You're 17 years old, and they follow you everywhere.
Chattanooga, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C. Look at
them. One hundred, 200, as many as 250 college basketball
coaches and their assistants show up in each city and study your
every move on the summer trail of AAU tournaments and all-star
camps. They sit in bleachers like birds on telephone wires,
whispering comments into one another's ears, making discreet
entries on clipboards and imagining you wearing their uniforms.
Tennessee. UConn. Stanford. Notre Dame. North Carolina. UCLA.
They're all here, along with colleges you've never heard of.
You're 17 years old, your senior year of high school hasn't even
begun, and virtually every college in America would kill to have
There's no break at home. If anything, it's more intense there,
because the coaches know your address and phone number, along
with the names of your pets, the lipstick your big sister uses,
the hobbies your little sister enjoys in the summer. Anything
that might give them an edge when they call. Watch George
Williams answer the phone in the kitchen of his tidy split-level
on the west side of Dayton. "Tamika?" he calls, holding the
receiver 12 inches from his ear and summoning his daughter in a
tone that says, Of course it's some coach. Call-waiting was
invented for this girl.
All George wants to do is eat his breakfast in peace. Is that
too much for a retired General Motors factory worker to ask of
the world? Sometimes he doesn't even get his food to the table
before the first ring. If it isn't the phone, it's the doorbell,
another coach's daily prayer delivered by UPS, Federal Express,
the U.S. Postal Service. Every time a truck pulls up to the
house, Pooter, the miniature schnauzer many of the coaches know
by name, goes nuts. "I understand my daughter's an outstanding
basketball player, and I was a jock myself, but this is
ridiculous," George proclaims. He is proud, for sure, but
hungry, too. "Can I have just one uninterrupted meal?"
George's problem, which isn't really a problem, is this: His
daughter might be the best female high school basketball player
in the country this season. Ten years ago that was good for a
plaque with a crooked nameplate, a pat on the back from the
assistant principal and the promise of four more years of
anonymity at a college that didn't charge admission to women's
games. There was a time when colleges lured female recruits on
academics alone. But those were the Dark Ages.
Today colleges make pitches to girls based on their conference's
television contracts. They stress the size of their sneaker
sponsorship deals. They list graduates who have gone on to the
Olympics, the WNBA or the ABL. As they recruited the high school
class of '98, the coaches were already looking beyond those
girls--way beyond them. "It's not like you know only who the top
seniors are," says Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, whose teams have
won five NCAA championships, including the last two, and whose
current squad is 17-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. "Now you
know who the best eighth-graders are."
"It's a war," says Duke coach Gail Goestenkors, and in war you
use everything you've got. On July 1, when the NCAA allows
coaches to make their first phone calls to girls who have
completed their junior year in high school, coaches pull out all
the stops. "It's got to be a hell of a phone call," Goestenkors
says. "You have to have your sales pitch ready. I hate to call
it a sales pitch, but that's what it is."
What this means is that the best schoolgirl athletes have nearly
all the opportunities that their male counterparts have and
experience the same pressures. Tamika Williams, a 6'1" forward,
a Parade All-America as a junior and an honors student who has
somehow not let any of this go to her head, has had coaches all
but beg her to keep them on her list of possible college
choices. She isn't alone. It used to be that only 10 or 20
schools recruited nationally, says Connecticut's Geno Auriemma,
one of the game's most prominent coaches since his 1994-95 team
went undefeated, won the national championship and helped turn
one of its star players, Rebecca Lobo, into a wealthy poster
girl for the WNBA, not to mention Reebok. "Now everybody is out
there trying to build a championship team," Auriemma says. But
there aren't enough good players to stock all the schools. "The
drop-off in talent between the 20th-best player and the 50th is
huge," he says. So the pressure to grab one of the elite players
is enough to keep coaching staffs awake at night for months.
Enough to keep George Williams, a warm and engaging man still
recovering from the loss of his beloved Cleveland Browns, from
getting a bite of food into his mouth.
