A gargantuan class from Tennessee, including post players Vicki Baugh, Kelley Cain, Glory Johnson and Alyssia Brewer, will be out of eligibility after the 2011-12 season, so the Lady Vols have sought reinforcements, and a top target made it official on Wednesday when Bashaara Graves verbally committed to Pat Summitt.
Graves, a 6’2 power forward from Clarksville, Tenn., is an athletic post and consensus top 10 recruit in the country.
Carl Reed, the program director for Drake Reed Basketball Club in Clarksville, Tenn., has no doubt about where he thinks Graves should be ranked.
“She’s the best in the country in the class of 2012 without question,” Reed said. “Her size and skill set in the post. She can finish with either hand. She has great hands. She has developed a great midrange game from 15 feet in, and she is even starting to knock down the trail three coming down the court on the secondary break.
“She’s just an unbelievable phenomenal player. Bashaara Graves will be able to come in from day one and contribute to help Tennessee to continue to win national championships.”
Bashaara will be needed early at Tennessee with the exodus of seven players, including the aforementioned posts. The others who will exit are current juniors Alicia Manning and Shekinna Stricklen, who have played inside-out at Tennessee, and guard Briana Bass.
The chance to play early was part of the decision-making process for Bashaara, as was being relatively close to home.
“That was a big consideration when I was thinking about it, just coming in and having the opportunity to have playing time,” Bashaara said. “The whole 2012 class is a big class of talent, so it was coming here and getting the opportunity to play with that.”
Tennessee also has verbal commitments from Andraya Carter, a combo guard from Georgia, and Jasmine Jones, a forward from Alabama.
Freshmen earn their minutes at Tennessee in practice, and Bashaara certainly has the game to make an immediate impact.
“I can rebound hard and if they tell me to do something I’ll do it,” Bashaara said. “I’m a go-getter.”
Reed said Bashaara has a college-ready game.
“Defense and rebounding,” Reed said when asked how Graves could contribute immediately. “She’ll be able to defend, she’ll be able to rebound and score in the post.
“She is such a great player. She doesn’t have any real real weakness as far as her game but just continue to develop those leadership qualities to win national championships because at the University of Tennessee you’re not just playing to play. You’re playing to win the whole thing.”
Bashaara has been recruited by dozens of programs, and she had trimmed her primary list to Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and Baylor.
“I think she’s been going through the process,” Reed said. “She had a lot of great schools to choose from, but obviously when it comes to women’s basketball Coach Pat Summitt is second to none and when you get the opportunity to play for the Lady Vols you can’t go wrong with that decision.”
Bashaara said she was on the verge of making a decision but wanted to make a low-key visit to campus with her family. Her previous trips were during the hoopla of Lady Vol game days.
“Today I was on campus and I just loved it,” said Bashaara, who was accompanied by her mother, sisters and grandfather. “I loved the campus, I loved the team, and I loved the coaches so it was pretty much, ‘Here goes. It’s UT.’ ”
Graves returned to Clarksville, notified the other coaches who had recruited her of the decision and then made it official with Tennessee on Wednesday evening.
Keinya Graves said the Knoxville visit made the decision easier for her daughter.
“I think so,” Graves said. “I think that had a lot to do with having an impact on her decision. I let her make the decision because she is the one who has to go through it, and it was a big step for her. I was glad that she made that decision.
“I think seeing the campus while it’s in action on a normal day I think that helped a lot.”
The decision was endorsed by Graves, who didn’t steer her daughter in any direction.
“I never really wanted to push her towards any one specific college,” Graves said. “I wanted her to be able to make the decision because she is going to be the one that has to go.
“But if I were the type of person to want to say, ‘OK, you’re going here,’ that would have been the school she was going to regardless.”
Bashaara could be heard laughing in the background while her mother spoke, and both are elated that the process has ended.
“Yes, very much so,” Graves said.
“It is a big relief because now I can focus on this year, summer and my senior year,” Bashaara said. “I don’t have to worry about anything. I can just stay focused on high school basketball right now.”
Graves expressed tremendous pride in her daughter for earning an athletic scholarship to Tennessee.
“Beyond, oh beyond,” Graves said.
Reed said the Lady Vols are getting a person that exceeds the player.
“She’s one of the best human beings that I’ve ever been around,” Reed said. “She totally gets it. She’s a great student, a great role model for her peers and classmates. She is just an outstanding individual.”
Reed listed the travel team and high school coaches that had helped Bashaara along the way and also cited the efforts of her parents, Keinya Graves and Giovanni Marshall.
“A lot of great people helped her get to this point so it was definitely a group effort,” Reed said.
In her USA basketball bio – Bashaara played last summer on the 2010 USA U17 World Championship team with Lady Vol signees from the class of 2011, Cierra Burdick and Ariel Massengale – she mentioned wanting to play one-on-one against Candace Parker.
Parker, a former Lady Vol All-American and current Olympian, has made trips back to Knoxville during the season before she heads overseas, so Graves could get the chance.
“That would be great,” Bashaara said. “I think I said that my freshman year. I still want to play one-on-one against her.”
Bashaara is a standout player at Clarksville High School, and she felt the allure and pull of her home state university.
“Playing at Tennessee is a big thing,” said Bashaara, when asked about joining the long orange line. “That appealed to me very much. Being at Tennessee and staying close to home that’s terrific.”
Her decision also means her mother will often see her play as Lady Vol, as she has while Bashaara has been a Lady Wildcat at Clarksville.
“Over the last couple of years I rarely missed any of her games,” Graves said. “For her to stay close for her college it makes it a lot easier and even if I can’t go I can always watch her on TV so that’s a bonus.”
Graves said she would also need to go shopping before her daughter headed to college.
“I am going to have to go out and get a little bit more orange because right now I think my closet is stuffed with purple from her high school so I am going to have to revamp my wardrobe,” Graves said.
Graves said she had no qualms about sending her daughter to Knoxville and she believed she would be in good hands with Summitt and her staff.
“I know she will be,” Graves said.
Reed liked the choice because he believes Bashaara will reach her full potential as a player.
“Definitely,” Reed said. “I love the University of Tennessee. I love Coach Summitt. She’s been great through the whole process. It’s just been an unbelievable situation for us.”
Bashaara said she would work on her handles to get ready for college, because she knows Tennessee likes versatile posts that can play inside and out.
“I think I need to work on my ball-handling,” Bashaara said. “My shooting has improved so I have really been working on that.”
When Bashaara arrives for the 2012-13 season, it will be the senior year of Lady Vol guard Kamiko Williams, who is also from Clarksville.
“We’re going to represent Clarksville to the fullest,” Bashaara said.
It’s certainly a neat feat for Clarksville, a city of 124,565 near the Kentucky border in Middle Tennessee and about 15 miles from Summitt’s hometown of Henrietta.
“I think the ratings will be highest in Clarksville when the Lady Vols play on TV,” Reed said. “I think everybody in the city will watch them. It’s something that the whole city can get behind.”