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This week has certainly been rash with verbal commitments, especially from those in California. On Thursday, Erica Payne told ESPN HoopGurlz that she has verbally committed to Stanford and head coach Tara VanDerveer. The commitment alone is big news, but it also shows a growing trend of players committing before July to relieve pressure.
Payne, a 6-foot-2 forward from Concord, Calif., became the ninth top 100 prospect from the state to declare to a college program this week, leaving just seven players undecided. Though her commitment is the third to Stanford in the 2011 class, it is still relatively early. It wasn't pressure, but rather a diligent and honest approach to her recruitment that led her to this decision.
"I put this criteria in front of me of what I wanted in a college," Payne said. "Stanford offered the most of them."
Payne's talent is unquestioned but this decision was about more than basketball. She is not one of those kids who has gambled and banked their entire future on basketball. She is deciding between journalism and psychology for a major. While playing in the WNBA is not necessarily her focus, she is still very much committed to getting better on the court.
|Erica Payne does her best to cheer on her team after fouling out in the state championship game.|
During the USA Basketball U18 National Team trials, Payne learned a lot about her game, both positive and negative. Even though many of her fellow 2011 prospects were trying out for the U17 team, she was with the U18 group that featured players who were more physically mature. Instead of pouting, she saw it as preparation for the college level.
"I need to get in the weight room," was Payne's conclusion after the trials.
In Colorado Springs, she also got a chance to meet future teammates; before committing to Stanford she considered Arizona, Boston College, Cal and UCLA. She ended up rooming with both Amber Orrange, the 2011 point guard from Houston, (who previously committed to Stanford), as well as the No. 1 prospect in the 2010 class, Chiney Ogwumike, who will be a freshman this coming fall on The Farm. She also got to play against another 2011 Stanford commit, Bonnie Samuelson of Huntington Beach, Calif., who was trying out for the U17 team.
"I did take a good look at both Bonnie and Amber and it helped me make my decision," Payne said. "I came away impressed."
Ogwumike, Payne recalls, had some encouraging words for her: "Join the family."
With her mind made up, Payne decided not to string along any of her other finalists. She had every offer she wanted; now summer can be about getting better instead of auditioning for colleges.
She also has two trips to the California CIF finals stewing in her mind to keep her focused on getting better as well, two trips that ended in defeat. This past March was the most irritating for Payne; in an eight-second stretch, she picked up three personal fouls against the heavily favored Monarchs of Mater Dei. Those rat-tat-tat calls fouled her out of the game for nearly the entire second half.
Revenge against the Monarchs isn't going to happen. With the CIF realignment, Payne will have to get by a very talented Berkeley team in the NorCal Sectionals. If recent history is any indicator, Long Beach Poly could be waiting for her and Carondelet in the state final.
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Chris Hansen is the National Director of Prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college-basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a Communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com