Tamika's friend and sometime AAU teammate Krista Gingrich, a
lights-out shooter from Lewistown, Pa., is chased into her
dreams each night by the soft-soled patter of coaches in
relentless pursuit. The 5'7" Gingrich, widely regarded as one of
the top five point guards in the nation, took her bouncing
ponytail and feathery shot on the summer circuit for two weeks
last July. Two weeks and she returned home to find 167 pieces of
mail. She shoveled it into one of the 10 overflowing boxes that
together hold between 2,000 and 3,000 pieces. "That's just from
the last year and a half," says Krista. "I started getting mail
when I was in seventh grade."
But regular mail just doesn't convey the level of urgency the
coaches feel. And how does a coach who uses regular mail look
next to one who sends a more impressive overnight package?
Here's how crazy it is: Dayton UPS deliveryman Ron Atwater made
so many visits to the Williams house, he became a family friend.
Now he and his buddies go to Tamika's games at
You're 17 years old, and they're all after you. At times it is
exhilarating, and you get that tickle of immortality's faint,
weightless tease. These people will pay your tuition if you'll
come to their school and play basketball. "I knew the game was
progressing, and I knew my time would come, but I never dreamed
all this," Krista says.
"I started with a list of 80 schools in December 1996 and began
narrowing it down," says Tamika, a prototype of the new women's
player: big, fast, strong, athletic. Although she led
Chaminade-Julienne to a 24-1 record in '96-97, averaging 22
points and 14 rebounds a game, she has never been a gym rat, and
she needs to work on her ball handling and outside shooting. The
rawness of her game is somehow seen as another plus by coaches;
there's no telling how good she might get under the right
direction, and every one of them, naturally, is the one for the
job. "I cut the list to 40 early last year, then 20 in May, and
I had it down to 12 last summer." In August she had it down to
eight, but the list was still changing a little every day.
"Sometimes I'll get a call from one of the coaches and end up
putting a school back on the list."
In her family room, which looks out onto a backyard basketball
court, she names the anointed eight: Notre Dame, Purdue,
Connecticut, Georgia, Rutgers, Virginia, Florida and UCLA. "What
about Tennessee?" asks her mother, Jo, a retired high school
teacher who stands just as tall as Tamika but never played ball.
"Yeah, I guess you could put Tennessee on it," Tamika says, and
there you have it, the girl's one weakness: She cannot say no.
Tamika is everybody's friend, selfless to a fault. Her high
school coach, Frank Goldsberry, says he has to harp to make her
stop feeding teammates and just take over the game.
There's still something missing from Tamika's list, but she
can't remember what. "Oh, and Dayton!" she says. She can't leave
out Dayton, which is only a few minutes from her door and is
coached by a confidante, Clemette Haskins (daughter of Minnesota
coach Clem Haskins), with whom Tamika sometimes talks when
nothing makes sense. Now the list is back up to 10 schools.
George Williams exhales like a bear and rolls his eyes across
If Tamika is the prototype of the new woman player, Krista is a
throwback. Her style is more John Stockton than Gary Payton.
Nothing is flashy; everything is solid, controlled. At full bore
on a fast break, Krista executes a behind-the-back dribble so
smoothly that you almost don't see it. She does it in the
service of practicality, not ego. She does it to get the ball
where it should be, which is what her game is about, a game she
has refined over the years with a religious commitment to daily
"I realized in sixth or seventh grade that I wanted to try to
get a Division I scholarship and also to try to get a shot at
the Olympics," says Krista, whose father played safety for Penn
State from 1963 through '65. Dick Gingrich, now an attorney with
an office across the street from the Mifflin County courthouse
in Lewistown, about a half hour from State College, was All-East
and played in an East-West Shrine Game. Says Krista, "My father
said that he always figured there might be one guy working even
more than he was, so he trained even harder."
She usually works out two hours a day, six or seven days a week,
year-round, regardless of whatever else is going on in her life.
She might do 30 minutes of pull-up jump shots, 30 minutes of
crossover dribbling, 30 minutes of a speed drill, ping-ponging
across the key to sharpen her lateral movement. Then it's on to
the weight room. When Krista started this routine back in junior
high, her father worked with her each day. Now it's her brother,
Aaron, 26, who played point guard at Dickinson. Once or twice a
week Krista plays a pickup game in which she is the only girl.
