Stockton St. Mary’s standout was just named State Junior of the Year last week and last weekend at the Elite is Earned Invitational in Walnut Creek there was almost a college coaches’ convention of those who were there to see her and be seen. Among the crowd was Dawn Staley of NCAA champion South Carolina, who was just in Stockton for the NCAA West Region finals. Staley’s Gamecocks along with Cal, Baylor, Louisville and Tennessee are all now among DeCosta’s finalists. New coaches at Washington and USC (previously listed as finalists) also are still “in the mix.”
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Whether or not you’ve ever been on a recruiting trip or gone through a recruiting process that can sometimes be an exhaustive procedure for the elite student-athlete, we’re going to give you a snapshot of what it’s like for arguably the most highly recruited girls’ basketball player in California.
Fresh off being named the Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year last week for her excellent season at St. Mary’s of Stockton, and then winning MVP honors for leading the Cal Stars Nike Elite EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball League) team to the championship of the top division of the Elite is Earned Invitational Bay Area at the Ultimate Fieldhouse this past weekend in Walnut Creek, Aquira DeCosta was ready to sit down and talk about where she is in the recruiting process in an exclusive interview.
Since DeCosta broke onto the California girls’ basketball scene three years ago, a lot has changed for her. Early on, she was a quiet girl who wasn’t really vocal on the court and rarely said much when interviewed. Since then, she has captured the Cal-Hi Sports State Freshman of the Year and State Sophomore of the Year to go with this year’s honor.
Along with the awards, DeCosta is now a blossoming young woman that not only has become more of a vocal leader on the court, but in the interview at the Ultimate Fieldhouse last Sunday she had a lot to say about what’s changed for her in the last six months in the recruiting process. Frankly, it would be wise for girls, or boys for that matter, who are or will be going through the recruiting process to listen closely to what DeCosta has to say. It could also give a few high school and even college coaches some insight as well.
Back in December in an interview with USA Today just before the Nike TOC, DeCosta talked about becoming more vocal and more of a leader, and she also announced her six final college choices at the time. The first part hasn’t changed but her choices have, and for a variety of reasons.
Baylor, Louisville and Tennessee are still in the picture, and she’s looking at the coaching changes at Washington and Southern California, but Cal is now in the picture as is South Carolina. In fact, the day after signing a four-year contract extension to coach the Gamecocks, NCAA championship South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley was at the Ultimate Fieldhouse and was very visible watching DeCosta on Saturday during Hoosiers Division bracket play.
“That was exciting to see Coach Staley watching me. It made me very happy,” DeCosta remarked.
Staley was not alone among the DeCosta finalists at the NCAA certified spring viewing event. Despite being less than two weeks away from having a baby, Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb was front and center as was Louisville head coach Jeff Walz and new Washington head coach Jody Wynn.
More than just a player
So now the question is what is the most important factor DeCosta used in narrowing the funnel and why?
“It’s about developing relationships and bonding,” said DeCosta, who used the word bond in some form several times in the interview.
Should it surprise anyone that a young and talented woman wants to be more than a commodity, and gravitates to people and coaches that treat her as more than just an athlete?
“The most important thing to me is the coaches put an effort into constant contact and checking in with me to see how I’m doing other than basketball, like school and my life,” DeCosta said. “I want to be cared about as a person and not just a player.”
This is precisely why USC and Washington are still in the picture but a little up in the air.
“USC and Washington are still in the mix but I need to look at the coaches and see if I bond with them,” DeCosta continued.
The hardest and the easiest part of the recruiting process
“The hardest part is really seeing which college is the best for you because every program makes the college and everything look so perfect and right for you,” DeCosta answered. “They rarely show their true colors so it’s difficult to see what’s really going on and what is truly best for you.”
“The easiest part is communicating with the staff and getting to know them and actually trying to build a great relationship with them.”
The why for each finalist
(in alphabetical order and not preference)
Why Baylor? “I’ve always liked them and they text me daily, and it’s not usually about basketball – and my parents liked them at the home visit.”
Why Cal? “I chose them over UCLA (a previous possibility) because they have a great fan base and it’s like a home town for me. Plus my parents can see me play.”
Why Louisville? “I love their staff and my best friend (Loretta Kakala of Manteca, the McDonald’s All-American) is going there.”
Why South Carolina? “It’s my dad’s home town and he went to one of the divisions of the school. Plus, recently they’ve put a lot of effort into me.”
Why Tennessee? “I love their staff as well. Plus I played with Evina (McDonald’s All-American and Cal Stars graduate Evina Westbrook) and Anastasia Hayes and they’re both going there and that makes it great bonding there for me.”
Where to improve
“I think I need to improve on my shots both midrange and three-pointers. Also, defensively I need to work on not reaching or touching players while defending. So to improve I’m always in the gym working on those things and attempting to better those assets.”
In early April, DeCosta was a member of the victorious Bounce Back team that went 7-0 at the 2017 USA Basketball Women’s 3×3 U18 National Tournament at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She was teamed with Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year Destiny Littleton of The Bishop’s School (La Jolla), senior Janelle Bailey of Providence Day School of Matthews, North Carolina, and fellow junior Christyn Williams of Central Arkansas Christian School of Little Rock.
With the victory, the girls will represent the United States at the FIBA 3×3 U18 World Cup 2017 that will be played June 28-July 2 in Chengdu, China.
“I’m really enjoying 3×3 and it’s exciting to be going to China,” DeCosta said. “I’ve played USA basketball with the girls before and we’ve bonded really well.”
Viewing period and Nike EYBL
Before leaving for China, DeCosta and the Cal Stars Nike Elite will go to the April 28-30 Boo Williams Girls Nike Invitational in the Newport News/Hampton, Virginia area, which like the Elite is Earned event is also an NCAA spring viewing period certified event. The Boo Williams also kicks off the EYBL that will conclude when DeCosta returns from China on July 10-12 at the Nike Nationals in Chicago during the first portion of the NCAA summer viewing period.
Of course, she dreams of playing in the WNBA but besides playing basketball in college her plan is to study business and communications.
“Some day, I’d like to be an ESPN broadcaster or own my own business,” DeCosta remarked.
The final decision
“I am not only impressed with how Aquira has improved on the court but I’m equally impressed with how easily she has handled the recruiting process,” said Cal Stars head coach and founder and Miramonte (Orinda) head coach Kelly Sopak. “She has been extremely diligent at not only following teams to see their style and their trends but she has also assessed how they have recruited her. At this point in the game she can’t go wrong with any decision.”
DeCosta’s parents, Charmaine and Randolph DeCosta, have been very involved in her career as has the St. Mary’s basketball community from the very beginning, and nothing has changed.
“My parents are really involved in the recruiting process on who they like and don’t like,” said DeCosta. “But they told me at the end of the day it’s my decision.”
Like Sopak said, and based on who her final choices are. DeCosta can’t go wrong, but on the flip side whoever is fortunate enough to get Aquira can’t either, and will be getting a true gem.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend