Top recruit to play basketball at Western

Michael Casagrande

LOUISVILLE – Crystal Kelly gave Mary Taylor Cowles the exact news she wanted to hear.

She told her that she is going to become a Lady Topper.

“I chose this school because it is one of the top in the nation for photojournalism, so that’s why I’m going to Western Kentucky,” Kelly said Thursday.

The decision was based more on academics than athletics, said the All-American from Louisville.

After making the brief statement, Kelly stood up and was handed a Western T-shirt, which she put on to the cheers of friends and classmates.

Kelly made the announcement Thursday at Sacred Heart Academy, the school she led last month to its third consecutive state championship.

It was a whirlwind day for Kelly as she traveled to Bowling Green earlier that day to tell Cowles that she had chosen Western.

“She was real excited and so was I,” Kelly said about her meeting with Cowles. “We were both shaking. It was awesome.”

Kelly, Kentucky’s Miss Basketball, said that kind of news could not come over the phone.

Sacred Heart coach Donna Moir, who drove Kelly to Western, said the day was one to remember.

“It’s been great,” Moir said. “Crystal planned the whole day.”

She also had to call coaches at Louisville and Kentucky, the other finalists, to tell them that she would not be coming to their schools.

She said that nerves prevented her from being able to eat before making those calls.

The decision was finalized Tuesday night over dinner with her parents at Outback Steakhouse, Kelly said.

Kelly’s mother, Henrietta Kelly, said she had been a little weary about Crystal going to Western before visiting on Sunday. But after returning to Louisville, there was little doubt in her mind that Western was right for her daughter.

“I felt a little more at ease because of the magnet of the photojournalism school,” Henrietta Kelly said. “I wasn’t really familiar with Western. I was more concerned about being a mom and having a daughter somewhere that I wasn’t too familiar with.”

The women’s basketball program at Western has long claimed to be the No. 1 program in the state. This signing may confirm that it’s still on top.

Kelly brings the Lady Toppers the post presence that last year’s team lacked. Western finished last season 20-14 and lost in the finals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

“Anytime you find an All-American, a player that has that kind of body and that kind of God-given ability, passion and work ethic, I think it makes an immediate, dominant effect,” Cowles said.

Now with the decision behind her, Kelly can get back to being a high school kid. Before the ceremony, she showed off her freshly painted toenails. Friday night was prom night.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].