"The idea of a workout," she says, "is to work harder than you
ever would have to in a game. That way the game seems easy."
Last season Krista was the toast of the town of nearly 10,000
after leading Lewistown Area High to a state championship. She
averaged 22 points a game, shooting 50% from the field and 88%
from the foul line. Krista was at the top of her class
academically going into this school year and thinks she wants to
be an orthopedist one day. Among the schools waving a
stethoscope at her is Stanford, whose coaches became
gotta-have-her interested after trailing Krista on the summer
"She's the smartest player on the court," says Mike Flynn, the
Philadelphia-based AAU coach with whom Krista has worked for
seven years. She has made the three-hour drive from Lewistown so
many times that she can probably tell you how many trees there
are along the way. "But the best thing about the attention she's
getting is that she worked to get her game in this shape. She
didn't have the physical talent some other kids have. This is a
kid with great heart."
This is how coaches recruit a top player in girls' basketball
these days: First, they get a scouting report from Flynn or one
of the other guys out there who charge $100 and up for monthly
ratings. Second, they go watch the player and see if she's the
one for them. Third, they do some detective work to find a way
inside her mind. Fourth, they charm and flatter. Fifth, they
grovel and beg.
When the Williamses went to Chattanooga last summer for an AAU
tournament, Tamika's 11-year-old sister, Tiffany, went swimming
in the hotel pool. Back home Tiffany had barely unpacked when
she got a letter from Georgia assistant coach Sharon Baldwin. Hi
Tiffany, it began. I hope you had a great time while visiting
the South. I know you enjoyed the swimming in Chattanooga!
Hopefully, you can come back down to Georgia in the fall with
Tamika and jump off our high dive! Take care!
Tamika once received a card from Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, who
was vacationing in Bermuda. At the top of the card was an
engraving of an airplane pulling a sign that said tamika above
the beach. Printed on the card were the words I THINK ABOUT YOU
EVERY DAY and, to sign off:
HAVE A NIKE DAY
AND COME TO UVA!
Next to that was the word peace, a heart and a swoosh.
Penn State showed a little more creativity, filming a video of
members of its basketball team spelling out Krista's name on the
gym floor. Yes, folks, these are institutions of higher
learning. America's finest universities. But Notre Dame might
have them all beat. Knowing that it was on Krista's list of
finalists along with Penn State and Duke, Notre Dame sent her a
card with the middle cut out and told her to hold it against a
mirror and have a look at Notre Dame's next All-America. Notre
Dame outdid itself, though, with a creative-writing foray: It
sent Krista a mock AP press release dated 2002. The release read
in part, Krista Gingrich, who just led Notre Dame to the NCAA
National Championship, will play for the Atlanta Glory of the
American Basketball League. Atlanta, who will pay Gingrich a
reported $650,000 a year, said all along that she was their
number one choice.
Says Krista, a wise 17, "I think I realized a long time ago that
this is a business."
In girls' basketball, as in boys', summer is the season that
matters most. Nearly all the players in the summer tournaments
and camps are exceptional, and that's where girls go to
improve--and to find out if they have a future in basketball.
From city to city the scene is much the same. On shiny, waxed
hardwood, male AAU coaches implore their girls to execute game
plans scratched out on napkins and hotel-room stationery. In the
stands, representatives from most of the major college
basketball programs in the country are watching. One coach, two,
sometimes three from each school. NCAA rules forbid the coaches
to talk to the parents who are there, but that doesn't mean they
can't jockey in as close as possible to fawn, wink or strut
their school colors like peacocks in mating season. "You'll see
the parents of a player in the stands, and then you'll see a
coach from one school on one side of them and a coach from
another school on the other side," says Duke's Goestenkors, who
says she tries not to play that game. Some parents thumb through
AAU brochures with tips on how their daughters can market
themselves. One thing they should do for inspiration, said a
brochure available at the AAU nationals in Chattanooga last
summer, is watch Touched by an Angel.
Reps from the sneaker companies are in the crowd too, because
they are the angels, aren't they? Through a strategy more
sophisticated than any coach's game plan, they have made their
brands into religions so powerful that they can influence life
decisions made by girls barely old enough to drive.
