After a week of isolation, introspection and reflection on the sunny beaches of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, Jayne Appel returned for one last day of competition to close out a very busy basketball summer. We last successfully caught up with the 6'4" standout center from Pleasant Hill (Calif.) when she was competing at the USA Basketball Women's Youth Development Festival in June. Since then, she played in the Nike Skills Academy, the End of the Trail Tournament, the adidas Showtime Tournament, the adidas Top Ten Camp... and finally a one-day sojourn at a smaller event in Fresno on July 31. Thus ended the extensive evaluation events for which Appel applied herself this summer.
We expected the top five national prospect to catch her breath in these opening days of August, but Appel instead took our breath away. She surprised with a Stanford verbal commitment Monday, after knocking three schools off her list in less than 24 hours. Just a couple months ago, Appel had nine schools spanning the both coasts on her list.
"First I eliminated Tennessee," the Corondelet High School senior recalls. "Then it was Arizona State. Then UCLA and USC. Next was Notre Dame. Sunday I called Duke. Monday morning I called Cal, and then I called Jacki [Gemelos] and UConn."
Amidst that list of eight schools who were knocked out of contention, you see mention of a phone call to a fellow member of the high school Class of 2006. Gemelos is a fellow Northern California jewel, who has committed to Geno Auriemma and the UConn Huskies. Appel and Gemelos play on the same AAU travel team, the East Bay Xplosion.
"We had talked before about maybe going to the same school," Appel shares. "She called me when she committed to UConn and has been talking to me since about going there with her. It's a whole different basketball recruiting game than when you talk with the coaches. It was hard to tell her the news yesterday, but she understood. We're still good friends and we still talk."
Returning from Mexico on Saturday, Appel had four schools still on her list. She bounced Duke the next day and then quickly nixed Cal, followed by UConn. In the final decision between the Cardinal on the West Coast and the Huskies on the East Coast, Appel admits that one factor loomed larger than any other.
"Distance - being in California," she reveals. "Over the summer, I went back and forth between different schools. Each day I thought I'd go to a different school. One day I'd be going to UConn. The next it was Duke. Then it would be Cal. Then it would be Stanford. But when I took the week by myself with some family friends in Cabo, I got away from it all. Nobody there had any preconceived notions on what I should do. We cleared that up on the first day."
"Being away from my family made me realize something," Appel adds. "That first time I called home, I missed them. "I realized that I didn't want to have a relationship with my family over the phone for four years."
One member of her family, in particular, helped to crystallize and bring clarity to her mélange of emotions. Her older brother, Tom, just finished his freshman year at college.
"When I got back, I talked with my brother," she describes. "We were trying to weigh everything out. He was honest and open and didn't try to sway me. He took everything I said to him and helped put it into simpler terms for me. He's been to college and knows what is important: family. In case anything happens, I can be an hour and a half away. My whole family is in the Bay Area - all the Appels. And my godfather is in Palo Alto."
The other school in her final trio also offered a chance to stay close to home, but the Bears lost out on other metrics.
"The Stanford program just suits me better," Appel begins. "Cal is good, too. I think they have a chance to be an up-and-coming program. But when I talked with the Stanford coaches, the opportunities for me were just too great. We talked about what Candice [Wiggins] and Brooke [Smith] are doing this summer - all the opportunities to play for Team USA. Down the road, they will be playing for a chance to play for the U.S. in the Olympics. Those are the things I've tried to work toward the last eight years."
"Stanford also is far enough from home, where it's not at home, but close enough that I can go home," she notes. "Cal is just 10 minutes away from my house."
The recruiting process could have continued for another couple months for Appel. She has the chance to take official visits in the fall, and she thought long and hard about going that route. However, Appel and her father took a wealth of unofficial visits up and down the West Coast, as well as trips last winter to the top programs back East. When the calendar turned yesterday from July to August, the 17 year-old decided it was time. Her final phone call connected her with Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer, on vacation in Minnesota.
"We started with a bunch of small talking," Appel recounts. "Tara then started talking about all the opportunities Stanford would open up for me. I told her, 'Tara, I have a favor to ask you.' She said, 'Sure.' I said, 'I was wondering if I could play for you at The Farm?'"
The bomb dropped on VanDerveer caught the 19-year Cardinal head coach by surprise. The audible celebration quickly followed. In case you've been living in a cave, you know that Jayne Appel is one of the top few recruits in the nation in this 2006 class. Ranked by many as a top five player in the country, the 6'4" post has the size and skills on the low block to play center, but runs the floor and can face the basket like a forward. The Bay Area native has rightfully drawn comparisons to current Stanford star Brooke Smith, with whom Appel will play one season (2006-07). The two towers first faced off, however, last summer.
During the Stanford overnight basketball camps, you can often find some of the top campers hooping it up against current players on the Stanford squad - late at night in Maples Pavilion after regular camp activities have passed. Such was the case last summer, when Appel was a rising junior in high school and had the privilege of playing against Smith. It was a lopsided affair, the younger combatant admits.
"The first time we matched up, she hit her hook shot right over me," Appel allows. "The second time, she hit a 'three' right in my face."
Like Smith, Appel will have a debate surrounding her future position. She can play either spot in the post, and she certainly has ideas about where her strengths lie.
"I'd rather just be known as a post," she offers. "I like to run up and down the floor. I don't like being pinned down to the block, which is what some programs do with their center."
Jayne Appel is the second commitment for Stanford in the 2006 class, in which the Cardinal are believed to have four scholarships to give. Appel in June became the first recruit in this class to gain admission to The Farm, though she is today the second to commit. The first verbal pledge came two weeks ago when Beaverton (Ore.) Southridge High School point guard J.J. Hones gave the good word to VanDerveer. Hones and Appel played together for USA Basketball in June and have kept touch with text message and phone calls since. This text message exchange took place yesterday, from the post prize to her future point guard:
Appel: What's up, teammate?
Hones: Are you serious???
Appel: Yeah, I'm serious. We're going to play together for four years.
Monday was an exciting day for both girls, as well as the Stanford Basketball program and the Cardinal community. Appel is ranked in a rarified air by the recruiting services previously occupied by a famed few. Nicole Powell and Candice Wiggins are recent top five national recruits who made big waves when they matriculated at Stanford, and Jayne Appel is aiming just as high with her future on The Farm.
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