2018 Kent State recruits Asiah Dingle (left) and Hannah Young. (Photos from women’s basketball Twitter feed.)
At breakfast at an April AAU tournament in Raleigh, the coach of the MCW Starz asked Kent State coach Todd Starkey what he was looking for in recruiting.
A playmaking point guard, Starkey told him.
The coach had a name to give Starkey — Asiah Dingle, a 5-3 player from suburban Boston.
Conversations like that happen a hundred times a year in recruiting, Starkey said. Most lead nowhere.
But this one started Starkey on the trail of a key member of his 2018 recruiting class — a class that may be the best in school history.
Later that weekend, Starkey saw Dingle play for the first time. Five minutes into the game, Starkey said, he knew he wanted her in a Kent State uniform.
KSU recruiting coordinator Fran Recchia first saw Hannah Young play as an eighth grader on a junior varsity team in Brookville, Virginia. Recchia saw her again at summer camps when she was an assistant at Radford University in Virginia.
Young was good at age 14 and got even better. In March, she was named player of the year in Virginia Class 3A.
Recchia told Starkey about Young after the coach had joined the Kent State staff in April 2016. Young sounded like a terrific player. But would she want to come to Ohio for college? Would a mid-major like Kent State have any chance of landing her?
Starkey decided he at least ought to see Young play in person.
When he came back to Kent, he told Recchia: “I don’t know if we have a shot. But we need to try.”
In August, Young was the last one of the five-member class to say she was coming to Kent State in fall 2018 to play basketball.
That class, as announced Wednesday, is:
DINGLE, a 5-3 point guard who helped lead Archbishop Williams to the Massachusetts state championship last season. She was a second-team USA Today all-state selection and the only junior among the top five on the Boston Globe’s all-scholastic team. Last season she averaged 20 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals per game.
YOUNG, a 5-10 guard whose Brookville High School team lost by two points in the state semifinals. Last season she averaged 19.2 points and 7.9 rebounds, and led her team in blocks and steals. As a sophomore, she was a first-team all-state selection, averaging 18.8 points and 7.3 rebounds.
LINDSEY THALL, a 6-2 post player from Strongsville High School. She was honorable mention all-Ohio last season and is listed as a three-star recruit by ESPN. Thall averaged 15 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game last season. She’s an excellent three-point shooter and once blocked 14 shots during a game.
ANNIE PAVLANSKY, a 5-11 shooting guard from Lakeview High School in Cortland. Pavlansky averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds before an ankle injury ended her 2016-17 season after 15 games. Pavlansky was second-team all-state as a sophomore and special mention this season.
MARIAH “RI” MODKINS, a 5-foot point guard from Solon High School. She averaged 5.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.1 steals a game on a team that went 24-3 and included the state player of the year.
Why do I call this potentially the best class in KSU history? I’ve followed women’s basketball for more than 25 years here. I can not remember a class with three all-staters as juniors. Dingle and Young aren’t just all-staters. They’re among the elite in their states.
Some links to previous recruiting stories:
A roundup the includes Dingle, Thall, Modkins and Pavlansky.
What I want to do in this and subsequent posts is talk about the process that brought the class together and what it tells us about college recruiting in 2017.
Starkey’s first personal contact with Dingle and Young came by phone shortly after he saw them play. (NCAA rules allow in-person contact only at certain times of the year.) Dingle’s AAU coach Starkey had filled in key details — her grades, her character, her recruiting experience elsewhere to date. Just as important, the coach had told Dingle that Kent State was very interested and relayed what Starkey had told him about KSU, its program and its needs and how Dingle could fit there. And the two coaches agreed that she could be a very good fit indeed.
Before last summer, Dingle had never heard of Kent State. Starkey talked to her about KSU and his philosophy, and he told her about how the Flashes had unexpectedly gone from a 6-23 in 2015-16 to a MAC East title and a 19-13 record in his first year as coach. (“Without that success last year,” Starkey said, “I don’t think we get Asiah or Hannah or Lindsey.”)
