Illinois Girls Navigate Unconventional Recruiting Cycle During Pandemic

Left: Glenbard East’s Lauren Huber in a game against East Aurora [Photo: Michael Stranski]. Center: Emma Rush of Vienna [provided photo]. Right: Trinity’s Savanna Childress races to the bucket [Photo: Debra Prochaska].

Glenbard East senior Huber has made college visits. She’s gone on trips to D-III schools. She’s spoken with college coaches at the Division I level. But like many players dealing with the impact of a season of frozen eligibility at the college level, Huber is still navigating the recruitment process.

“It is very important to me to find a place where I can thrive on the court in various roles,” Huber said. “Being a part of a team with competitive and talented athletes that I can contribute to and be proud of is one of the key things I am looking for in a university.” 

A three-sport athlete at Glenbard East — she was on the state second-place 4×800 relay team for the Rams’ track and field team in 2018 — Huber came to realize that basketball was her passion when she started as a sophomore.

“I knew I wanted to devote my time and dedication to the sport,” Huber said. “I joined the Illinois Rockets (AAU) and took every opportunity to get on the court. I remained a three-sport athlete, which I believe helps further elevate my basketball game. High jump and volleyball (have) helped increase my hang time from shots off the dribble and helps in rebounding. Track advances my speed up and down the court and provides endurance for four quarters.”

In her third year as a starter and second as a captain, Huber was an honorable mention Class 4A all-state selection in 2019-20, averaging 17.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.2 assists per game. Showing off a litany of skills, including an ability to separate with her leaping shot around the paint, Huber also finished third in the IHSA Class 4A Three-Point Showdown.

In the time since thing began to shut down last March, Huber said she has been focusing on her individual skills, including ball-handling, knowing she’ll need those and will have to be willing to get more physical at the college level.

“AAU games have taught me to play more physical, at a faster pace, and has helped to develop my basketball IQ,” Huber said. “All of these skills are crucial for college ball, which I feel very prepared for thanks to the Rockets and countless hours on the court doing what I love.”

Huber has maintained a consistent regiment, running six days a week — including hills, tempo runs and sprints — and has challenged herself with plyometrics, core and upper body workouts three times a week. She’s maintained this, workouts and gym time with the Illinois Rockets, all while searching for the school she wants to spend the next few years. Huber said circumstances accompanying the pandemic have made communication with college coaches persistently difficult.

“I just haven’t found the right fit for a university yet,” Huber said.

Emma Rush seeking a chance

Emma Rush knows what it now takes to step up when needed.

The senior guard is no stranger to winning, as Vienna has gone 57-38 in her three seasons. As a junior, she averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds per game, while shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc and 72 percent from the line. She did this all while taking a larger role than anticipated due to injuries affecting the team.

“We had a senior that was out last year for quite a while,” Rush said. “The other seniors and juniors that filled up playing time, they had to step up and pick up that role.”

With an outside shot, a consistent ability to get to the free-throw line, size (5-8) and an ability to play both guard spots, Rush is hoping to be a contributor at the college level given the right chance. Her ability to face up from the block to the free-throw line also allows her to take other guards down low for scoring chances.

Playing with the Lady Titans and coach Aaron Lee out of Carbondale, the now-senior saw her level of play rise from that as an intimidated freshman.

“I’ve been able to talk with a couple coaches the last couple months, mainly through me reaching out on my own,” Rush said. “I think this season would have had a really big impact on colleges looking at me.”

“I feel like I’m doing as much as I can through all the limitations of COVID and stuff,” she added.

While financial aid is one of the main things Rush is seeking, she also wants to stay relatively close to home, within ideally within a six-hour drive.

To keep herself active, Rush has helped lead a group of Vienna players to work on their games and conditioning, though it has not been without its issues.

“We’ve done a lot of strength training and stuff,” Rush said. “We run and do stuff outside when the weather permits. It’s starting to get really cold. We’ve got some access to outdoor goals and we’ve done lots of shooting and dribbling stuff on certain days. … For the most part it’s all been really good. We’ve had a lot of setbacks with some kids being quarantined being a contact of somebody else. That’s been kind of hard. We never know who all is going to be able to come because of all that quarantining.”

Whatever frustrations Rush has experienced, she’s plugged away at making her desire to play college ball a reality. After paying volleyball, softball and track in addition to basketball, she even added cross country this past fall to stay active when volleyball wasn’t played due to the pandemic.

Now she waits for word on a final high school season, and a chance at college ball.

Trinity’s Childress makes good things happen

Savanna Childress went through her own lengthy recruiting process. Her proactiveness paid off this week, as she committed to play for North Park University.

Childress, a 5-5 senior committed Monday, Jan. 18, after talking to as many as six schools and narrowing her list down to two programs.

“To be part of a proven team driven by true leadership of coach Amanda (Crockett) motivated and inspired me to be part of something great,” Childress said. “I chose needs over my wants regarding North Park’s nursing program, which I feel is stronger than my other choices. Academically and athletically, NPU looks to fit me better in what I’m looking for with dedication and hard work on my part.”

Navigating the process wasn’t easy, but she did take steps that made her prepared for the process.

“It’s really difficult to look for a school when we would normally be playing basketball,” Childress said. “It’s hard because you can’t really see how the team plays, but I’ve been working through Zoom meetings and showing up to the schools’ practices that I’m interested in.”

The Trinity standout counts Marquette signee and high school and Chi Hoops Express teammate Makiyah Williams among her best friends.

“Honestly she’s the teammate that pushes me the most because we both know what we’re capable of, so we go at it in practice to make each other better,” Childress said. “She also teaches me lots of new techniques and moves that benefit her when she’s playing in a game so I can start doing what she does. So I look up to her a lot.”

Her coach, Kim Coleman, a former Chi Hoops Express player, raves about Childress’ athleticism. Coleman said that some games Childress outrebounded even the 6-0 Williams. Coleman estimated Childress’ junior year stats at 8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals per game, noting that she has her best ball to come.

“I use my athleticism with rebounding, using my speed, maneuvering through traffic and looking ahead for open players on my team,” Childress said. “I have tried to improve my game on an individual level by working on the techniques I mostly need (to) work on. So for example, I can drive to the hoop at a fast pace using a Euro step, faking out my opponents. But since that’s a move I use a lot, people already know what I’m going to do. So, I’ve been working on different ways to get to the basket using jump shots and moving in flashy ways part taking with my speed to finish strongly at the basket.”

“Her athleticism, I’m telling you is just ridiculous,” Coleman said.

Childress’ athleticism runs in the family — with two older brothers playing football, including one who played collegiately — and as always been the non-stop type. Seeing her brothers’ successes was a motivator, but Childress has wanted to play collegiately since she was a first-grader.

“I got a lot of my inspirations from my older brothers who were super athletic and successful in all the sports they played in,” Childress said. “I was in lots of different activities other than basketball. For example, cheer, gymnastics, martial arts, piano, voice, volleyball. I’ve worked on getting closer by cutting out all of the activities I used to do, and picked my favorite sport which is basketball … obviously.”

Coleman said that having film on Childress has made a difference for the guard’s recruitment, since Childress had been in talks with several schools before the pandemic took its course. With the potential for a senior season of basketball unknown, Coleman can’t help but be nostalgic about what Childress has done for the Blazers in recent years.

“She’s definitely the energy of the entire program through all levels,” Coleman said. “When she came in she was one of those silly kids … now she’s this vibrant, bright, shining light.”

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