Prospect Watch: Caldwell stands tall

Originally Published: May 16, 2008
By Chris Hansen and Glenn Nelson | ESPN HoopGurlz

Talia CaldwellChris Hansen, ESPN HoopGurlzAs a child, when Caldwell wasn't on the courts, she was hanging out on studio sets.

Talia Caldwell stands in the paint looking every inch of her listed 6 feet 4. Her shoulders are a perfect capstone to a strong post player's frame. She stands in the paint with her brow creased and her eyes full of intensity. She had just bodied up Monique Oliver and sent the 6-3 post to the deck at the Nike Regional Skills Academy in Santa Ana, Calif.

This very same kid can recite lines from Shakespeare, talk her teammates' ears off and light up a gym with her smile.

Caldwell's childhood has been anything but typical. Her father, Ravin Caldwell, grew up in Arkansas and played in the NFL for seven seasons (1987-1993), the first six with the Washington Redskins. The 6-foot-3, 229-pound former linebacker can be credited for Talia's great basketball frame at minimum.

On the other hand, mom's side of the family is from Lansing, Mich. Her mother, Teal Marchande has made acting a career and growing up in Los Angeles definitely gave Caldwell a different childhood. From 1996 to 2000 Marchande played Sheryl Rockmore in Nickelodeon's widely popular sit-com series, Kenan and Kel.

Caldwell got a taste of the Hollywood life, getting to be on the set of the tapings and becoming friends with cast members such as Kenan Thompson. Thompson is a regular on Saturday Night Live and is known for his titular role in the 2004 movie "Fat Albert." He's also starred in several other motion pictures such as "Snakes on a Plane" (2006), "Barber Shot 2: Back in Business" and "D3: The Mighty Ducks" (1996). When it comes to college recruiting you would think her shortlist would be littered with schools in southern California, but she's just not that Hollywood.

Arizona State, Baylor, California, George Washington, Harvard, Illinois, Notre Dame, USC and Vanderbilt comprise Caldwell's list of schools. She knows academically she wants to be in business, perhaps even international business, and the academic profile of the school is as important to her as the athletic prestige. She is looking for a place where both are very competitive.

Caldwell is not in a hurry to make a decision and plans on being very thorough in her process. She has a wide range of schools on her list and in USC and California she can maintain some of the Hollywood-L.A. culture. However, L.A. culture is by far the least important piece to her puzzle. She lights up when presented with the prospect of playing in college town without the lights, Louis (Vuitton) and luxury.

"It's cool to me," Caldwell said of a change in scenery. "I don't necessarily love L.A. I've always been interested in small towns."

Caldwell is eloquent and confident, but she has always dreaded public speaking. That fear of speaking in front of masses cannot be detected if you see her interact with people or even in a one-on-one interview but it also why she forced herself to take courses in theater and enter a Shakespeare contest.

In the basketball world you'd call that working on your weaknesses. You often see a player only practicing what they do well because it's easy. Caldwell applies the lessons in other parts of her life to the court. For someone most consider a post player, she will shock and awe people her ballhandling ability.

"I want to be able to do more and be more consistent with my left hand," Caldwell said, "Not just close to the basket though, maybe with a jump hook."

Caldwell knows the weaknesses in her game and knows what she has to do to improve on them. She embraced the opportunity to play in the Nike Regional Skills Academy earlier this month where shoe company politics easily could have gotten in the way.

"It was a great experience and I'm lucky to have been a part of it," Caldwell said. She also said she had the full support of her club team coaches despite their sponsorship by a rival company, adidas.

Caldwell handles the ball well and can do many of the advanced ballhandling moves you expect from your perimeter players. She can run the floor with many wings when she chooses to and can knock down the mid-range jumper both on high post feeds and in transition. Around the basket she has improved greatly in finishing with her right hand and is starting to show a lot better touch with her left as well. Her face-up game will allow her to play either the four or five in college. Defensively she has the body to hold position in the post without hand-checking or pushing and has the length to both the oppositions shot without fouling. She's a player that can impact the game without a bunch of isolation touches because she can pass the ball, rebound and defend so well. Let's not forget the importance of having a player that can set a knee-buckling screen which Caldwell is more than capable of.

