The former Team USA head coach has plenty of reasons to smile after signing a bluechip group of five high school seniors in the early November signing period.
The Tigers received scholarship papers from three of the state of Alabama's top prospects--6-4 guard DeWanna Bonner from Fairfield High, 5-9 guard Whitney Boddie from Florence High and 5-11 guard Sherrell Hobbs from J.O. Johnson High in Huntsville as well as two other highly regarded players--6-7 Keshonda "Keke" Carrier of LaGrange High in LaFayette, La., and 5-9 guard Chantelle Blakely from Antioch, Tenn., High.
"It's a great class," Fortner says. "We are excited about it. It is big. Real big. It is the foundation for winning championships here. It is the foundation for accomplishing our goals here. Year in and year out, we have to have classes like this one to do that, but this sends a pretty strong message that we are for real."
Fortner says she is excited about the Tigers doing well in the state, particularly since the state's top prospect, Bonner is a prep All-American, who was not even considering Auburn until the university hired its new high-profile head coach. Boddie, an enthusiastic recruit for the Tigers, wasn't looking at Auburn either prior to Fortner's arrival.
"I thought it was the most important thing we had to do this year was to get the best players in the state of Alabama," Fortner says. "We want to do that year-in and year-out. To come in here and do that our first year, especially after getting such a late start on these kids, we are just thrilled. It is very important to us."
Boddie says that Fortner made it an easy decision to pick the Tigers. "Coach Fortner's coaching credentials are just so impressive and that is exciting," the Florence High star says. "She and her staff are so enthusiastic and I want to be a part of that program. It was really an easy decision for me to make because everything about Auburn feels right."
Fortner, a former WNBA and Purdue head coach, was the women's basketball analyst for ESPN prior to being hired by Auburn this spring.
Boddie, the Class 5A Player of the Year in the state as a junior, averaged 20 points, nine rebounds and nine assists per game at Bradshaw High, which has been consolidated into a new school this season called Florence High.
As a junior, Hobbs helped her team post a 30-3 record as she averaged 18.9 points, 13.5 rebounds and five assists per game. Last year she played with Alexis Ogubie, who is a freshman on this year's Auburn team.
DeWanna Bonner has excellent height and quickness.
Bonner averaged 21 points and nine rebounds per game as a junior.
"We have a lot of needs to fill and all of the players we are signing fill specific needs," Fortner says. "DeWanna Bonner is a player you can play in many positions on the floor. In a lot of ways, we like to recruit players who have that type of versatility who are not stuck at one position. DeWanna fills that probably more than any of the players do. You can play her inside, outside. She can bring the ball down the floor.
"Whitney is a point guard, but she can also play her at the two because she is such a great scorer. I like the ball in her hands because she is such a strong passer. She likes to get her teammates involved.
"Sherelle Hobbs is a 5-11 very versatile perimeter player," Fortner adds. "She has played everywhere from the one to the five on her high school team. She has a lot of different skills and I love her ability to pass the ball, take it on the break or set her teammates up to score."
Carrier, a 6-7 center, has already won many honors as a player at LaGrange High. She was named the Louisiana Sports Writers Association 4A Most Valuable Player, to the LSWA's All-State first team and the Orlando Sentinel honored her with Honorable Mention All-South honors. She was named a Street & Smith All-America Honorable Mention in 2003 and 2004, adidas Top Ten Camp Underclass All-Star in 2004 and USA Youth Development Festival South Team.
"KeKe is a 6-7 player that will anchor down the middle," Fortner says. "The fact that we have her leaves me speechless. She brings an entirely new dimension to this team. She is already skilled and can run the floor and her size is something that you need to compete in the SEC."
"I think the biggest reason I decided to come to Auburn was the coaching staff and their experience," Carrier says. "With their Olympic and WNBA experience, I think they will be best for my development. I want to become a veterinarian and the vet school at Auburn is one of the top in the country. Another big factor was the signing class. I was on my recruiting trip with DeWanna and Whitney and I really think we have the potential to be very good."
Blakely, a 5-9 guard from Antioch High School, is a four-year starter at point guard and a two-time All-Region selection. She averaged 12.1 points, 4.0 assists, 3.5 steals and two rebounds per game as a junior.
"Chantelle was the first player to commit to us, which was very exciting to our staff," Fortner says. "She is a very versatile guard and is very quick. Chantelle's style will allow us to play the type of basketball that we want to play. Her goal has been to play at Auburn. She came to our camp this summer and really turned our heads."
Blakely says, "When I went to camp, I saw what Auburn was about and fell in love with it. I loved the campus and the facilities. And after meeting Coach Fortner and all the staff, I learned more from one week at camp than I had my entire basketball career."
Fortner says the Tigers may add another signee or two in the spring, but for now she is pleased with the strong start for the 2005 signee class. "We are so excited about this class," the Auburn coach says. "With these signees, we are laying the foundation of the program's future. For these players to believe in us and what we are doing here at Auburn, it is overwhelming."