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Monday, November 18, 2013
How Duke’s touted recruiting class was built

By Mike Cranston

Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie had help in securing the No. 2-ranked recruiting class in the nation. It came from a relentless high school senior determined to be a part of something special in Durham. “I just know who I want to play with,” said Kianna Holland, a 5-9 guard from Seneca, S.C., who was the first of Duke’s fantastic foursome to commit while still a high school junior.

Holland, No. 32 in ESPN’s HoopGurlz 2013 recruiting rankings, spent the summer before her senior year playing and practicing at various USA Basketball events. It’s where she met post player Oderah Chidom (No. 10 in the HoopGurlz rankings) and center Kendall McCravey-Cooper (No. 12), both of whom are from California and played on the same AAU team. Holland already knew point guard Rebecca Greenwell (No. 6) from when they were on the same team as seventh-graders at North Carolina’s basketball camp.

“When coming back after seeing Kendall and Oderah play, I remember just telling the coaches, ‘Wow, these girls are fantastic. I have to have them as teammates,’” Holland said. “Becca, I had met her a while back when I was a lot younger and always respected her game. She’s a fantastic shooter. I guess that’s funny how it works, with USA Basketball giving you that opportunity to meet new people. “So I stayed in contact, especially with the West Coast girls, texting them.”

As Chidom tried to decide between Duke, Stanford and California, Holland gave her the hard sell to come east. “She was telling us how great Coach P was and why she made her decision, why she chose Duke over the others. She was in our ear,” Chidom said. “She got my number, and she would text us, just to show how eager she was to create a national championship-level team.” The 6-3 Chidom, of Oakland, picked Duke. So did the 6-3 McCravey-Cooper, from Carson.

When the 6-1 Greenwell of Owensboro, Ky., completed the group, Duke suddenly was one of the deepest teams in the nation. “Obviously we were thrilled because they’re all incredible people, terrific student-athletes and such a nice diversity,” McCallie said. “Wonderful point guard/two guard in Kianna Holland; a wonderful all-around guard, 2-, 3-, 1-guard that can play all positions in Rebecca Greenwell. Then you’ve got the strength of Kendall Cooper and the gazelle-like play of Oderah Chidom. They’re all so complementary of each other. So not only are they terrific people with terrific families, but they also complement each other very well.”

The freshman group trails only rival North Carolina’s haul of Diamond DeShields (No. 3), Allisha Gray (No. 7), Jessica Washington (No. 14) and Stephanie Mavunga (No. 23) as best in the nation, according to HoopGurlz. Combine that with a solid returning class that includes senior guard Chelsea Gray, and it’s why the Blue Devils are ranked No. 2 in both polls. “As a team we don’t pay attention to a whole lot of rankings or anything like that. But that Duke-UNC rivalry is just one of the best in college basketball,” Holland said.

“So I think over the next few years it will be interesting to see how that plays out.” It may take a while for the full impact of the freshman class to be felt as Duke tries to snap its streak of three consecutive losses in the NCAA tournament regional finals. Greenwell, who has already torn her ACL twice and meniscus once in her right knee, needed a second meniscus surgery when it didn’t heal properly. She’s begun running, but McCallie said there’s an 80 percent chance Greenwell will be redshirted. Holland has been dealing with a shin injury in the preseason, possibly a negative effect of her relentless drive.

“Kianna probably over-trained herself this summer. She came into Duke with the injury,” McCallie said. “I’m proud of our staff, we got on it right away, so Kianna is not going to miss very much at all. She could be back in early December, I believe.” 

Chidom and McCravey-Cooper played minor roles for Duke (2-0) against California and USC Upstate, but will likely see increased minutes as the season moves on. And Duke may need its depth when it faces top-ranked and defending national champion Connecticut in the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 17 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“We’re not called the Cameron Crazies for nothing,” McCravey-Cooper said, “so I just want to see that experience and live through that.” The promise of high-profile games like that and sold-out crowds swayed McCravey-Cooper to travel across the country for school. Holland’s persistence played a role, too. “Kianna being the first commit, I would say she was the leader of the class in terms of wanting to attract other great people,” McCallie said.

“And that’s an exciting way to develop a class.”