Caldwell embarks on path least traveled
Blake Hurti, Express-News
In a cramped church gym, Recee' Caldwell stares down a folding chair and a plastic broom.She slips past the chair with a cross-over dribble before pulling up and releasing a perfect shot over the broom, held in the air by her father and coach, Ray Caldwell
Recee', arguably the best girls basketball player in the San Antonio area, is happy spending her time running drills against furniture.
The junior doesn't miss high school basketball at Johnson, which she abruptly gave up in December,
right before committing to UCLA. She doesn't mind missing the opportunity to play in the UIL state tournament, which begins this week in Austin. She's only concerned with getting better, even if it meant spurning her high school teammates.
She now trains full time with Ray, who coaches one of the fastest-growing AAU teams in the area.
“I don't think this is for everybody, but I think it's going to open people's eyes ... if it turns out for the better,” Recee' said. “You don't have to play high school basketball.” That decision came at the expense of her teammates
, and it didn't sit well with many at Johnson. Caldwell was the centerpiece of a Jaguars team with high hopes.
The school had just hired the Express-News Coach of the Year, Randy Evans
, and boasted three Division I prospects to complement Caldwell.
Johnson finished the season 23-8 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Evans said he holds no resentment toward Recee'. The suddenness — Ray informed Evans that Recee' wouldn't be playing in the championship of an early-season tournament because of fatigue, and she turned in her jersey days later — was the hardest part.
“I'm not putting the blame on anybody,” Evans said. “I'd be lying if I said it didn't affect us ... That's kind of leaving the team out to dry.”
Recee' regrets the timing of the decision. Had she had her way, she said, she wouldn't have even played this season. She wanted to quit during her sophomore year to focus full time on training. Her knees and feet were aching from the 30-plus high school games and a busy summer AAU schedule.
“I knew people weren't going to like it,” Recee' said. “But I had to do what was best for my body and my development.”
Those were the two factors behind her decision, she said. Once the three colleges she was considering — UCLA, Connecticut and Duke — said they were OK with her not playing in high school, her mind was made up.
Her mindset changed after she spent the summer of 2011 playing with the USA Under-16 national team. She practiced with the top prospects in the country, including Steele junior McKenzie Calvert
, a Baylor commit.
Ray compares it to a math whiz stuck in algebra class when he or she should be doing calculus.
“Those kids changed. When you go and compete against the very best in the country, it's hard to get motivated to go against kids who are not of that caliber,” Ray said. “That's not making her an elitist. It's just that she's played in an environment that's challenging her.” Pros and cons
To Evans, high school athletics provides a different kind of challenge. Building relationships and camaraderie. Playing for something more than yourself.
“It's not all about wins and losses,” Evans said. “I want the kids to have the experience. You only get that (chance) once.”
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Recee's decision is that it was hers and not Ray's.
Anybody attending a Johnson game the past two years knows, or has at least heard, Ray. He was the dad perched in the stands, yelling instructions at Recee'. He writes a girls basketball blog, “She's Ballin,” and isn't afraid to express his opinions there.
“He's probably the most intense AAU coach I know,” said Wagner coach Tina Camacho
, who has three current players who play for Ray. “But I'd rather have that than some fly-by-night parent who thinks they know everything ... Ray knows basketball.”
He's been called a “helicopter dad” so many times that he's redefined the term.
“I'm not hovering,” Ray said. “I just see the aerial view.”
Recee', however, thinks a lot like her father. Basketball is their life, and their common bond.
She's been focused on playing collegiately and in the WNBA since she was in elementary school. In fourth grade, she wrote a paper titled, “I Am Lisa Leslie
“Some people may not get that my whole mentality has been on college,” Recee' said. “It's not even about (being) mediocre. I've always been up top, and I want to stay there.”
The fear among local high school coaches is that Recee's decision could start a trend. Not for everyone
Ray's AAU team, San Antonio's Finest, is becoming a who's who of the area's top players. At a recent voluntary practice on a Sunday, Reagan's Wendy Knight, Brennan's Tanaeya Boclair, Wagner freshman phenom Amber Ramirez
and Boerne's Avery Queen, among others, were in attendance along with Recee'.
But Ray said he wouldn't instruct a player to quit so they can play solely for him. Earlier this season, a local player told him she was going to quit playing for her high school. Ray advised against it because the player hadn't received any offers. The player, he said, needed the experience.
Boerne Champion's Brooke Allemand, one of his players, didn't play this season for personal reasons and graduated in December. She has signed with New Mexico. Mike Heineman
said his daughter, Carlie, who plays for Ray, wouldn't consider not playing in high school. The Marshall
junior is committed to UTSA.
“It's not for her. She started playing in sixth grade, so she needs as many reps as she can get,” said Mike, who played at Wisconsin. “Recee' has way more miles on her wheels.”
Recee's situation is unique. She had her pick of colleges after her sophomore season. She gained exposure through AAU ball in the summer. Her recruitment was over.
If she were a boy, the situation likely would be different.
“He would be in a prep school or a school where he felt he was getting better,” Ray said. “If Recee' felt that she was going toward her goals, she would still be playing.”
Those elite basketball factories — such as Oak Hill Academy
in Virginia — aren't prevalent on the girls side.
Instead, Recee' is training six days a week with Ray and a strength and conditioning coach. She's working on building endurance and speed.
“That's always been the knock on me, my athleticism,” Recee' said. “Once I get that down, I don't know what they're going to be able to say.” Leading, not following
There aren't many examples for Recee' to follow. Connecticut's Moriah Jefferson
, one of the top prospects in the 2012 class, was home-schooled. San Antonio's biggest names, such as Steele's Meighan Simmons, played four years of high school.
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