Tamika's mother was out shopping one day and saw a bargain. "If
you bought a pair of shoes, you got a pair of shower shoes at
half price," Jo recalls. "It seemed like a good deal to me." She
didn't notice that the shower sandals were made by Adidas. But
when a Nike rep saw them at a tournament sponsored by her
company, she told Tamika she had better ditch the sandals.
Tamika laughs about that, but she doesn't laugh when she tells
about the time last spring when two tournaments to which she was
invited were held simultaneously. One, sponsored by Adidas, was
in Washington, D.C., and the other, hosted by Nike, was in
Hampton, Va. "I picked Nike," Tamika says, "because it had
better competition and all the college coaches were going to be
there. But I got a call from the manager of my Dayton [AAU] team
saying, 'Tamika, you have to do the Adidas camp. These people
sponsor our program.'"
"I don't cry a lot, and I hadn't cried in years," Tamika says,
"but I just cried about that, and I was so angry too." But the
one who really flipped was her 25-year-old sister, Tangy
(TAN-gee), who played basketball on scholarship at Bowling Green
and is Tamika's fiercest protector. "It's great the way the game
is growing, but the way some adults are handling kids really
bothers me," says Tangy, who got on the phone during the
Nike-Adidas flare-up and put a shoe to the backside of some
so-called adults, warning them to back off. "I didn't appreciate
the way people tried to pressure Tamika. She's a child, and you
should consult with a parent before putting a child in a spot
Tamika, true to her spirit, played in both tournaments. When her
team lost in Hampton, the coaches of her other team drove down
from Washington to get her. They picked her up at 3 a.m., and
she was on the court for a 9 a.m. game. But as bitter as she is,
even now, about that episode, the power of the brand is always a
consideration. Tamika was on the phone one day with another
player, talking about adding a new school to her list of
finalists. "Girl, you can't go there," the friend told her.
"That's not a Nike school."
This too makes Tangy crazy. "The academics, the athletic
program, the attendance, the media coverage--those are all
legitimate concerns," she says. "But the shoe thing is a little
It's the two pro leagues that have done this, says Flynn, whose
Blue Star camp is Nike-sponsored. "This is the first graduating
high school class that has to look at the viability of a
professional career," he says, in choosing a college. The higher
the school's profile, the better a girl's chance of getting
noticed by the pros. "It adds a whole new economic consideration
to the pressure of a decision," Flynn says.
When a game ends at the nationals in Chattanooga, the college
coaches rise as one and fall into single file to schmooze with
the AAU coaches, some of whom they have just privately dismissed
as blowhards and wannabe agents. The idea is to try, in 15 or 20
seconds of ring-kissing, to steer the best players to their
universities. "It's like the reception line at a wedding," says
Erika Lang, an assistant at Southern Cal. What do you do as
you're standing there fretting over all the competition? "You
try to listen to what the coach in front of you is saying," Lang
The coaches can't talk directly to the players, so during this
strange postgame ritual they sort of pretend the girls don't
exist. It's all a bit too silly for Tamika, who can't help but
smile at and make eye contact with her pursuers. Krista is more
demure. A smile is all the coaches get out of her before she
retreats with her teammates. Flynn, her AAU coach, answers
questions about her future. "They want to know what she's
thinking, where she's leaning, do they still have a chance,
what's their best angle?" he says. What does he tell the
coaches? "I tell them the truth."
"You won't see me in those lines," says Sylvia Hatchell, the
coach at North Carolina. "There are a lot of good AAU coaches,
but what I don't like is AAU coaches trying to be agents." She
says the potential is always there for an AAU coach "to look for
advantages for himself. There's the possibility of favors,
opportunities, working certain camps, being recommended for
different things" by a college he encourages one of his players
to attend. Because many AAU teams are sponsored by shoe
companies, a coach might be motivated to steer a player to a
college with the same shoe affiliation as his team. "You have to
work really hard these days to keep your integrity," says
If that's true, then Connecticut's Auriemma has a question:
"What have we created?" Auriemma got on a plane to leave
Chattanooga and pulled a resume out of his briefcase. "A parent
handed me this at the gym," he said before going on a rant about
parents who market their children, recruiting as a form of
begging and the humiliation of having to hustle AAU coaches, let
alone players and parents. The resume Auriemma showed contained
a statistical summary of everything the girl had done since
getting out of diapers. At the top of the first sheet was a
color photo of her. "Look at her," Auriemma asked. "Does she
look happy? Do any of them look happy out there on the court?"
