Last Friday, Stanford Women's Basketball picked up a big verbal commitment. And by "big" we mean a 6'5" 190-pounder ranked by Scout.com as the #6 center in the Class of 2008. Sarah Boothe, a senior at Gurnee (Ill.) Warren Township High School, didn't plan on pulling the trigger this summer on her college decision.
"Actually, at first I was going to take official visits, and I was starting to schedule them," Boothe explains. "Then my parents and me sat down last week and really talked about it. I had the courage to say that I wanted to go that far away. When I told them that I really wanted to go to Stanford, they supported me 100 percent. Then I made the call."
On the other end of the phone was Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer, who was as surprised and ecstatic as anyone to receive the news.
"She was really excited," the recruit recalls. "She was really shocked that I called. I had called her earlier in the week, and she was psyched that I called her then. I don't usually call coaches. She said, 'Wow, twice in the same week!' I told her, and she was really excited about my committing."
Prior to her Stanford commitment, Boothe had been the focus of a heated national college recruitment that stretched from coast to coast. She spent most of this summer scrutinizing a final five schools. Four of them were located within driving distance of her Gurnee (Ill.) home, though it was that oddball fifth out West which won in the end.
"I narrowed it down to five: Stanford, Purdue, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and DePaul. I made my decision out of those five," Boothe says. "I visited all of those schools and developed relationships with all of those coaches."
"A lot of other schools outside the final five were willing to offer a scholarship," she adds." I don't want to sound cocky but I could pretty much could go wherever I wanted to on a scholarship. But I was pretty much only interested in these five schools from the start."
Boothe unofficially visited Stanford on March 17 with her father and had the opportunity see the Cardinal romp in their NCAA Tournament first round game versus Idaho State. The overall experience, not just that within the walls of Maples Pavilion, of her visit captivated the Midwesterner.
"I started becoming more serious about considering Stanford," Boothe explains of the March visit. "We just wanted to go out there and look at it. Because it was so far away, me and my dad wanted to see if it would work for me to go out there so far. It was just a great experience."
"I had no idea how beautiful the campus was," she remarks. "I had never been out to California before. I went out there, and it was great. Everyone there was just really great. I had no idea what to expect."
The impact of her visit to The Farm stuck with Boothe throughout the spring and summer. She started to schedule official visits to her five finalists for the fall, but something about Stanford kept tugging at her heart strings in July.
"When I was playing in my AAU tournaments, that was the one school and the one set of coaches I was looking to see if they were at my games," Boothe admits. "Every time I saw them I said, 'I want to play harder. I want to push myself even more.' I have talked to a lot of girls and asked how they figured out where they wanted to go to school. They always said, 'At my games, I was always looking for that coach. The calls that I wanted to hear, I always wanted it to be that coach.' That kind of told me right away that Stanford was where I wanted to go."
"It's everything they have to offer, just the opportunities that Stanford has," Boothe says. "If I don't pursue basketball after college, then that is a big door-opener."
After finishing a busy month of basketball and travel, which took her to Atlanta, Memphis and Cincinnati, Boothe felt compelled to do something about these feelings.
"I was thinking about it on my own for a while. I've always been drawn to Stanford," she explains. "Everybody always talks about their 'gut feeling' when they talk about where they go for college, and that was where my gut feeling was. I knew if I decided to go anywhere else, I would always regret it. Not going to Stanford, I would always regret it. That kind of told me that, yeah, I really want to go to Stanford."
"Then I needed confirmation from my parents that it would be okay with them that I go that far," Boothe continues. "They were completely fine with it and said, 'We think that's great. It's a great school, and we really like the coaches.' They're still going to come out to see me a lot. My mom found a way to get cheap tickets there, so it all worked out."
Boothe's verbal commitment to the Cardinal is the culmination of a recruitment and relationship a year in the making. She says that it was last summer that Stanford expressed not only their interest in her, but also direction for which classes on her transcript could best help her chances at gaining admission to the school. Boothe took a courseload as a junior at Warren Township that included AP English composition, AP U.S. history, honors chemistry, honors algebra II and honors French.
In June, Boothe completed and submitted her admissions application to Stanford, with a 3.9 weighted cumulative GPA and a 26 on the ACT. Those solid credentials, however, did little to calm the nerves of the 16-year-old.
"I was kind of nervous," she admits. "I was pretty anxious. I just worried if everything I had was good enough to get in."
Then in early July, Boothe heard the news that would change her life: her application to attend Stanford had been accepted.
"I was completely in awe. I couldn't really believe that I got in," she exclaims. "My mom told me, 'Sarah, you got in.' I said, 'No way!' I wasn't sure because Stanford is where the top people go, and I wasn't sure if I was one of those people. I was really excited. I was just floored. I couldn't believe it."
One month later, Boothe called the Cardinal and gave her verbal commitment. The 6'5" center is the second verbal commitment for Stanford in the Class of 2008, joining 5'8" guard Lindy La Rocque.
Boothe gives Stanford something they sorely need - size at the center position. The Cardinal last landed a center in the Class of 2006 in Jayne Appel, and they hoped to reinforce their center ranks the following year. As is sometimes the nature of the game for Stanford, however, the recruiting grounds were infertile. The Cardinal's primary target in the Class of 2007 was Amy Jaeschke, ironically also a highly rated 6'5" Chicagoland product, but she could not gain admission to The Farm.
In landing Boothe, Scout.com's #24-ranked overall prospect in the Class of 2008, the Cardinal have added a strong low-post presence to the future of their program.
"I'm pretty much a center. They see me on the block, banging in the post," Boothe says. "They like my game, and they see me playing well with the other girls. They said that playing time is all up to me, how bad I want it and how hard I am willing to work. They see me making a contribution. I would like to get out there and play and really help them win a National Championship."
At Warren Township High School, Boothe has already enjoyed three stellar campaigns. She has a chance in her senior season to reach career totals of 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. She has started 95 of the 98 games she has played in high school.
Boothe last winter as a junior averaged 16.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 2.6 assists per game for the Lady Blue Devils. She earned several Player of the Year and All-Area honors. The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association named her First-Team All-State, while the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times and the Associated Press all tabbed her for Second-Team All-State recognition.
"My strengths are down on the block," Boothe describes. "I have a hook shot that I really like, which I think is one of my strengths. I have been working on stepping out of post and hitting those jumpshots, and I think I have been getting better at that but I'm still working on my range. Another thing I'm working on is my overall strength. Once you get in college, the girls in the post are pretty strong. I'm working on that, lifting and everything."
Her understanding of elite competition was elevated to a new level in June, when Boothe was one of 35 invited attendees in Colorado Springs (Col.) for the 2007 USA Basketball Women's Youth Development Festival. Each of Scout.com's top six ranked centers in Boothe's class were at the festival. 14 of the nation's premier post players 6'2" or taller battled that week, and the experience was a formative and invigorating one for Boothe.
"I think I stood my ground on the offensive and defensive ends. I still have things to work on, but I think I did pretty good," she assesses. "I think I did a pretty good job of post defense."
"Playing against that kind of competition out there, and playing against posts my size, I thought that really helped me to know that I have to work and continue to get stronger," Boothe adds. "I need to try and become more dominant against players my own size, which I don't get to face as much in high school. I just had a great experience playing against girls who were the best."
In a little more than 12 months, Boothe will start playing with and against the best on a full-time basis, as she joins the Cardinal and their quest for Pac-10 and National Championships.
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