There are numerous college basketball powerhouses in the United States. Duke University, Indiana University and the University of North Carolina are just a few teams that have won multiple national championships over the years.
To succeed in college basketball, a team needs talent, which usually come from successful high school programs. Most basketball fans have probably heard of Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy, where NBA players Jerry Stackhouse, Ron Mercer and Carmelo Anthony played before moving on to stardom.
But on the women’s side, New York’s Christ the King High School is the place to play. Its alumni include WNBA stars Chamique Holdsclaw and Sue Bird, and more locally, GW sophomores Corrine Turner and Amanda LoCascio.
“They don’t have bad years at Christ the King,” GW women’s basketball coach Joe McKeown said.
He’s right. USA Today has ranked CTK the No. 1 women’s basketball school in the nation multiple times. This year, the school is ranked No. 4.
Six players from the prestigious high school have played for McKeown, including Darlene Saar (’95), Kristeena Alexander (’01), Debbie Hemery (’95) and Tami McGlynn (’97). Saar and Hemery each scored over 1,700 points and were named All-Americans during their respective GW careers.
The list of CTK players McKeown snatched up could have potentially been even longer. The 16-year head coach, who consistently recruits top talent, said he sought out both Holdsclaw and Bird.
“Chamique Holdsclaw walked right into (the Smith Center) as a freshman in high school and grabbed the rim,” McKeown said. But the future WNBA player chose University of Tennessee instead.
He also said he had a shot at Bird, but there was one hitch in the plan. The Colonials lost to Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight in 1997 – a trip to the Final Four may have increased the GW’s profile enough for Bird, who eventually chose the University of Connecticut.
Despite losing out on those two stars, McKeown said he is pleased with the recruits he has landed from CTK.
The best part about the high school recruits is that coming from such a competitive program, they are able to jump right into the GW system, McKeown said.
“One thing I love about them is they’re fearless,” he said. “Because they’ve played in a lot of big games. They’re fun to coach. It’s like they’re sophomores when they get here.”
The players coming out of CTK are no strangers to intensity. The school’s basketball program is designed to breed greatness, players said.
“It was pretty intense,” Turner said. “Practice, shoot-arounds, weight training, pre-game. It was basically a college program.”
“CTK is a major powerhouse,” LoCascio added. “We played a lot of tournaments and big schools. It prepared me very well.”
In the off-season, Turner and LoCascio played for the Liberty Bell AAU team, the same squad as Holdsclaw, a fellow CTK alum. In the summers, Bird would also come back occasionally to practice with the team.
Going to school at CTK, the players got used to seeing recruiters on campus. Major Division I schools sought out both LoCascio and Turner.
“My final choices came down to Fairfield, Boston University, Xavier, and GW,” LoCascio said. “I chose GW because of the big history between CTK and GW. There is an amazing coaching staff as well.”
Turner’s final choices consisted of Miami, Fairfield, Boston College, Syracuse and GW.
“GW reminded me of my high school program,” she said. “I like the coaching style.”
“Past players told me that it is what you make of it,” LoCascio added. “I fell in love with the team.”
McKeown said he appreciates having players from such marquee programs.
“I have high expectations when you walk on the floor with high school players who have played for a national championship,” he said. “There’s no game big enough for them.”