Amid the usual powerhouse programs that dominated the fall signing period are a few names from the Southeastern Conference that haven’t been seen in such lofty company in a while.
While Tennessee, UConn, Baylor, Louisville, Texas, Stanford, Notre Dame, Duke, South Carolina and UCLA were continuing their success, very quietly Joni Taylor put together a touted class in her first full-fledged recruiting cycle since succeeding the retired Andy Landers at Georgia.
Just days after giving birth to a daughter, the second-year Lady Bulldogs head coach finalized a four-player group, all of whom are Top 100 Blue Star Report seniors:
- Quannecia Morrison (11 and pictured above), 5-8 G, Powder Springs, GA McEachern (Pistols Team Elite);
- Gabrielle Connally (24), 5-7 G, San Antonio, TX Brandeis (Team XPress);
- Maya Caldwell (78), 6-1 W, Charlotte, NC Davidson Day School (Boo Williams);
- Malury Bates (86), 6-3 P, Roanoke, VA William Fleming (Spectrum Elite).
Not only is this Georgia’s best signing group in a number of years, but several other SEC programs that dearly needed to reel in strong classes have done that, including Tennessee. Nine of the 14 SEC schools are among the top 21 classes compiled by the All-Star Girls Report, including LSU, which finished in last place in conference play last season.
For head coach Holly Warlick, coming off a rocky 2015-16 season and the death of Pat Summitt, getting such a stellar group is a notable accomplishment.
The Lady Vols recovered from a bizarre regular season (in which Warlick’s future was called into question) to reach the Elite 8. After signing no one last fall, Warlick dismissed former Lady Vols guard Kyra Elzy as recruiting coordinator and hired Sharrona Reaves from West Virginia.
Tennessee needed a bit of everything and got it in No. 2 senior Evina Westbrook, 6-0 wing from South Salem, Ore., point guard Anastasia Hayes from Hendersonville, Tenn., shooting guard Rennia Davis from Jacksonville and post Kasiyahna Kushkituah of Alpharetta, Ga. They were among the top 25 players from the Class of 2017 for Blue Star Report.
South Carolina filled its needs with another highly-rated group that includes forward LaDazhia Williams (16) and wing Elisia Grissett (30), Texas A & M’s class of five includes point guard Chennedy Carter (BSR No. 6 senior) and Mississippi State has added two top in-state prospects and highly-touted juco wing Jonika Garvin.
Kentucky needed to add a lot of bodies after last season’s exodus and has done that, with a six-player class, as has Florida. New Vanderbilt coach Stephanie White hasn’t had much time to recruit, but plucked top seniors Autumn Newby (19) and Chelsie Hall (28).
The forthcoming talent at Georgia, rated the No. 13 class by ASGR, will be expected to contribute right away for a program that has been offensively challenged. The Lady Bulldogs have not averaged more than 66 points a game in each of the last five seasons, and are coming off a 52-45 loss over the weekend to Georgia Tech.
Landers’ last really strong recruiting class—Jasmine James, Jasmine Hassell and Anne Marie Armstrong—took the Lady Dogs to the Elite 8 in 2013.
One of the main challenges for Taylor, who served as his top assistant and recruiter, was keeping some of Georgia’s stellar high school talent close to home. For nearly the last decade, or roughly since Maya Moore headed to UConn, Georgia talent has been fanning out all across the country.
That’s also the case with the Class of 2017, whose top Georgia players include Maya Dodson (Stanford), Mikayla Coombs (UConn), Newby, Kushkituah and Khayla Pointer (LSU).
Keeping Morrison nearby is a big boost for Taylor, especially in the fertile recruiting territory of metro Atlanta. Morrison is the feature player at McEachern, which produced current Tennessee guard Te’a Cooper and current UGA post starter Caliya Robinson, and is vying for a fifth consecutive Georgia state championship.
Adding to Taylor’s perimeter-heavy foursome will be Louisville transfer guard Taja Cole, who is sitting out this season.
LSU head coach Nikki Fargas has been struggling to build off back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances in recent years. After getting a vote of confidence from AD Joe Alleva, Fargas arguably signed her best class since arriving in Baton Rouge. Pointer is Blue Star’s No. 62 senior, but the linchpin is No. 31 Raven Farley-Clark, a 6-4 post from New Jersey.
None of these players can help their teams in the new season underway, and recruiting classes don’t always pan out, especially with the rash of transfers that continues.
But for a league, and some teams in that league, that really needed to do better in the recruiting sweepstakes, there’s no better time than the present.