A world of talent

Coaches reach across borders in bid to pull in new recruits

National Women


Just before the 2001-02 season, Duke women's basketball coach Gail Goestenkors took her team to Australia. The Blue Devils brought back a ton of life-changing experiences and sights and memories, as well as something tangible, namely a basketball player.

Goestenkors recruited Jessica Foley, a 6-foot guard from Wodonga, Victoria, who lit up Duke on that trip for eight three-pointers on 10 attempts as Foley's team beat the Blue Devils twice.

When Duke returned to the United States, that team went to the Final Four, and if it returns next spring, Foley, who set a Blue Devils single-season record in 2004-05 with 68 three-pointers, will be a major part of that.

"Jess was unique because she wanted to come over and live in the States and get a degree," Goestenkors said.

Once upon a time, foreign players were a solid part of women's college basketball rosters. Maryland, for instance, went to three Final Fours and won eight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championships in part on the talents of players from Yugoslavia, Finland and Israel, among other nations.

But the presence of foreign-born players in the college game is diminishing for a variety of reasons, mainly monetary.

For one thing, though a coach might be able to justify the cost of a domestic plane ticket to see a player here in the United States, the higher cost of an overseas ticket might be hard to square in a women's team's recruiting budget.

In recent years, the NCAA has tightened eligibility requirements on foreign players, making it more difficult for some of them to play in the States.

"A lot of times, they [foreign players] are a little older and have been playing on club teams, which are essentially club teams against older girls and women for many years," Goestenkors said. "So you get a player that's a little more seasoned and a little tougher mentally and physically because they've been playing against grown women."

Also, in many European countries and in Australia, female basketball players can turn professional as young as 16 years old and play in leagues near their homes, rather than come here and remain amateurs.

"We've found that when we have recruited kids who don't want to come over here, they can make a lot more money going pro than coming over here," said Brenda Frese, entering her fourth season at Maryland. "You definitely have to target the right player who wants to come over here and get a good education in the States."

Frese, who recruited junior center Aurelie Noirez from France, said there are only a few schools now that specifically target foreign players.

More often, players such as Shay Doron, a Maryland junior guard and Israeli native, are coming to the United States early to become acclimated to the American system before they try to get to a college program.

Doron's family arrived in New York during her sophomore year in high school, and she enrolled at Christ the King High, widely considered the top girls high school program in the country, having produced WNBA All-Stars Chamique Holdsclaw and Sue Bird.

"It was the smartest thing they could have done," said Frese of Doron, who is a preseason All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection. "She got out into the circuit and was noticed."

Perhaps the most visible example of a player coming early to try to latch onto the American way of doing things is Baylor senior forward Sophia Young, who came to Louisiana six years ago from the Grenadines, a tiny island nation in the West Indies.

Young, the Most Outstanding Player in last season's Final Four, got a scholarship at Baylor despite never having played basketball before she arrived in the United States.

"She didn't know the game. She probably didn't know one post move at that time," said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson in April at the Final Four. "And to watch her progress the last three years we have had her, she now knows post moves, she can shoot facing the basket, she has tremendous leaping ability. Her speed and quickness, her lateral speed and quickness ... she will bait you into throwing it to where you think an open player is, and she will quickly get over there and deflect a pass or steal a ball."

Not bad for someone whose only basketball experience, as it were, was playing a game called net ball, which is much like hoops, except that there is no backboard.

Nonetheless, Young, a preseason All-American, is a career 55 percent shooter from the field, suggesting that not every skill you acquire in the American game comes from American courts and playgrounds.

"Basketball came very easy to me because of my net ball experience," Young said last spring. "It was very surprising to me to be up there with the top players in the nation. It's such a great honor and opportunity."



1. Tennessee

The Lady Vols need only to stay healthy to reach Boston.

2. Duke

This is Gail Goestenkors' deepest Blue Devils team.

3. LSU

Seimone Augustus should lead the Tigers to a third straight Final Four.

4. Ohio State

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