As the weather began to heat up, so, too, did the recruiting process for Norwich Free Academy basketball player Saona Chapman
"The questions that (coaches) ask are key. 'Why aren't you committing? What's holding you back?' Those questions are pressure. You can't tell them what you don't like about their school because if you end up going there, they're going to hold that against you."
"I go through a book and compile a list. I literally watch thousands of girls play. There are a variety of people trying to do this, but they're bogus. I shouldn't say bogus, but nobody sees as many players as I do. I'm not perfect, but I'm always close."
"Now, (camps) are so important. All we did was play AAU, basically. I went to a couple top 100 camps, WBCA or whatever. It's real important now to get to those Nike camps and play against other All-Americans to get your name out."
"I talked to Marci (Glenney) a lot about the whole process. But she didn't go through the whole thing. She always knew she wanted to go to UConn. What I learned from her was to make sure you do the research. Just make sure it's the right decision. We talked about the schools and what she thought of the programs. I don't know how much it helped, but it was nice to talk to someone who's been through it."
"(Saona) had wonderful offers in the summer She wanted to be very certain because, in her eyes, it's one of the first major decisions in her entire life. It's tremendously important for her to find the right fit and she didn't want to be pressured. She wanted to come to it under her own terms. And it took her to the last day to do that. Some players decide right away, but she really likes to know every last detail."
"We would go on campus visits with the whole team and most of them would kind of look at their shoes the entire way around the campus. Saona actually could've been a tour guide. She always asked questions to the coaches and she always fully participated in the whole thing, even if it was a school she wasn't particularly interested in. She's really remarkable that way.
"You get recruited by a lot of good schools and they all paint a pretty good picture that their school is the best place for you. You go to these places and come home thinking this is the place, until the next place you go and they tell you their place is even better"
"The way that we recruit as a staff we recruit probably about 75 percent of the time through the player and the family. But we're not stupid by any means. If the player is more influenced by the high school coach or the AAU coach, then we would spend a sufficient amount of time with those people that have the direct influence. With Saona, probably 90 percent of the contact was with Saona and her mom and dad."
Editors note: The recruiting process can be very difficult and time-consuming for young student-athletes. Bulletin reporter Chris Casavant had a firsthand look at much of the trials and tribulations encountered by Norwich Free Academy senior basketball star Saona Chapman. This is part two of a three-part series.
Saona Chapman spent the last weekend of March in Philadelphia, a women's basketball hotbed, for two invitational shootouts. She had mailed her spring and summer itinerary to about a dozen college coaches, and with the CIAC Class LL title game - which NFA lost 47-45 to Norwalk on a buzzer-beater -- not too far behind her, the recruiting process was getting serious. The first event took place at Villanova, where 60 players were assigned to teams and they played three games each. This shootout, which also was attended by New London's Jessica Allen, was run by Bill McDonough and his company, Blue Chip. The event was an opportunity for college coaches to scout the players McDonough and his sources - scouting reports and high school and AAU coaches - considered to be the top players on the East Coast. McDonough doesn't charge the players an entry fee and offers perks - like guest speaker Becky Hammon of the WNBA's New York Liberty - but travel is up to the player's family. Most potential Division I players compete in some of these events, which are held throughout the country. "Why do the college coaches love it?" McDonough said. "They can actually compare the 60 and see who are the best. For the kids, it's like a gunfight at the OK Corral. They just want to get in there and see how they do against somebody else. To compete against the best and to be seen by the schools."
A player can make unlimited unofficial visits, which are funded by her family and which can take place at any time. Official visits -- each player is allowed five -- are paid for by the school and start at the beginning of her senior year. Chapman's first unofficial school visit was the first weekend of April. She was in Virginia with her AAU team, the Starters, who won three of four games. She and her father, Clark, toured the scenic University of Richmond campus and met coach Bob Foley, the former Providence coach. Foley promoted his up-tempo style of basketball, which caught Chapman's attention. "I like to ask questions, even though I'm not too familiar with it all yet," she said after the visit. "I ask what the majors are, what fields of study I can go into. I don't really know what I want to do yet, but just to get an idea. And I want to know the style of play, and what the structure of their team is. I found out (Richmond) has a sophomore point guard, so she'll be a senior when I'm a freshman if go there. And I want to see who they're looking to recruit my year." The Spiders play in the weak Colonial Athletic Conference and the team won just 12 games last year, but the visit gave Chapman a basis for comparison. She also agreed with Foley that if Richmond had a scholarship available and she had no other enticing options, she could go there, even though he would not recruit her heavily because his chances of landing her were so slim. While she and UConn had not ruled each other out, that was the only school nearby that she would consider. Asked in early April if it was important to be close to home, she said: "No. I'll go to Hawaii if I have to."
For Chapman, July was filled with basketball, travel, great opportunities and very little rest. Along with Nike Camp from July 15-18, she played tournaments earlier and later in Tennessee and Washington, D.C. In May, the Starters beat the Storm to win the Connecticut AAU state championship, advancing the team to the nationals in Chattanooga, Tenn, scheduled for the beginning of July. Chapman had 14 points and five assists in a 55-51 victory over New London star Jessica Allen's Storm club. At the beginning of June, Chapman and her father headed south for a series of unofficial visits to Georgetown, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina State, a top-25 program that reached the Final Four in 1998. On the visit, N.C. State coach Kay Yow offered Chapman a scholarship.
Accompanying Chapman to Chattanooga, Tenn., for the nationals were her parents, Clark and Tami, her brother Reynolds and Clark's sister, Shelley Carpenter. They drove in two cars so that from Chattanooga, Chapman, her father and her aunt would cruise to Indianapolis for the Nike Camp while her mother and her brother would head home. Chapman said she thought she played "OK" in the seven games in Chattanooga. Then she pointed to the final game, the second for the Starters that day, and said she didn't play well because of fatigue. Others in attendance had a different perspective.
Chapman, her father and her aunt drove to Indianapolis for the Nike camp, Chapman's second consecutive event with the best high school players in America. The camp was held at Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI).
By this time, Virginia Tech had entered the mix for Chapman's services. Its coach, Bonnie Henrickson, had seen a highlight film and watched Chapman in Chattanooga. The initial meeting where Chapman said they didn't click -- Henrickson hadn't yet seen her play at that time -- was in the past, and Henrickson told Chapman she was her top point guard. Just about every coach was at IUPUI for the camp, including Yow of N.C. State and McGraw of Notre Dame. While Chapman said she was a bit tired from the constant travel and basketball, she was excited about this challenge. The four-day camp featured leadership seminars, lectures about the NCAA and college prep training. And there were games.
Chapman re-sprained her ankle in D.C. and sat out the last two days of the tournament. It also altered plans to visit George Washington, which wouldn't become a serious contender until much later. After D.C., Chapman was home for less than a day before she boarded a plane for Raleigh, N.C., where she played in a camp at N.C. State at the end of July She said she didn't know at the time, but Yow and her staff believed they'd get a commitment from their prize recruit. Chapman had always felt comfortable with Yow, but there were aspects of the program that just didn't wow her She said she couldn't quite pinpoint it, but she just didn't have "that feeling." Yow told Chapman that if she didn't commit, her scholarship would be offered to another point guard. Chapman wasn't ready to make her decision, so Yow made a pitch to Kendra Bell, an in-state recruit. Bell jumped at the offer and Chapman's list suddenly became shorter. "I wasn't that upset," she said. "I thought I would have been, but I feel like everything happens for a reason."