It started with scholarship offers from the Who's Who of college women's basketball, before she started her junior year of high school. The deluge of attention, and accompanying grants, gave Kayla Pedersen her pick of schools where she could play basketball and study for four years. By December 2005, the hoopla and incessant information and communication from college coaches compelled the Mesa (Ariz.) Red Mountain High School standout to narrow her list to 10 final schools:
Stanford, USC, UCLA, Arizona State, LSU, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Duke, Texas and Tennessee. Seven of those schools finished the 2005-06 season ranked in the Top 20 of the nation. 'How could she go wrong with those options?' - admiring public, friends and family would tell her. 'How can I make this decision? - she asked herself.
"Everybody told me it was going to be crazy," Pedersen says. "But I didn't really realize it until I started getting all the letters. Then the calls started coming. It was constantly busy, and I had to keep up my schoolwork."
Lip service by many putative student-athletes, Pedersen is as serious as about her classes at Red Mountain as she is deadly working from the high post. She carries a 4.379 GPA and ranks #9 in her high school class of approximately 800, putting her in the top 1% of her school.
And so it was decided that the 25-plus offers should be whittled down to 10, with the rest of the nation told politely, 'Thanks but no thanks,' to sanely manage the remainder of her recruitment.
"Once things got unmanageable, we said, 'Let's cut schools,'" Pedersen describes. "I was looking for a good basketball program, great coaches, good chemistry on the team, and a great reputation academically."
There was no announcement made between December and May, which might have given the impression that the full field of 10 remained in play for Pedersen. However, she was quietly winnowing her list. One by one, seven of those 10 coaches were given the news of their recruiting demise. By the spring, she had a final trio of contenders: Stanford, USC and Duke. It is a chicken-and-egg debate of which begat which, but those three schools were also the final three unofficial visits she took. Stanford in late December, followed by USC and finally Duke in March.
"I was starting to realize that I liked those three the most, and it worked out that they were my last three visits," she offers. "Those three stood out and were the most attractive to me. I liked the coaching staffs and the programs."
Meanwhile, there was another important process proceeding in the background. Given her rock star student profile, Pedersen had the academic muscle on both her transcript and in her early standardized test score to be the first recruit which the Stanford Admissions Office approved to receive an admissions application in this class. She scored an 1870 in November on the SAT, while she took a ridiculously rigorous core of classes that included five honors courses - two of which were AP level (psychology and U.S. history).
Pedersen completed her application during the spring, and in mid-May was accepted by the University. To the best of our knowledge, she was the earliest women's basketball student-athlete admit Stanford has ever seen, and maybe the first to get the green light before completing her junior year of high school. That fact is a testament to both the interest and the academic qualifications Pedersen possessed, which gave her not only the firepower to be admitted but also the motivation to do so on an early timeframe.
"I knew I had good enough grades, so getting admitted wasn't that unexpected," she admits. "Still, you can't help but wonder, 'Will I get in?' I was praying that I got in."
"[Stanford Associate Head Coach] Amy Tucker sent me a text message while I was at school: 'You need to call me,'" the recruit recalls. "I didn't know for sure what that meant, so I called her as soon as I could. She told me, 'You have been admitted.' I was just flipping out. I told all the friends and family that I know."
While those close to the situation thought Pedersen might have been ready to pull the trigger for The Farm upon that news, the practical intellectual in her said to give it some more time.
"I was very close," she admits. "It was really just a matter of which I committed. Then my AAU coach told me one day, 'It's about time that you committed. I don't know what you're waiting for.' He was right."
Pedersen popped with the Cardinal commitment on May 30, which sent shockwaves through the women's basketball community. It seemed like the ink had hardly dried on Stanford's 2006 recruiting class, ranked #2 in the nation and possessing the #3 overall player and top center in Jayne Appel. It isn't fair to pull in two preeminent posts of this uberelite caliber back-to-back. But just like Appel's Cardinal recruitment, the Pedersen plan had its groundwork laid long ago. The Arizona forward was identified by Tucker as a freshman, which helped pave an early road for Stanford's full-court press on the recruit.
That included the elite underclassman attending Stanford's camp in June 2004 - long before you ever heard of her. It also helped that Pedersen pined for the Cardinal since she was a little girl.
"I have always loved Stanford, since I was like five, for whatever reason," Pedersen proclaims. "I knew they had a bigger reputation for academics, and they won the National Championship a couple times."
Another indelible influence for the Arizona youngster while growing up was Grand Canyon State superstar Nicole Powell, seven years Pedersen's senior. Powell was not only perhaps the greatest player in state history, but she also shared some characteristics that Pedersen has developed - a bigger player with perimeter skills and deadly inside-out game, while also a top student in the classroom. It was a major story when Powell committed to the Cardinal, and on The Farm she enjoyed wild success as the only three-time Kodak All-American in school history.
"People still talk about her here. She's a legend," Pedersen shares. "I've never talked to her, but I think we're similar players because of our versatility. I'm a little bit taller than her. Maybe I'm a little bit quicker. But she could shoot it a little better."
A taller, quicker Nicole Powell? (And Pedersen is putting every ounce of her effort into improving that shot.) That's sweet music to Stanford ears, now that Kayla Pedersen has ended her recruiting journey and settled on The Farm for her future.
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