No reason to wait
Recee' Caldwell is a baller, plain and simple. Where some players catch attention for their size, athleticism or ability to perform one skill incredibly well, the 2014 ESPNU HoopGurlz Watch List prospect reels you in by making it obvious she's been in the gym working on a lot of fundamentals.
That work has not been limited to building offensive skills, Caldwell also has been working on her recruiting process, leading to the 5-foot-8 rising sophomore point guard's verbal commitment to Baylor.
As a middle schooler, her hoop dreams developed after her family moved from California to San Antonio. But up until this past year, Waco, Texas, was not on the map in a major way.
"I grew up with UTSA five minutes away," Caldwell said, "and (Texas) A&M was always that school I wanted to go to."
But there are realities in deciding where to be a student-athlete that go beyond for whom you root as a pre-teen. The Aggies won a National Championship this year and that never hurts a school's ability to recruit. But the reality for Caldwell is that she is in the class of 2014 and Texas A&M took the momentum from its outstanding 2010-11 season into recruiting in the 2012 class.
Gary Blair's program has six committed perimeter players ranked in the top 60 of the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100 who are expected to sign this fall.
No one who has watched Caldwell play on the summer circuit with her San Antonio's Finest club team, coached by her father, Ray Caldwell, or saw her work her way onto the USA Basketball U16 national team, would say she is afraid of competition. The FIBA gold-medal winner is almost the opposite but she also knows she wants to be on the court.
But A&M's coming talent logjam wasn't the deciding factor. Caldwell had a list of schools that also included Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, Tennessee, Texas, UTSA and Washington. What sold her on Baylor was the vision its head coach, Kim Mulkey, had for Caldwell.
"I need you to be my point guard," Caldwell remembers Mulkey saying to her on her unofficial visit in June. "The timing of Odyssey (Sims) leaving and you coming in is perfect."
Being pumped up as the next big thing is not a new pitch in recruiting, but the authenticity of it is what most recruits and their families are looking for.
"Baylor's commitment to remaining a power in women's basketball factored greatly in her decision. The academic reputation and college town feel were added bonuses but the main factor in the decision was Coach Mulkey," Ray Caldwell said. "Recee' immediately felt that Coach Mulkey was the person that would push her to become a great college player. She loves her demanding style that holds players accountable, on and off of the court. Coach Mulkey was active in the recruiting process of Recee', not leaving the recruiting entirely on her assistants. That was huge."
Caldwell has had plenty of experience of playing for demanding coaches. Watching just one game of hers under the tutelage of her dad gives you a great idea of how she likes to be motivated. As if Mulkey's public image from Baylor's televised games weren't enough, what Caldwell witnessed on a previous unofficial visit reinforced what she knew of the Hall of Fame player-turned coach.
"Call home and tell your mom and dad not to come to the game," Caldwell recalls Mulkey saying to sophomore forward Brooklyn Pope, who was lagging a little in practice, "because you're not getting off the bench."
"I think I usually deliver (in those situations)," Caldwell said. "I love a hard-nosed coach like that. She's strong-willed."
That strong will helped Caldwell realize that she not only wanted to be a Baylor Bear, but that she was ready to commit now.
"She asked me why don't you do it now?" Caldwell said.
Even with her mind made up, Caldwell responded that she was going to wait but was met again by the very thing that sold her on Baylor in the first place, Mulkey's hard-nosed personality.
"What is it you are waiting for?" Caldwell recalls being asked.
"I didn't really have an answer," Caldwell said.
With goose-bumps, butterflies and a marquee grin that is often on her face while playing, Caldwell did exactly what she plans to do when she gets to college -- deliver for her coach.
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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. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.
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