Introducing Nicole Jules and Erica Grimaldi

Freshmen Nicole Jules and Erica Grimaldi are the latest additions to the Vanderbilt women's basketball team. Last week, between workouts, homework, and pickup games, they visited with VandyMania.

It didn't take long for the phrase "compare and contrast" to come to mind. Perhaps it was inspired by the fact that both students mentioned that they're taking an intro to composition class this summer. But whatever the reason, it's an irresistible theme.

Some of the similarities simply go with the territory of being a freshmen. While the veterans and the staff are getting ready for the European trip next month, the freshmen will be left behind -- thanks to NCAA regulations. And while many of the returning players were busy last week chasing down campers at overnight camp, the freshmen were left out -- once again, those pesky NCAA regulations prohibit it.

Other similarities are simply what we expect from Vanderbilt students: They're both friendly and good-natured when asked all kinds of questions and for photos. Both were attracted to Vanderbilt as a college, as well as a basketball program. As Nicole says, "I love basketball, basketball has given me a lot, but I knew that academics always come first."

Beyond that, they both graduated from their high schools as champions. Nicole's school, St. John's College High School, won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship -- the D.C. equivalent of a state championship -- for the second time in her high school career. Erica's school, Notre Dame de Sion, won the Missouri Class 3A championship for the second consecutive year.

Their attitudes show it. "I do what it takes to win," says Erica. Same for Nicole. She says, "I'm the type of person who would do the small things because a lot of people overlook the small things. But I'm the one who doesn't mind doing the small things as long as we're winning.

But the differences are striking.

Nicole is a post player. "In high school I played mainly 5, the center position," she says. "But with me being 6'2 1/2, I know I'm going to be playing a lot more forward this year."

She says that her strength is her biggest asset. "I'm very strong. That's always been one of my biggest assets," she says. "I take a lot of space, so that's good for rebounding positioning."

Ercia, on the other hand, is a point guard. She's listed a 5'5 and says that senior point guard Ashley McElhiney is a little taller than she is. "I can play the 2," she says with a laugh, "but that's about as high as I go on the numbers."

Whereas Nicole sees her strength as an asset, Erica identifies it as an area in which she needs to improve.

Just as striking is the difference in how they came to be students at Vanderbilt.

For Nicole, the process was carefully planned, with the decision made over a year ago.

"It pretty much started at the end of March my junior year'' she says. Her mom said it was time to narrow down her choices to 15 schools, and by the end of April, her short list included Georgia Tech, Florida State, Vanderbilt, and Penn State.

"And I came to visit here and played pickup and got shown around the campus and that night when I left, I told my mama, "I could see myself playing there,' and she said she knew from that moment that I was going to end up here.

"Then in June when the coaches could start calling, I got to talk to the coaches. . . . I really liked the team, I liked the whole program. I want to go into medicine, so they have a good pre-med program and a good hospital here." Nicole considered that "a real plus," committed on July 1 and signed in the early signing period in November.

She says she never wavered nor regretted her decision during the coaching transition. "I chose the school first for the school because if I get hurt, my academics are going to be what keeps me going in the future."

On the other hand, as recently as June 23, the Kansas City Star reported that Erica was undecided on where she'd attend college.

Her senior year got off to a rough start when she tore three ligaments in her foot and missed the first six weeks of the season. For anybody that would be bad enough from a recruiting standpoint, but it was compounded by the fact that Erica's AAU didn't travel to far-away high profile national tournaments.

But she says she never felt pressure to nail down a college decision early. "I never got worried about the whole college thing," she says. "I knew I was going to end up where I was going to end up, and that's where I'm supposed to be."

Things began to look brighter when her high school team won the state championship by 30 points. Erica thought that she'd go to Xavier because she liked the school. She hadn't been recruited, so she figured that she'd try to walk on her first year, in the hope of earning a scholarship later.

"I just wanted to go there for the school," she says. "That's the kind of school where I know if things didn't work out for the best, I could go there and be okay."

When she contacted the Xavier staff and expressed her interest in walking on, the response boiled down to: "Send us a tape." The tape caught their interest.

"Then they got the job here and they realized that they had 2 or 3 scholarships they weren't even using for this year," she says. When offered the scholarship, she knew it was the right thing to do. "I was like ecstatic," she says, "How could I pass it up?"

It looks like their numbers will be opposites, too. Nicole will wear #31, the number she wore in high school. At the time, it was just the number they handed her, but she's become attached to it. Reverse the digits, and you get #13, Erica's high school number, which may be her college number as well.

But whatever their numbers, whatever their differences, when November rolls around and the season tips off, they'll both be wearing the brand new Vanderbilt Commodore uniforms. Top Stories