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The greatest recruiting class in UConn history will play its last game sometime next March.
The greatest recruiting class in UConn history will play its first game sometime next November.
The Huskies added the crowning piece to the next blockbuster class on Tuesday, securing a commitment from Ann Strother, the top high school player in the nation.
Strother, a 6-foot-1 guard from Castle Rock, Colo., becomes the fourth member of UConn's 2001-02 recruiting class, and all are ranked in the top 15 of two prominent recruiting indexes. Strother gives UConn a clear advantage over Duke for the top class of the 2001 fall signing period.
Strother announced her decision at Highlands Ranch High School. UConn is expecting her faxed letter of intent today, so coach Geno Auriemma couldn't comment Tuesday.
Strother led the Falcons to the Class 5A state championship last season, averaging 20.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 4.7 steals.
``It seemed like over the whole process, Connecticut got more and more exciting for me,'' Strother said. ``I liked their style of play. I feel like that's where I fit in best. It's the only place I see myself and the place I'm most excited about.''
The announcement, coming the day before the end of the fall signing period, ended months of speculation about Strother's choice.
Strother, ranked No. 1 by the Blue Star and School Sports recruiting services, maintained a list of six schools for the past two months -- UConn, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Colorado. Unlike the other seven players UConn recruited this fall, Strother never gave any public indication of her preference until Tuesday.
``It was really hard,'' Strother said. ``I liked every single program a lot. It was hard when you get to know them that well, but I feel like I made the right decision.''
Auriemma and Strother aren't strangers. This summer, Strother became the second high school player in history to make the U.S. junior national team, coached by Auriemma. Playing alongside current Huskies Diana Taurasi and Jessica Moore, Strother started all seven games of the World Junior Championships in Brno, Czech Republic, averaging 6.4 points.
``It was a lot of fun to play with Jessica and Diana, and to get to know Ashley Battle [at the tryouts],'' Strother said. ``Playing for Coach Auriemma, I just think he's a great coach. I've always known that. I don't think the trip was a big factor, because even if I hadn't taken it I know I would still be signing with Connecticut.''
Strother joins three players who signed last Wednesday: 5-11 guard Nicole Wolff of Milton, Mass., ranked No. 4 by Blue Star and No. 6 by School Sports, 6-0 forward Barbara Turner of Cleveland (Nos. 8 and 7) and 6-3 forward Willnett Crockett of Harbor City, Calif. (Nos. 13 and 11).
``This now makes Connecticut No. 1 this year,'' said Joe Smith, director of the Women's Basketball News Service. ``The Duke kids ranked very high, but not quite that high.''
Duke's class is led by Mistie Bass, a 6-3 center from Janesville, Wis., ranked 15th by Blue Star, and Caitlin Howe, a 5-10 guard from Fairport, N.Y., ranked 16th.
Strother, nicknamed ``Inspector Gadget'' by her high school teammates because of her lanky body, is the third top-ranked recruit to sign with UConn in the past five seasons. Tamika Williams was No. 1 in 1997 when she led the current senior class that includes Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones.
That class is regarded as the best in UConn history and among the best ever. Williams, Cash (3) and Jones (6) were ranked in Blue Star's top 10. Bird was ranked 19th and a fifth player, Keirsten Walters, whose career was shortened by injuries, was No. 14.
``It's certainly one of the top classes,'' Smith said of this year's group. ``It certainly ranks, in Connecticut, right up there with the great five-person classes they've had. Will this work out as good as the Sue Bird class? Well, that would take an awful lot.''
Taurasi was the top-ranked senior when she signed in 1999. It is possible that Taurasi will anchor a three-guard starting lineup next season that includes Strother and Wolff.
``Strother and Wolff are ideal for the type of offensive system that Geno runs,'' Smith said. ``Getting those two will give him the opportunity to go back to a three-guard offense. They both can run the floor, shoot the threes and go to the basket. The thought of a backcourt of Taurasi, Wolff and Strother ... it's a dream backcourt for Connecticut's system.''
The possibility remains that UConn's class could get better. Gillian Goring, a 6-7 center from Trinidad living in Waterloo, Iowa, has not decided among UConn, Western Kentucky and Iowa State. Goring, ranked No. 3 by Blue Star, is likely to wait until the spring signing period to decide. UConn is also recruiting Jessica Foley, a guard from Australia.