Usually, women's college basketball is like a Disney movie, starring Connecticut or Tennessee as Snow White and everyone else as a dwarf. Such has been the magnitude of the two programs' dominance in the sport. So imagine the unmitigated shock and awe that, coming down the recruiting homestretch, the Huskies and Lady Vols are nowhere to be found.
What in the name of Geno and Pat is going on? Nothing unexpected, actually. After two straight years of gorging on the country's top prospects, Connecticut and Tennessee have neither the scholarships nor the playing time to compete for a mythical national recruiting title.
Two streaks will therefore go bye-bye: two straight No. 1 signing classes for Pat Summitt, and three straight years signing ESPN HoopGurlz's No. 1 prospect for Geno Auriemma. With the NCAA's early signing period less than two weeks away, those previously rock-solid investments could give way to a real Bear market.
Top Ten Unsigned Prospects
With less than two weeks until the early signing period, Chris Hansen sizes up the top 10 uncommited prospects in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred.
That is, the Bears of Baylor and the Golden variety from California could be in control of the class rankings when the national letters of intent are signed Nov. 12-19. The caveat, and it is as thick as pre-election spin, is that 9 of the top 12 prospects in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred still aren't spoken for. Game-changers all: No. 2 Kelsey Bone (Sugar Land, Texas/John Foster Dulles); No. 3 Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington); No. 4 Markel Walker (Pittsburgh/Schenley); No. 5 Cokie Reed (Waco, Texas/Midway); No. 7 Shenneika Smith (New York/Saint Michael); No. 8 Destiny Williams (Benton Harbor, Mich.); No. 9 Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (Alexandria, Va./T C Williams); No. 10 Joslyn Tinkle (Missoula, Mont./Big Sky); and No. 12 Tayler Hill (Minneapolis/South) could dramatically alter the recruiting landscape with a single phone call.
The most potentially fortunate recipient of a few recruiting Hail Marys would be Dawn Staley and her surging South Carolina program, which still are in play for top-5 prospects Bone, Walker and Reed. The Gamecocks have three scholarships to give, and already have commitments from Staley-like point guard Ieasia Walker (Copiague, N.Y.), the No. 70 prospect per ESPN HoopGurlz, and highly regarded guard Monique Willis (Savannah, Ga./A.E. Beach).
Such a haul surely would surpass even the rarefied air inhabited by Baylor, whose four commitments include the nation's top-ranked player, Brittney Griner (Houston/Nimitz), whom many project as a player unlike any that has ever played the women's game. The 6-foot-6 shot-blocking and dunking machine headlines a class that includes No. 17 Mariah Chandler (Atlanta/SW Atlanta Christian); No. 58 Jordan Madden (Lepanto, Ark./East Poinsett County); and No. 64 Shanay Washington (Del Valle, Texas).
Cal is the only other program to date with claim to the same heights. The Golden Bears have seven commitments, all ranked in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred, with six in the top 50. Expected to sign during the early period are No. 20 Tierra Rogers (San Francisco/Sacred Heart Cathedral); No. 22 Eliza Pierre (Pasadena, Calif./John Muir); No. 24 DeNesha Stallworth (Pinole, Calif./Pinole Valley); No. 30 Gennifer Brandon (Chatsworth, Calif./Pinole Valley), No. 43 Talia Caldwell (Los Angeles/Marlborough School); No. 49 Brenna Heater (Ashland, Ore.); and No. 67 Layshia Clarendon (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon).
Joanne Boyle's class is akin to the seven-prospect group signed last year by LSU, though coach Van Chancellor had the star power of three top-17 recruits in his group.
In sharp contrast to the past few years, when most ranked prospects were committed by this time, this year's recruiting race will go down to the wire. With the likes of Bone, Smith, Hill and No. 32 Alyssa Bennett (Hampton, Va.) possibly waiting until the spring to sign, the race could even go into overtime. Thirteen of the top 50 prospects in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred are undecided, and their decisions could significantly impact which programs join Baylor and Cal among the top five recruiting classes. Duke, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Stanford and Texas A&M join South Carolina as programs that could crack the top five if the next two weeks are good to them.
Duke has just one verbal, from No. 82 Alexis Rogers (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West). But Joanne McCallie's program is in the running for three top-12 players -- Tinkle and guards Ruffin-Pratt and Hill.
Illinois is set to sign five players, two of whom are ranked in the top 100 -- No. 18 Karisma Penn (Shaker Heights, Ohio) and No. 36 Adrienne GodBold (Chicago/Marshall) -- as well as highly regarded post Briana Jones (Toledo, Ohio/Central Catholic). Coach Jolette Law's program also is a finalist for Bone, Williams, and No. 79 Tahira Johnson (Middle Village, N.Y.).
Maryland has three players committed, with No. 52 Dara Taylor (Bear, Del./Caravel Academy) being the only ranked prospect so far. She joins 6-6 Essence Townsend (Paterson, N.J./Catholic) and 6-3 Tianna Hawkins (Clinton, Md./Riverdale Baptist). The Terps are finalists for Williams, Ruffin-Pratt and Bennett, the 6-2 wing whom club coach Boo Williams says likely will wait until the spring signing period to decide.
North Carolina has commitments from four ranked players, including No. 23 Krista Gross (Concord, N.C./Cannon School); No. 28 Waltia Rolle (Houston/Westbury Christian); No. 31 Cierra Warren (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Los Osos); and No. 88 Nyree Williams (Ellicott, Md./Howard). The Tar Heels also are finalists for Ruffin-Pratt.
Stanford, fresh off a trip to the national championship game, has one of its three available scholarships reserved for No. 16 Mikaela Ruef (Beavercreek, Ohio). The 6-3 wing could be joined by Diggins and Tinkle, both of whom have been admitted to the school.
Texas A&M has four verbals from ranked players, led by No. 29 Kristi Bellock (New Orleans/John Curtis Christian). The Aggies also have commitments from No. 48 Diamond Ashmore (Midwest City, Okla.); No. 60 Adrienne Pratcher (Memphis, Tenn./East); and No. 98 Cierra Windham (Norco, Calif.). Coach Gary Blair's program also remains in the sweepstakes for No. 2 Bone.
The unsettled nature of this year's recruiting landscape carries only one assurance: Votes in another race of fair consequence in America will be counted before those in this one.
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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 email@example.com.
Chris Hansen covers girls' high school basketball nationally for ESPN.com and leads the panel that ranks and evaluates players for the network. He is a graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.