WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Top recruit may become Topper

Michael Casagrande

Following Western’s 79-71 loss to Middle Tennessee State in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament title game, coach Mary Taylor Cowles joked with reporters.

Without naming names, she said Western was a 6-foot-3 post player away from rising into the nation’s elite.

With that statement came a smile. Everyone in the room knew who she was talking about: Sacred Heart Academy senior Crystal Kelly.

She is one of the top recruits in the nation yet to sign with a college, but she is in no hurry to grab a pen.

Western is one of five teams she is still considering, said Kelly, an All-American from Louisville.

“Every day, I’m going back and forth between schools,” she said.

Louisville, Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Western remain finalists in one of the hottest recruiting battles in recent memory. The last day to sign a national letter of intent is May 19.

At this point, Kelly seems content to wait until mid-May to make a decision.

The 6-foot-3 Kelly said she hadn’t really thought too hard about college until the season ended on March 27. Winning a third-consecutive state title was more important, she said.

Playing the Sweet 16 in Diddle Arena was something Kelly grew accustomed to and enjoyed.

“I never lost a game on that floor,” Kelly said. “I’d like to keep that going.”

There are several factors Kelly said will play into her decision, the most important being the chemistry of the potential program.

Kelly won three-straight state titles at the Louisville Catholic powerhouse, mostly because of the great chemistry the team shared, she said.

“I want to go to a good program,” Kelly said. “The chemistry of the team is important. If we didn’t have the chemistry we had at Sacred Heart, we wouldn’t have been as successful.”

Kelly would like to keep the chemistry with one particular teammate, Sacred Heart junior Carly Ormerod. She said the two made a deal to play together in college, although Ormerod still has another year of high school hoops to play.

Academics is also important to the Gatorade Kentucky Player of the Year. She said she would like to major in photojournalism, a discipline in which both Western and Florida win national awards on an annual basis.

On her visit to Western, Kelly said she didn’t get a chance to tour the new Mass Media and Technology Hall. But she was impressed with Florida’s journalism facilities during her visit in Gainesville.

Sacred Heart coach Donna Moir had nothing but positive things to say about Western’s recruitment of Kelly. She said the program’s family-like attitude has been impressive throughout the process.

Moir said Kelly’s attitude towards the attention given to her decision has been positive. She said the hardest part for Kelly will be turning down four coaches.

“For being only 17-years-old, she’s handled it well,” Moir said. “She’s so grounded and so gifted and unassuming.”

Kelly said she didn’t understand why her decision would receive so much coverage in the newspapers.

“I don’t read much of what’s written,” she said. “I don’t see myself as being so good. Basketball is just something I have fun doing.”

Wherever she ends up in the fall, Kelly is looking forward to improving her game. Over the summer, she plans on working on her outside shooting and ball handling.

She said her ability to make the starting lineup early in her first year wasn’t an immediate concern.

“It would be nice,” Kelly said. “If not, it’s something to work towards.”

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]