Three weeks later, at the invitational Nike All-American
Basketball Camp for girls, in Indianapolis, Auriemma was still
complaining. "I'm going to make more money from my shoe contract
[an undisclosed six figures] than 75 percent of the [women's]
college coaches make in coaching salary," he said. "Is that
fair? It's great for me, but it's a system in which the rich get
richer. We're going down the same road as the boys and seeing
all the same things. Television money. The pressure to fill a
building. The pressure to win." He pauses before adding one
more. "Recruiting violations."
All very disturbing, especially in light of Kansas State's
recent punishment by the NCAA. (Last July the Wildcats women's
basketball program was put on probation for two years for
recruiting violations--including improper payments to
recruits--committed under former coach Brian Agler, now coach of
the ABL's Columbus Quest.) But listening to these coaches is
like listening to politicians talk about campaign contributions.
Yeah, they're out of control. Yeah, we've got to do something
about them. Now, where can I get mine?
Late one day at the Nike camp, one coach stood alone at the end
of the gym watching all the tireless girls. Stanford's Tara
VanDerveer, coach of the 1989-90 and '91-92 national champions
and the '96 gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic team, was
slump-shouldered with weariness. "Sometimes I think I've got the
best job in America," she said, "but our priorities are all
screwed up. I'm not averse to recruiting, but there's a certain
used-car-salesmanship feel to it. We're going down a bad road."
O.K., Tamika. What are your three most important factors in
choosing a college? "Academics," she says in identifying her No.
1 priority, and if you look far enough into her brown eyes, you
can see Mom and Dad in there. Both George and Jo have master's
degrees, and Tamika's 28-year-old brother, Mike, who played at
Miami of Ohio and a year of pro ball in Europe before going to
work for a communications company, was a real brain.
"Academics," Tamika says for No. 2. As for No. 3? "Academics."
O.K., another question. There's talk that Tennessee star
Chamique Holdsclaw, a junior, will leave school early to go pro,
which might blow the ceiling off women's basketball salaries.
There's also speculation that women's basketball might soon
reach the point where a player goes straight from high school to
the pros. If a pro team were to offer you a half million dollars
to skip college, and a sneaker company ponied up another half
million, would you grab it? "Yes," Tamika says, jumping on the
question as if trying to beat the buzzer. "Well, I'd have to
think about it, at least." If it's the WNBA, which plays in the
summer, she could still go to college during the school year,
she continues. "I want to go to college. I do want that
Early in the summer Tamika said she wanted to study sports
medicine. By the end of the summer she'd switched her focus to
communications. Auriemma probably had something to do with it,
she admits. He was the color commentator on ESPN's broadcasts of
WNBA games. Plus, UConn is in the New York media market, which
would mean a lot of exposure and possible connections. "ESPN is
based right there, too, in Connecticut. Maybe Coach could hook
But every other school on her list has something going for it,
too. If Tamika went to Georgia, she'd be near Tangy, who lives
50 miles from the Athens campus. If she went to Notre Dame, the
academics would be strong. Sorting through all these factors
means daily telephone discussions with friends. Sometimes the
girl on the other end of the line is Krista. "It would be great
to go into a program together," Krista says, meaning as a
threesome: Tamika, Krista and her friend Lauren St. Clair, a
highly recruited forward from Flourtown, Pa. They played on a
U.S. all-star team in Paris last spring and then on Flynn's
Philadelphia Belles, who won a tournament in Washington, D.C.,
in July. There is one school that all three girls have on their
lists of finalists and that wants all of them. Just one problem:
Notre Dame is not a Nike school. It's an Adidas school.
Krista believes the Nike affiliation signifies "a first-rate
program" because of the barrels of money the company pours into
its schools. For example, North Carolina's new $11.1 million
contract with Nike includes $200,000 for an overseas trip for
the women's team. Also, Nike claims that it has 35% of the WNBA
players under contract and that, for 70 out of the league's 80
players, Nike is the shoe of choice. Nike means connections. It
means you're with the elite.