This year with her club team, FBC, Caldwell has assumed a new role as Nikki Speed and Jasmine Dixon, the mainstays of that team the last few years, have moved on to their college hoop dreams. This has forced her to play every minute of the game at full tilt because she is one of the few upperclassmen on a young team.

Despite her dedication to athletics she has never been pressured by her family to fill her father's shoes as a professional athlete. The message he's always had for her is that there is a cost in anything you want to be great at.

"Do it, do it well, don't complain, it's your choice," Caldwell said of her dad's message.

"He would be okay if I quit playing," Caldwell said. "He would just ask if I was still in school and still going to college."

- Chris Hansen

GLENN NELSON'S RIM SHOTS

  • Most conspicuous by its absence on the list of confirmed participants in next month's USA Basketball U18 trials was the name of Brittney Griner, the 6-foot-7 Houstonian many believe will be a game-changer in women's basketball. Turns out, it was not a snub; she received an invitation. "When I saw the USA envelope, I was really happy and really surprised," Griner said. "It's a big thing." However, her mother, Sandra, is having surgery at the time and her father, Raymond, is a sheriff who will be attending a month-long academy at the same time. So Griner had to decline the opportunity to see her mother through the surgery. "I really wanted to go," Griner said. "But it's my mom. Without her, there wouldn't be USA Basketball for me." Griner also confirmed reports by her father and Marques Jackson, the DFW Elite program director, that she has taught herself how to complete a 360 dunk and hopes to uncork it in competition soon - maybe as soon as this weekend in New Orleans.
  • One of our favorite players in the 2009 class, Markel Walker of Philadelphia, who is ranked No. 8 by ESPN HoopGurlz, has de-committed from Pitt and re-opened her recruitment. Walker not only is ultra-explosive at 6-1, she has a lot of shake to her offensive game and plays extremely hard defensively. Expect a lot of attention her way.
  • One of Walker's club teammates on the New York Gauchos, Charmaine Tay of Union, N.J., is one of the very best point-guard prospects in the 2010 class. She already has been offered by Florida and has serious interest from Louisville, Minnesota, Seton Hall and Xavier.
  • The report by the Pioneer Press that Tayler Hill of Minneapolis, Minn., is down to Duke and Rutgers is incorrect, according to various sources. Hill recently was elevated to No. 10 in the 2009 class by ESPN HoopGurlz, and as recently as last month did not even have a definitive list of schools.
  • Destiny Williams, the 6-3 forward out of Benton Harbor, Mich., ranked No. 37 by ESPN HoopGurlz in the 2009 class, is down to Duke, Illinois, Louisville, Maryland, Ohio State, Purdue, Rutgers and Xavier.
  • Keyanna Tate is a 6-foot 2011 prospect at Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C. She plays the point for Calvin Coolidge, but plays every other position on the floor, according to her coach. Tate averaged a double-double - 10 points and 10 rebounds - during her freshman season.
  • The Lady Legends from Louisville made a lot of waves last summer and we're eager to see them again this weekend. This year's version is led by a couple of 2010 prospects, Samantha Drake of Nelson County, Ken., and Antonita Slaughter of Louisville, and 2009 wing Tiara Hopper. Both Drake (Kentucky) and Slaughter (Louisville) made their college choices before their sophomore high-school seasons. Hopper, who played with Vanderbilt signee Tia Gibbs on Butler High School's state championship team, has interest from Alabama and Indiana and has been offered by multiple mid-major schools.

Chris Hansen covers girls' high school basketball nationally for ESPN.com and leads the panel that ranks and evaluates players for the network. He can be reached at chris.hansen@espn3.com.

Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the McDonald's All-American and Parade All-American Selection Committees, he formerly coached girls club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.

For more in-depth coverage of women's college-basketball prospects and girl's basketball, visit HoopGurlz.com For more in-depth coverage of women's college-basketball prospects and girl's basketball, visit HoopGurlz.com

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