapman epitomizes the team player. During her sophomore and junior years at NFA, her statistics -- she averaged 10 and 16 points, respectively -- were not staggering, primarily because she was taken out of the game when the team took its usual 30-point lead in the third quarter, but also because she played within the team's system, which kept everyone involved. For the record, the Wildcats were 53-1 during that span. "I think (Rutgers) fits her personality to a tee," NFA girls basketball coach Bill Scarlata said. "She's always looked for the biggest challenges. That's just the way she is, and I think that's one of the reasons she's so good."

Small Girl, Big Dreams

Basketball has been a part of Chapman's life for as long as she can remember. Her father, Montville's girls basketball coach, once ran the program at Wheeler Middle School, and she would hang around the gym and dribble the ball, barely able to reach the hoop with her shot. When she was 10, Chapman's AAU team, which included current UConn freshman Maria Conlon and former NFA standout and current Ithaca College freshman Alex Ivansheck, placed fifth in the national tournament in Louisiana. She was nearly a head shorter than her teammates but her enthusiasm for the game was evident. "Ever since she was 10 years old playing on an 11-year-old team, she's always been a player to go out and give it her all," Ivansheck said. Clark Chapman points to his daughter's eighth-grade season at Wheeler as a major step in her maturation. As her coach, he said he pushed her that year, and instead of backing down, she wanted to play more. She'd come home from a game or practice, trot out to the backyard and shoot. "Even at that age," Scarlata said, "she had great instincts and great awareness of where everyone was." Chapman started for Scarlata's NFA team as a freshman, and the next season she scored 22 points and was named most valuable player in the state championship game, in which NFA edged Norwalk 64-59. Last season she averaged 16 points and six assists, earning All-State and ECC tournament MVP honors.

10 yr old Saona (#11) and Maria Conlon (#33 Drilling And Determination

Chapman was always eager to practice. She would wake up early and head into the back room at her home, which has a cement floor under the rug, perfect for ball-handling drills. At night, it was the same thing. twice a day improves muscle memory, her father said. Right hand - bounce, bounce, bounce. Then left hand - bounce, bounce, bounce. In eighth grade she already was skilled at dribbling the ball with either hand. During the winter of her junior year, she decided to up the ante. She planned a routine that would begin at 4:15am. The first morning, she dragged herself out of bed, put on gloves, and walked to the hoop in the backyard. She started with warm-up shooting and followed with a dribbling drill. Having heard a bouncing basketball so often, she didn't consider the noise. Then a door opened nearby and an unhappy neighbor voiced his displeasure. "I came in and I was bawling," she said. "My parents were up and they were laughing kind of. The morning workout lasted one day." "She really wanted to do that every day before school, " Tami said. 'And of all things, the neighbor would hear the ball. I just couldn't believe it. She didn't do it again because she didn't want to be rude."
    Chapman's determination and love for I the game were on display again last summer. Her AAU team, the Starters, was playing a series of scrimmages at Wesleyan College in Middletown, and during one game, she collided head-to-head with an opposing player, causing blood to spill down from her scalp all over her face. Her father rushed her to Middlesex Hospital, where she received nine staples to close the gash. But her team had another game scheduled that day, and Chapman wasn't about to miss it. Chapman didn't have a concussion, and they sped back to Wesleyan, only to discover the team had left because it was shorthanded."They didn't think she was coming back," Clark Chapman said.
    Chapman's diligence is evident off the court as well. "I've watched her run cross country," Iovino said. "God knows she's not a natural cross country runner, but she worked at it extremely hard. Anything she competes in she's going to go after it and excel and be the best that she possibly can be." It's the same in the classroom. Chapman, an honor student, has earned success through hard work Her Multi-Racial History teacher, Henry Laudone, said the class recently conducted a mock trial and Chapman took on the role of a lawyer. "She's a tireless worker in the classroom as well," Laudone said. 'Academically she does extremely well. A good part of the trial is a non-graded assignment. She's done work on it for her own personal enrichment just to make the role a better one that she's involved in."

Major sacrifice

To excel in basketball, players usually participate in AAU and invitational shootouts, events that take time, work and money. "(Saona) has given up a lot," her mother said. "When I think of the four years of high school and the social life that most kids have, she hasn't had a real major social life. She has good friends. She has her priorities."
    Money is another factor with AAU; they have spent $3,000 to $5,000 a year so Chapman could continue to play in the summer. And those expenditures don't directly translate to a full scholarship, but to Clark and Tami Chapman, seeing how much their daughter loved to play, it was worth it. "If you want to play on a competitive AAU team," Ivansheck said, "you pretty much have to give up your weekends, your social life -- you know, no more sleep-overs. You're pretty much playing basketball. You sacrifice a lot."

'To Miss Saona Chapman'

NCAA rules state that a college program can send just one piece of mail to an athlete before she becomes a junior. And starting with Georgia when she was just 13, Chapman heard from most of them. Her first love was Stanford. She saw the Cardinal play against Providence when she was in fifth grade, and watching stars Kate Starbird and Jamila Wideman got the dreams started. Then UConn took over. How could it not? The Huskies had become an elite program and she lived less than an hour away. She also took a liking to Duke after at tending a camp there following her sophomore year, but on the ensuing Sept 1, an interesting piece of mail arrived. "I opened it up and it was a personal letter from Geno (Auriemma)," she said referring the coach of UConn, which would stop recruiting her after receiving an early commitment from point guard Ashley Valley "That was really exciting and that's when the other letters started coming." Even though she didn't begin to seriously consider Rutgers until the end of last summer, Stringer and her staff sent bundles of mail to NFA and the Chapman house. "Of everything I have, Rutgers sent me the most stuff," she said. "Last year in school I would receive big envelopes, sometimes two or three in a day. Coach Scarlata would say, 'Here's another one from Rutgers.'"

PART 2- "Endless Summer" next...
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