Nevertheless, academics are the biggest consideration for
Krista, too. Her father has some thoughts about that. "You
should pick a college that you'll want to be at for four years
even if, on your first day, you have a knee injury and never
play again," Dick Gingrich says. "I think that Krista's most
important contribution will come 10 years from now, when all of
this is behind her. Something outside of basketball, whatever it
As the mail poured in over the last year, Krista kept a chart to
organize and whittle down her options. Besides academics and
shoe affiliation, she considered other factors: What's the
campus like? Is the team likely to contend for a national title?
Is the budget big enough to maintain a first-class program? How
is attendance at games? Is the school a good stepping-stone to
the pros? Am I likely to be an important part of the team or
just a role player?
She knows the last question carries the most uncertainty.
"Recruits always ask me about playing time," Auriemma says. "I
say, 'If you're good, you'll play a lot. If you suck, you won't.'"
There is another consideration, and it's one a lot of girls talk
about, according to Tamika and Krista, both of whom say they are
heterosexual. Some college basketball programs have reputations
for being more comfortable for lesbians, and some coaches use
homophobia as a recruiting tool. But figuring out which programs
those are isn't easy, despite all the supposedly authoritative
information that's exchanged.
"I wanted to go to a straight school, and I asked people about
it," says Holdsclaw, the best college player in the nation. "But
most of what you hear out there is just people talking, and you
can't trust it. I was told not to go to Tennessee, but then I
get down there, and Pat [Summitt] is married and has a little
boy who comes to the games, and some of the other coaches have
boyfriends. I had coaches telling me, 'Oh, you know about that
school, don't you?' What I did was cross off all the schools
whose coaches did that."
Tamika says she's played with lesbians, and it's no big deal.
But she doesn't want people to think that because she plays
basketball, she's homosexual, and she thinks there are schools
that feed such a perception, though she would not name one.
Krista, who also professes no bias against lesbians,
nevertheless says, "I would prefer not to go to one of those
schools. My teammates are people I want to hang out with, and if
we have different interests, it might not be the kind of social
experience I want in college."
On one thing everybody agrees. The players don't seem nearly as
concerned about homosexuality as their parents are. "There's
hardly a home visit in which the parents don't directly or
indirectly ask me questions about it," says North Carolina's
Flynn says parents have asked him what he knows, too. "The
perception is that if a coach is gay, it's a bad situation,
which is incredibly false," Flynn says. "I know of some [gay]
women coaches who are some of the best coaches and best people I
know. But people try to make a bigger deal of it than it is."
Tamika would make her own decision in the end, and so would
Krista. There would be no arm-twisting by Mom and Dad. The
parents would be available if called upon, but they had already
done their part, really. They had loved and respected their
children, and now it was up to them.
As the 1997-98 school year drew near, Tamika and Krista appeared
to be narrowing their lists mentally, if not on paper. Krista
talked more and more about Penn State and Notre Dame. She hadn't
given up on Duke, though, and she was flattered by Stanford's
interest in her as both a student and an athlete. But Krista
lives 35 minutes from Penn State, which is like growing up
Islamic just down the road from Mecca. "It would be great to be
at Penn State and have all the people who followed me in high
school be able to come to the games," Krista said. Of course, it
could mean more pressure too. "There's so great an expectation,
I wonder if I could ever meet it." There's also the question of
whether college should be a time to move beyond the comfortable
Tamika began crossing schools off her list in September, making
painful calls to coaches with whom she had become friendly.
There goes Virginia. So long, Penn State. Rutgers, Florida and
Dayton? Sorry. Virginia couldn't accept the news and hung on for
a while, trying to talk its way back onto the list, according to
Tamika began focusing more and more on Purdue, Notre Dame,
Georgia and UConn. One night she was having dinner at a Dayton
burger joint with her high school coach when she was asked to
fill out a grid that rated those four schools on four factors:
academics, campus environment, quality of the basketball program
and a combination of media exposure and postgraduate
opportunities. Her decision wouldn't necessarily be that
scientific, she said. Sometimes you have to just go with a
feeling. But she eagerly filled out the grid anyway.
