- Mindi Rice
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No athlete is immune to pressures. They can come from parents, coaches, friends, teammates and even the athletes themselves.
The pressures have permeated into most aspects of girls' basketball, starting with where to play high school and club ball to where to go to college. But until the past few years, the college decision was mostly made during the fall of a player's senior year. Recently, that time frame has started to creep back earlier into the girls' basketball careers.
Through late August, before most of the 2010 class had set foot on a college campus for an official visit, at least 171 players had verbally committed to a college. Of those, 52 are from the ESPN HoopGurlz 100.
Another 21 have given verbal commitments from the Class of 2011.
"Once a lot of other girls started committing early, it was just like a trend," said Courtney Moses, the No. 86 overall player and No. 22-rated point guard on the HoopGurlz 100, from Sweetser, Ind. "If you don't commit, then somebody else is going to take your spot. If somebody's on you and it's a perfect fit, why wait around?"
Moses gave her verbal commitment to Purdue in January, midway through her junior season. She originally was leaning toward Notre Dame, but when 2009 recruit Skylar Diggins joined the Irish, there wasn't room for another point guard. Moses, who grew up attending Purdue's camps, decided to jump on Purdue's interest and claim her spot right away.
"I thought if I didn't commit, somebody could step in," Moses said. "It's like a business. They aren't going to wait if you wait until the last signing period."
November's early signing period has become the popular option for most girls. Some are signing papers before starting their senior seasons, not wanting to wait until April's signing period. This has also drastically cut down on the number of players who take all five of their available official visits.
At least among the higher-profile players, rare are the athletes who enter their senior year with a top five or at least plans to take all five of their visits. Most have already whittled their list to two or three, while some plan more visits but commit on their first trip and cancel the rest.
The Class of 2010's top player doesn't plan to be among those, though. Chiney Ogwumike, the No. 1-ranked, 6-foot-3 forward from Cypress, Texas, said she wouldn't be surprised if she ended up signing her national letter of intent in April.
"I want to make sure I use all five of my visits," Ogwumike said in June. "Realistically, and to make it fair for everyone, I'm probably going to have to sign in the later period. I won't decide early just to sign in the early period if I haven't seen everything I want to see."
Ogwumike will schedule her visits around volleyball. Her Cy-Fair team is among the top in the state. While her coach understands her college plans are with basketball, Ogwumike doesn't plan on abandoning her teammates for chunks of the season to take her official visits.
Not known for following the crowd, Ogwumike will perhaps serve as a reminder for the younger classes to slow down and avoid panicking when they see other players in their class or state choosing colleges.
"I'm trying to enjoy the ride of being a young high school player and taking everything one step at a time," said 2011 recruit Ariel Massengale. "I think when that time comes and it starts to come heavy on me, I'll take my time and try out each school and see which one is best for me."
"There are so many great schools," said Justine Hartman, a top-rated post in the 2011 class. "I just want to take my time; I don't have to rush. Sophomore year, you don't really know where you're going to be junior and senior year."
Massengale, a 5-6 point guard from Bolingbrook, Ill., and Hartman, a 6-2 center from Brea, Calif., were among the budding stars selected to the USA Basketball Under-16 team. But the 12 U16 players aren't immune to early-commitment fever. Alexia Standish made her pick in June.
"My parents have always encouraged me to commit my junior season," Standish said. "It seems like people are starting to commit earlier, so that probably adds pressure to some of my classmates."
Standish gave a verbal commitment to Texas A&M in June. She told ESPN HoopGurlz that her focus now turns to being ready to go and getting time on the court as a freshman.
That is one of the reasons players say they commit early, to know what their college program is going to want from them and to know the skills they need to focus on before they arrive at college. Other reasons players give for committing early are wanting to focus on their senior years, not wanting to deal with all the pressure of the recruiting process, and knowing that the fit and timing are right.
For some players, early commitment means they can concentrate on their senior seasons and quiet the pressuring voices.
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Mindi Rice is a National High School / ESPN HoopGurlz staff writer. She previously was an award-winning sportswriter at the Tacoma News Tribune and a barista at Starbucks, and grew up in Seattle, where she attended Roosevelt High School before graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.