They battled in Kansas City in March for the right to play in the NCAA Regional Finals. They battled in Minneapolis 10 years ago in the Final Four. But those games are ancient history for Tara VanDerveer and Geno Auriemma, with their focus squarely set on landing the services of 2006 recruit Jayne Appel. The 6'4" forward/center from Pleasant Hill (Calif.) is either a top five or top 10 talent in the rising senior class, depending on which service you reference, and she is the top ranked player remaining on the board for both Stanford and Connecticut.
Appel is currently training and competing with USA Basketball at the 2005 Women's Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs (Colo.) as one of the 34 select invitees from the U.S. to the annual camp, which this year also includes the 12-girl Canada Under-17 Team. More than just an honor, the Carondelet High School superstar is taking advantage of the competition and instruction to improve her already highly regarded game.
"It's awesome, playing against the best players in the nation," she exclaims. "It's really cool to be in an environment like this. We have some pretty good guards on our team - one is going to UConn and one to Tennessee. We have guards galore who can really shoot. Once they start to hit their shots, things should open up inside."
Though she is a little shy of 6'4" without shoes, Appel has freakishly long arms with a reported 84-inch wingspan. Her offensive repertoire is a skilled one, with a developing face-up game to go with her already deadly drop-step. She is a monster rebounder, scattering double-double performances like grains of sand on the beach and recording a handful of 20+ rebound games.
"I'm probably most proud that we won state my sophomore year. And I didn't have any jump shot as a freshman - now I've developed that and am getting better," the premier post reports. "I go to my drop-step until somebody can stop me, but I've watched college games and the best post players can shoot. They have more than just a post game. You need to be able to drive to the basket against your defender and hit some jump shots."
"I'm also working on my hook shot. It's not as good as Brooke yet," she laughs, referencing Cardinal redshirt junior Brooke Smith's legendary ambidextrous jump hook. "I'm getting a lot of help with my footwork here - learning how to shoot on both sides. There is a different lead foot you should use for each side of the basket, which I'm not used to thinking about. It was a little awkward at first, but I'm learning a lot. I also have to get a lot quicker with my feet and my hands here, but I don't want to be in a rush."
Appel was named one of only five juniors this past season to the Parade All-American first or second team, grabbing one of the 10 second-team selections. She averaged 23 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks in a junior season that also earned her California Division II Player of the Year honors from CalHi Sports. She led the Carondelet Cougars to a stellar 28-4 record and NCS Division II title, though they lost in the NorCal Div. II finals to Archbishop Mitty and came just one game short of a shot at repeating their state championship (30-3 in 2003-04).
With her junior season of high school basketball behind her, Appel is now focused on a busy summer schedule and the sunset stages of her college recruitment. Top programs from coast to coast have been hot on her trail for more than a year, with options and offers a-plenty.
"I hope I can make my decision by the end of the summer," she says. "I don't want to rush it, but hopefully I can have this done before my senior year. It's been fun at times, and then there are other times when I wish people would just back off."
Her list of nine schools was recently trimmed to eight, with Tennessee knocked off. Of the remaining eight schools, she has seen seven already on unofficial visits - arming her for an early decision without the necessity of fall official trips.
"My list right now is Stanford, UCLA, USC, Arizona State, Cal, Notre Dame, Duke and UConn. Every one of them has offered, except Cal. Well, at Cal I don't know for sure with the new coaching staff," Appel allows. "I've been to every school except ASU. I saw the West Coast schools at different times, and over Christmas I made a trip to Notre Dame, Duke, Tennessee and UConn."
"Before the end of the summer, I'd like to trim the list to three and make a final decision from there," she adds.
Appel is not giving anybody a preview of who might be those final three schools, but much speculation has surrounded Stanford and UConn. The Huskies have already landed three top commitments in this 2006 class, all of whom are in Colorado Springs this week. 5'11" guard Jacki Gemelos is on Appel's Team USA White squad, as is 6'5" center Kristen Phillips. 6'3" forward Tina Charles is on Team USA Red.
"I am friends with all three of them, and that's a definite plus that I know and like them," Appel comments on the three-headed Husky recruiting machine. "Jacki is the one on me the most - everyday."
Don't think that Geno Auriemma cannot come to California and cherry pick a talent of Appel's caliber. The Huskies have already nabbed a top-five national player from Stockton in Jacki Gemelos this class. Two years ago they snagged the all-time California high school career scoring leader, Charde Houston. In the 2000 class they landed a girl from Don Lugo High School in Chino named Diana Taurasi.
"My visit out there was definitely memorable," Appel says of her UConn unofficial visit last winter. "My dad slipped on some ice and fractured and dislocated his ankle."
"I really like the coaches and the team. I like the school and situation there, too," she adds. "The only drawback is that it is in Connecticut. I've been in California all my life. I like the sun."
The East Bay native has five schools on her current list of eight on the West Coast, with Cal and Stanford right in her backyard. Appel attended the Cardinal's camp last summer and attended games at Maples Pavilion this year. Her biggest step came when she completed and submitted her Stanford admissions application a month ago.
"I've been admitted," the 3.5 student reports. "I actually found out the day before I got here. Obviously I was nervous about being admitted, but I was confident in what I've done in school."
"Being admitted is big for Stanford because now they're on an equal level with everyone else," Appel continues. "Now they can recruit me fully without any hold-ups."
Speculation for some time has been that the All-American is a Stanford lean, though Appel is careful in her approach to the big decision in front of her.
"I'm looking for a combination of everything - location, academics, coaching staff and the players. It's a hard decision to make," she shares. "My whole family wants me to go to Stanford. It's near my home town and they can watch me play, but they say they'll support me if I go away from home. It will take me time to make this decision. I want to make sure I am making the right decision and not rush into it."
And what are her thoughts on the Cardinal?
"I like the campus. And you graduate with a Stanford degree. My dad told me that 20,000 applicants applied this year and only 11% got in. Obviously, not many people get the chance that I have with Stanford," Appel allows. "I'm pretty sure it will come down to two or three of the schools, and Stanford will be there."
Though Appel is the apple of countless college coaches' eyes, she knows that stepping into a program like UConn or Stanford will not hand her a starting position right away.
"At Stanford, my freshman year I would play behind Brooke and [Kristen Newlin], then my sophomore year I would definitely have a big opportunity," she comments on the Cardinal's post depth chart. "At UConn, they have one who is going to be a freshman and then the two in my class."
It should be a month or two before we hear news of Appel's list-trimming to a final pair or trio of suitors, but stay tuned to The Bootleg and Scout.com this summer for reports on her at several camps and tournaments, including the Youth Development Festival currently underway in Colorado Springs.
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