So how do you recruit the best point guard in Massachusetts? You make sure she knows she is wanted. New assistant Mike McKee was with Starkey in Raleigh on his first recruiting trip as a women’s assistant (he had previous worked with the KSU men’s team). He was equally impressed with Dingle. And that weekend, Starkey called Recchia and had her fly in to see Dingle play.
A Kent State coach was at every game Dingle played on the AAU circuit last summer, Starkey said. (The Flashes never missed one of Young’s or Thall’s games, either.)
And coaches recruit parents as much as they recruit players. “They need to know that she is going to be in good hands and taken care of,” Starkey said. “It’s important to get a comfort level with mom and dad so they understood who we were as people.”
Kent State knew a great deal more about Young because of Recchia’s experience in Virginia, and Young knew Recchia. Starkey said the Flashes knew Kent State was in the mix when after several contacts, Young’s father — a high school boys coach — called him to tell him that the family was impressed with KSU’s coaches and program. (“That’s always a great sign,” Starkey said, “when they reach back out to you.”)
Dingle and Young visited Kent State last summer. Those visits, Starkey said, “are everything.” A bad trip can erase two years of recruiting. Parents are watching everything, especially how current players and coaches interact, Starkey said. And absolutely crucial, he said, is the time recruits spend with current players without coaches present. At Kent State last summer, that was a major plus. Besides being very successful on the court, last year’s team was close to each other and the coaching staff.
To keep the length of the post under control, I’ll follow it with a separate story on Thall, Pavlansky and Modkins.
Starkey allows that it’s “a very good class.”
“I think three players have a chance to start for us right away,” he said. (That’s on a team that will return at least two starters from this year, probably three.) “And the other two have a chance to be in the top eight or nine of our rotation.”
Current players know that; Starkey tells them that his goal is always to recruit better talent than he currently has. The competition makes everyone better, he says.
We won’t really know how good the class is for two years. All coaches and fans know that.
But, Starkey says, “If this group continues to improve and comes together, we’re hopeful we can do historic things with them.”
Notes on 21st century recruiting
COACHES MOST OFTEN FIRST SEE PLAYERS in AAU tournaments, not in high school. That’s partly because the AAU season and the college season don’t conflict with college games the way high school basketball does. And at a weekend AAU tournament, coaches see dozens of games and hundreds of players of all ages and levels.
RECRUITING STARTS YOUNGER AND YOUNGER. Over the last year Kent State talked to two players who had initially committed (and later decommitted) to Big Ten schools as eighth graders. (Both eventually went elsewhere.) The Flashes currently have an offer out to a high school freshman, who, Starkey said, could contribute to and learn from a Kent State practice today. The problem with such players, the coach said, is if they’re too good, the power conference schools will move in. rA a mid-major school like Kent State rarely can complete with the Michigans and Virginia Techs on the recruiting trail.
KENT STATE FOUGHT OFF SOME BIGGER SCHOOLS for this year’s recruiting class. Dingle and Young had offers from Big East and ACC schools. Some even tried to move in after KSU had received their verbal commitments. And some bigger-name schools waffled on making a commitment. Kent State went all-in with both from the first contact. “We would tell them, ‘You could go there and be a reserve,'” Starkey said, “or come here and make an immediate impact.”
STARKEY HAS NEVER PROMISED A RECRUIT that she would start as a freshman. “That’s something that’s earned,” he said. The best players respond well to that, he said. “They want to hear that they’re going to have to prove themselves.”
THERE ARE TIMES, Starkey said, that a coach will offer a player a scholarship before he’s even met her. He’ll see her play, probably at an AAU game, and talk in detail to her coaches about her. Through the coach, he’ll send word that he’ll be making an offer when NCAA rules allow him to make contact. “If they’re really good, you can’t wait,” Starkey said. “If you do, one of your competitors gets in before you, and it can put you behind.”
NCAA RULES ALLOW PLAYERS OF ANY AGE to contact coaches any time, and they often do — especially when a college coach has expressed an interest. But coaches are very restricted about how and when they can contact a player.