When she steps on the basketball court, Yolanda Lavender blocks out the crowd, regardless of which college coaches say they are going to be in attendance. The senior guard at Riverdale Baptist forgets about the stream of phone calls that stop only because NCAA rules dictate that coaches have to leave recruits alone during certain stretches. And she has no problem turning her back to the steady flow of e-mail.
"To me, when I play basketball, I probably look to see if my mom is there, but it's as if nobody is in the gym watching me," Lavender said earlier this week after helping the Crusaders go undefeated in pool play in the U.S. Junior national championships for players 17-and-under. "Because the minute you look up to see who's watching you, that's when something bad happens."
It's not that Lavender doesn't enjoy the tiring recruiting process. She said she always makes sure at the end of every phone call to tell a coach how much she appreciates the interest. But the line of suitors interested in Lavender is lengthy, and talking to them can take hours.
"Some of them know they have no chance of getting you, but they insist on calling," Lavender said. "Then I have those I tell I'm interested and open with, and we have long conversations."
Lavender said she is interested in Miami, Florida, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Virginia. Teammates Xenia Stewart and Pam Stansfield also are attracting plenty of attention, Riverdale Coach Diane Richardson said, giving the Crusaders a trio of top players to try to make up for the loss of Wanisha Smith, last season's All-Met Player of the Year who will play for Duke.
It was while watching Smith go through the recruiting process that Lavender first got a feel for what she might encounter.
"She actually asked me for advice, like I could help her my junior year," Lavender said with a laugh. "I saw how stressful it can be at times, and other times it can be fun."
Busy Summer for Rams
After advancing to the championship game of the Best of Maryland tournament last summer, Riverdale Baptist will not go back to Damascus this weekend. Richardson said she had planned to take her team to a tournament in Canada, but that fell through.
"Now we're available, but it's too late to get in," she said.
Bishop McNamara and Suitland are the county's only entrants in the 20-team field. It will continue a busier-than-normal summer for Suitland's team. The Rams normally do not play summer league because of conflicts with AAU and traveling teams but this year are playing in Riverdale's summer league. The Best of Maryland will allow co-coach Thornton Boone the first chance to see his entire team play on the court at the same time.
"This week will be the first week really where all of them will be together," Boone said, adding that sophomore guard Talea Moten and small forward Terria Blanchard have been playing well. "Hopefully we'll start building our team from there."
Suitland and McNamara each open play at 11 a.m. today at Damascus; Suitland plays Victory Christian of Charlotte, and McNamara plays Western of Baltimore.
Gwynn Park, Potomac Reload
Gwynn Park and Potomac will have to replace their leaders if they hope to defend their state titles, adding a little extra importance to their summer play. Gwynn Park, which has won three consecutive Maryland 3A championships, must replace All-Mets Kristen Boone and Kemena Brooks. Potomac, last winter's Maryland 2A winner, will be without third-team All-Met guard Lauren Brittingham.
Brittingham is heading to Alabama Birmingham; Boone and Brooks are going to North Carolina Greensboro.
"A lot of the girls have to adjust," Potomac Coach Mike Strother said. "They know the system. It's hard to replace a young lady like Lauren, and Tenisha [Chase], but I think we have the young ladies to step up."
Strother said he has been encouraged by the offseason play of senior forward Tianna Gaddy and Dannielle Shearin and guard-forward Keyonna Sims. Incoming freshman point guard Pryncess Tate-Dubins also has played well, Strother said.
With players on several summer teams, Gwynn Park Coach Marvin Vann watched his team stay near .500 in the Nike Elite League at McNamara but is looking forward to a week of team camp in Reading, Pa., next week. The Yellow Jackets have back several key players, including guard Lakiah Hyson and forward Lakia Barber.
"We're definitely in the rebuilding or whatever-you-want-to-call-it mode," Vann said. "We're going to be young. I think we've got some decent athletes. We'll see. It kind of makes it interesting, kind of makes it exciting all the time. A lot of folks out there would like to get a shot at us, I guess, but that's understandable, too."