By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
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By Patricia Calhoun
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"I'm completely staggered by the level of talent in Colorado," says Brooke Meadows, a Boulder High graduate who is now an assistant coach of the University of Nebraska women's team. "When I graduated in 1985, there were just a few of us who could really play and got national attention. Now there are dozens. My recruiting list is so full of Colorado players now that it's hard to get a handle on them all. The Denver metro area is close to L.A., talent-wise."
Bob Ottewill, commissioner of the Colorado High School Activities Association, is equally amazed by the talent surge in girls' hoops. "Population-wise, it makes no sense," says Ottewill. "It's a phenomenon we can't explain."
The rise of the women's game in Colorado is attributed by many insiders to the influence of club basketball. There are currently four major club teams in the state; they barnstorm the country in the summer playing the top girls in other regions. It's a bonanza for college scouts to see the young players showcase their talents at tournaments and all-star camps. Many observers say that summer club basketball--currently dominated by the Hoopsters, who draw from throughout the metro suburbs, and the Rockies, who concentrate on the Boulder area--has become even more important than the wintertime high-school season.
Along with the increasing talent has come intense scrutiny. The recruiting has reached a fever pitch usually associated only with the men's game. Scouts flock to Colorado in search of talent. Joe Smith, director of New York City's Women's Basketball News Service, ranks the talent pool of Colorado's girls in the top ten nationally.
And the girls know the scouts are watching. Katie Flecky, a 6-foot-1 sophomore-to-be at Highlands Ranch who was selected the most valuable player at a national fourteen-and-under tournament in Virginia last year, seems almost blase about the recruiting process as she leans against the bleachers after a recent scrimmage. "I guess it's exciting to get letters from colleges, but I don't like to brag about it," says Flecky. "So I try to keep it low-key. You get a big head and it ruins everything."
College coaches aren't allowed to contact high-school players by phone until their junior year, but Flecky says that she's already received letters from schools like the University of Connecticut and the University of Virginia, as well as scores of letters from what she describes as "little schools." Such as? "Oh," says Flecky with a shrug, "schools like Texas and UCLA."
Keirsten Walters has been playing basketball competitively since the seventh grade, but what really made her into a star player was the competition she experienced with her four older brothers.
"They beat me up every day," she says, laughing as she recalls it. "I'd go running into the house crying, but my mom would never baby me. She said that if I wanted to play, I had to take the abuse. So finally, I just made up my mind that I was going to be the one handing out the beatings. It's gotten to the point where I won't play against them anymore because I don't want to hurt them."
Coaches who have worked with Walters attest to her fearless play, but Walters admits that she was a little blown away by the competition when she played in the Nike All-American game this past spring. "The game wasn't that different except for the fact that there were some unbelievable athletes out there," she says. "Some of the other guards and I were joking that we were afraid to pass the ball to the wing--the girls were just that quick to the ball."
College scouts were even quicker than that when it came time to start recruiting her. But the process wasn't as hard on Keirsten as it was on two other people: her mother and the mailman. "Keirsten was getting forty to fifty pieces of mail from college coaches every day," says Barbara Walters. "The poor mailman was sick to death by the time the whole thing was over."
Keirsten eventually signed early with Connecticut, avoiding what scouting guru Joe Smith describes as "the most vicious recruiting period; the period where all the chicanery begins." But even though she avoided the worst of the wheedling by committing early, her mother still sounds weary when describing the process. And Barbara Walters had been through it before with her oldest son, Chris, a heavily recruited offensive lineman who eventually went to Arizona State on a football scholarship and played in the Rose Bowl.
"After the process we went through with Chris, I said that if it ever happened again, we'd move to a motel where nobody could find us," says Barbara Walters. "When Chris was getting recruited, we had coaches literally camped out on our front porch.
"And the demand for Keirsten was much larger than with Chris. I can't think of a D-1 school that didn't write to her. It was interesting at first, but it got tiresome very quickly. Finally, by last June, she had her list of schools she was considering down to 25. You can imagine what a relief it was when she finally decided on UConn."