Monday, November 17, 2008

"Making her move"

I decided to write my profile assignment in my magazine writing class on Theairra Taylor, who committed to Iowa this November. This is the final, graded version. As before, the deck is in the larger Times font.

Several colleges are eyeing two-time state champion Theairra Taylor. This No
vember, she will make her biggest move in her basketball career.

On a recent visit to the Univers
ity of Pittsburgh, 17-year-old Theairra Taylor was enjoying her time out east, expecting to have some small talk with the athletic staff. Instead, she felt pressured to commit to the school's basketball team immediately.

"I was at the dinner table almost shaking. I couldn't really speak," she says. "It was really difficult to leave that night. I don't really like that uncomfortable feeling."

The St. Paul Central standout hasn't faced another Pittsburgh-like scenario since, but her experience underscores a complex process that is now the norm for many high school players.

Taylor's 5-feet-10-inch body, three-point range and agility helped her land scholarship offers as a
sophomore. Now a senior, Taylor will choose a college in November to play women's basketball. In the running are Big Ten schools Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, along with Big East schools Marquette and Pittsburgh.

Before Taylor could visit any of those schools, she had to submit her ACT score and high school transcript. After that, her college visits were filled with administrative meetings and team outings designed to build chemistry with her potential teammates.

Willie Taylor, Central's head coach, has watched nine players continue playing basketball careers at NCAA Division One schools during his coaching career. Theairra, who is not related to the coach, will be his 10th. He'll be the first to say that he still learns new things when he gets calls from colleges looking to recruit his players.

"Theairra is the first kid that I coached who waited this long," he says. "It's a pain in the neck. Every school feels like they got to call me every day. You run out of things to talk about. But I'm willing to do whatever she needs to do to help her select the best school."

At the same time, colleges are doing whatever they can to convince Taylor their school is the best.
When Taylor visited Minnesota Sept. 12, she was escorted to the Metrodome to watch Minnesota's football team in pregame exercises and was given a tour of the new football stadium. She even put on the hard hat, safety vest and goggles construction workers use while working.

When she wasn't touring schools, Taylor and her parents say the family was taken to restaurants where the cheapest selections were around $20. On one of their hotel stays, Taylor saw Diana Taurasi and her Phoenix Mercury teammates.

Taylor enjoyed the atmosphere and meeting new people, but the physical wear and time commitment eventually caught up.

"After a while, it kind of got tiring. I was starting to miss school, starting to not have weekends. I missed a few football games," she says.

The recruiting efforts weren't limited to school visits either.

"They had times where they can come visit your school," Taylor says, "I missed half of my math class, which happens to me my toughest subject, and my teacher wasn't so lenient at first."

Taylor is learning that time management will be an even bigger focus when she starts taking college courses. Her friends who play at Division One schools told her workout routines that took place once in a while in high school are now a daily part of the schedule.

"I told Theairra, being a student athlete, they expect a lot of you," says her mother Michelle Taylor. "Their days start at eight and they're back in their homes at eight and this repeats every day. That's not something you're used to in high school."

Michelle Taylor persistently dreams of her daughter finally committing to a college only to wake up and realize that hasn't happened yet.

"Everyone keeps telling us that you'll know, you'll have this feeling. But when you go and have a good experience, it just makes your decision even harder," she says. "Theairra said to me 'You know why you don't know? It's because I don't know.'"

The investment schools put into Taylor won't make the final decision any easier. Willie Taylor says every college Taylor is considering put in a lot of money to set up visits with her.

"She'll have to tell four schools no. It's scary to see how they're going to react to that no," he says.

Taylor could be feeling anxious right now with everything she has encountered in the last couple months. Instead, like everything else that comes into her life, she's relaxed about everything.

"I keep telling each coach there's not anything you need to do because it's basically just a decision I'll have to make upon myself," she says.

Taylor is looking for three things that will influence her school selection.

"The graduation rate of the team, if I feel like I fit into the scheme of the program, (and) the team itself. If I feel like I can't fit in, it's going to be a struggle," she says.

So what will happen when Taylor finally makes her choice to end this ongoing plot?

"I want to talk to her before she calls the school and get one last look, and then I'm going to be happy for her," Willie Taylor says. "Then we're going to celebrate."

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