Coming in fourth was Georgia. Coming in third was Purdue. The
runner-up was Notre Dame. On Sept. 10 the coach of the team that
came out on top flew to Dayton. Auriemma had lined up the first
home visit with the player many coaches believe is the pick of
the class of '98. Schmooze-hound that he is, Auriemma was with
Tamika all afternoon, joining her at Chaminade-Julienne,
following her to the Westwood rec center where she does
volunteer work, then meeting her family and staying at her house
half the night. The media are not allowed to witness these
encounters, but by all accounts it went pretty well.
The problem for both girls was that all of it had gone pretty
well--the home visits, the campus visits. "What I really want to
do is get something negative from one of the schools," Krista
said. Anything to help narrow her list. "I know for a fact that
basically every one of my schools thinks it has me signed and
sealed, and it's going to be hard to tell any of them no."
On Sept. 6 and 7, Tamika, Krista and Lauren visited Notre Dame
with their families, and they all loved it. Recruits get the
red-carpet treatment on these flings, which are usually
scheduled around football games. On the field Notre Dame nosed
out Georgia Tech, and George Williams, for one, absolutely loved
being there. Of course, he was already in good spirits because,
as Tamika's list of schools had shrunk, so had the volume of
mail and phone calls. He was getting to eat breakfast without
interruption now and then.
During the weekend of Oct. 4 and 5, things got a little more
complicated for both Krista and Tamika. Krista and her family
went to Stanford, which was a long shot in her mind, and she was
knocked out. "I'm afraid if I went there, I'd never come home,"
she said. The weather was the weather northern California is
known for, soft Indian-summer breezes finding the eucalyptus
trees and turning the air into a hypnotic balm. On top of that,
the football team punished Notre Dame 33-15.
While Krista was in California, Tamika and her family traveled
just 90 minutes east of Dayton to a school that had never
cracked her list of finalists. By Sunday night Tamika had added
Ohio State to the other four. She was impressed with coach Beth
Burns, who had pursued her quietly but relentlessly. It was
exciting for Tamika to be a big deal at a school that dominates
her home state. Oh, and the Buckeyes football team buried Iowa
23-7. George Williams was ferried around Columbus like a
dignitary and got to meet two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie
Griffin, who is now Ohio State's associate athletic director.
"Yes, sir, had myself a real good time," George said. "This
almost makes up for losing the Browns."
By the first week of November, Krista had eliminated Stanford
(too far away) and Notre Dame (it didn't feel right). She was
down to Penn State and Duke and leaning toward Penn State. But
she decided to make one last visit to Duke, partly because of
its highly regarded medical school. The women's team was playing
the Russian national team on Nov. 7, and Duke students were
flashing WE WANT KRISTA signs. After the game she and
Goestenkors talked for four hours. "The easy choice is not
necessarily the best choice," Krista remembers the coach telling
her. Goestenkors, who grew up in Michigan, had turned down a
chance to coach at Michigan in 1996 after thinking it was the
only job she'd ever wanted. The more Krista thought about it,
the more she realized she didn't want the easy, the familiar,
the comfortable. She wanted something a little scarier and more
challenging. "Penn State was always a dream for me," she says.
"But as I got older, I guess my dreams changed."
It got much quieter in both Dayton and Lewistown. Too quiet,
sometimes. Tamika and Krista said a different kind of pressure
had set in. "If you have an open moment in a day, you can't help
but think about it," Tamika said just as practice was beginning
for the new basketball season.
"Yeah, I'm very anxious, too," Krista said. "It's going to be
hard to choose just one, but I worked for years to be in a
situation where I'd have these options."
Whenever panic or confusion set in, each girl looked at her list
of finalists and told herself this: They're all great schools.
No matter which one I pick, how could I go wrong?
You're 17 years old, and they all want you. This experience has
taught you something about sports and business. About your
feelings for your family. About who you are and whom you want to
be. About what it means to be a woman and an athlete in the '90s.
Now, that chapter of these girls' lives has ended. On Nov. 14
Krista Gingrich chose Duke. On Nov. 18 Tamika Williams chose
But first, there's this other thing to take care of: senior year
of high school.