Entering last week, Duke women’s basketball head coach Joanne P. McCallie had already secured verbal commitments from three of the nation’s top recruits.
But a fourth joined that crew last Thursday when Kendall Cooper, a 6-foot-3 center from Carson, Calif., announced at a ceremony at St. Anthony High School that she had chosen the Blue Devils instead of her hometown school UCLA. Cooper and fellow recruits Rebecca Greenwell, Oderah Chidom andand Kianna Holland were able to officially ink their national letters of intent Wednesday, forming a consensus top-three class in the nation.
Cooper cited academic reasons, along with the team’s success, as the main motives behind her decision.
“This has been the most important and hardest decision of my life,” Cooper said at the press conference. “I have dreamt about it, thought about it, talked about it, researched it, cried about it and prayed about it.”
Cooper is ranked as the No. 12 recruit in the class of 2013 by ESPN.com’s HoopGurlz while Greenwell, Chidom and Holland are ranked No. 6, 10 and 32, respectively.
Cooper will boost the Blue Devil frontcourt, figuring to play alongside sophomore center Elizabeth Williams, the reigning National Freshman of the Year. Although her position will not be determined until she joins the team next year, her strength around the basket combined with a solid mid-range jump shot will make her an effective complement to Williams.
Cooper is a member of the California Storm club team, coached by George Quintero. She is joined on the Storm by Chidom, who made her verbal pledge to McCallie three weeks ago.
The other starting members of the Storm are going to Stanford, Yale and California, Quintero said.
Duke’s connection with the Storm goes deeper than Cooper and Chidom, however. Duke junior guard Chelsea Gray also was a member of the Storm during her high school days at St. Mary’s High School in Manteca, Calif, where she was a McDonlad’s All-American. Gray has maintained her roots in the Storm system after being heralded as the No. 4 recruit in the class of 2010 out of high school.
“Kendall had a chance to meet Chelsea,” Quintero said. “Our alumni always come back and give back to our program.”
In order to bring in so many five-star recruits, McCallie is constantly working to build relationships with players and coaches all over the country, just like every other elite head coach in college basketball. But McCallie has been quite successful fostering this friendship, as Quintero cites his relationship with both Gray and McCallie as reasons for him to be encourage players to join the Blue Devils.
“That combination of Chelsea’s manner and her being a social kid and me having a great relationship with [Duke’s] coaches,” Quintero said. “Coach P. has done such a great job of building a relationship with me.”
The addition of Cooper, along with the rest of her strong recruiting class, will give the Blue Devils even more depth on their bench, especially in the post. Although Williams will undoubtedly be the starting center for the duration of her time at Duke, the Blue Devils will lose senior Allison Vernerey, who has been the one called upon to fill Williams’ spot in the two exhibition games.
Cooper receives praise for the improvement she has made throughout high school, developing a power game around the hoop in addition to her quality jump shot.
“She really understands the game,” Quintero said. “She really is a kid who, in a lot of ways, is a throwback. She really understands that she’s a post player. Some kids want to avoid that and be a point guard, not Kendall.”
Cooper should be able to fill this role, and if she performs well at the next level, could expect some playing time. The Blue Devils will likely return eight guards next season, while only bringing back three forwards and one center.