Winning key to attracting top women basketball players
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On the front page of the media packet for the Big Ten women's basketball tournament at the Sears Centre this weekend, there's a listing of Illinois high school products on Big Ten teams this season.
It's a short list.
Of the 157 players rostered on the 12 Big Ten teams, only 17 played their high school basketball in Illinois. Ten of those 17 play at Illinois or Northwestern.
Jacki Gulczynski (Bartlett) and Michala Johnson (Montini/redshirt year) are at Wisconsin, Anna Morrissey (Stevenson) plays at Michigan State, Claire Jakubicek (Cary-Grove/redshirt year) is at Indiana, Melissa Dixon (Johnsburg) and Nicole Smith (Hononegah) at Iowa, and Sam Arnold (Lake Park) at Michigan.
Buffalo Grove graduate Allison Guth played at Illinois and just completed her first season as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Northwestern, which saw its season end with Thursday's 60-55 loss to Iowa.
While Guth can't speak for the other Big Ten schools, she knows what it's going to take for NU, which has four players from Illinois this season, to attract more in-state talent — winning.
"People want to go to a place where you can win and play on a national stage," said Guth on Thursday before NU's loss. "I think keeping kids home has always been a goal for most Big Ten schools and Northwestern in particular with the world-class experience we offer socially, culturally and athletically."
Under fifth-year coach Joe McKeown, the Wildcats, who finished 13-17, did land one of the state's top recruits in freshman Maggie Lyon of New Trier, who was named conference freshman of the year. And they have a commitment from one of the top juniors in the state, Alexis Glasgow of Rolling Meadows.
But recruiting local players has its challenges, especially those posed by perennially ranked programs at DePaul and Notre Dame. Those two schools also have 10 Illinois players between them, including former local standouts Megan Rogowski (Hersey) and Kelsey Smith (St. Charles North) at DePaul and Whitney Holloway (Montini) and Jewell Loyd (Niles West) at Notre Dame.
"We're focused on Illinois kids," said Guth, who led Buffalo Grove to the 2000 Class AA state title before going on to help Illinois reach the 2003 NCAA Tournament and then to a coaching and recruiting career that has included stops at Missouri, DePaul, Yale and now Northwestern.
"Coach McKeown's end goal is to make this a championship program in the Big Ten and the NCAA," Guth said. "But we have to win. You're not going to get an experience anywhere in the country like Northwestern, and we want to match that athletically.
"That's why Joe came here, to build a program and build a culture. We're on track to do that. We want student-athletes to achieve their dream of playing in the WNBA.
"We've got kids now who are choosing Northwestern for basketball as well as academics. We're here to compete for the top players and not take a back seat."
As much as Guth doesn't have to sell Northwestern's education when she recruits, she knows that in the end the basketball part of a recruit's decision comes down to one thing — winning.
"At the end of the day it's the student-athlete's decision," she said. "Staying home or getting away is part of the decision, but you've got to win."
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