Whatever insecurities the state of New Jersey has felt in the enormous shadow of the great city across the Hudson have, in recent years, been flipped on the girls' basketball scene. This has presented a rare opportunity for Rutgers, the proud women's basketball program in New Jersey.
Coach C. Vivian Stringer and her staff harvested the best of what the Garden State had to offer last year. The 2011 class was a sterling one, headlined by No. 6 Briyona Canty of Willingboro, N.J., but also including No. 18 Shakeena Richardson of Neptune, N.J.; No. 51 Syessence Davis of Neptune, N.J., and a 3-star post, Crista Evans of Jackson, N.J. The "outsider" of the bunch was No. 11 Betnijah Laney from just south in Clayton, Del.
In isolation, that class appeared bursting with speed, creativity and athleticism, but not abundant size. It was nice and homegrown. However, combined with what Rutgers just cemented Monday morning with the signing of Kahleah Copper, ranked as the No. 17 prospect in the 2012 class by ESPN HoopGurlz, that 2011 bunch provided the makings of a national-championship contender.
Copper, see, is not just explosive, with a massively improved mid-range game, she is 6-feet-1 and versatile. Most important, she is from Philadelphia, Pa., just an hour drive from Rutgers.
And it gets better for Rutgers. Along with Copper, the 2012 signing class brings two sterling post prospects who both hail out of a city called Columbus, albeit from different states. No. 8 Rachel Hollivay of Columbus, Miss., is a centerpiece post prospect, who can really can move and block shots, while No. 75 Ariel Butts of Columbus, Ga., brings a more physical approach and more college-ready body. The fourth member of the class, No. 69 Precious Person of Rex, Ga., brings more length, versatility and inside-out scoring ability.
In other words, 2011 brought the flash and 2012 supplies the bash.
The last time a Rutgers class created such buzz was 2008 with a five-player class that, like this year's may be, was ranked below only those signed by Connecticut and Tennessee. That class never lived up to its potential, much of its promise dissolving with the transfers of Brooklyn Pope to Baylor and Jasmine Dixon to UCLA. The folly of that group, its long-distance nature, is not repeated in the 2011-12 two-step.
It can be argued that it is nearly impossible to get homesick when you're already home. And six of the nine players in the combined classes will be. The other three at least are from the same time zone.
Rutgers' two latest signing classes have represented exercises in holding to two prime virtues in recruiting -- keeping your own home, and making all the pieces fit, year to year. The payoff has the potential to be the ultimate one.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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