St. Mary’s High coach Curtis Ekmark, the 2011-12 National High School Coach of the Year, has been involved in the recruiting process for years now. He has had the privilege of coaching many Division I athletes. He is in regular contact with college coaches. He has had to speak about the skill set of numerous players.
But when it comes to speaking about the skill set of his daughter, Courtney, initially it is bit awkward.
“I feel kind of funny answering this because I’m the dad and I don’t want to sound like the crazy dad,’’ Curtis Ekmark said. “But I see a couple of different things. The one thing that she does is that she brings a certain level of calmness and confidence to her team. And she’s smart and skilled. She’s a fierce competitor and she tends to come up biggest in our biggest games. So I’m glad I get her for another couple years.’’
After that, UConn’s Geno Auriemma will have the opportunity to work with Courtney, a 6-foot sophomore guard from Phoenix. She made an oral commitment to play for the Huskies Monday night.
Courtney is recognized as a dead-eye shooter. But Curtis said that her basketball IQ just might be her strength. Her unselfishness and her desire to win are also traits that she possesses.
St. Mary’s does not keep statistics. Yet, Curtis Ekmark said that Courtney averaged more than 20 points “in all the games that mattered.’’ This season, in particular, she had a game-high 26 points in a win over then-No. 3 Riverdale Baptist in the Joe Smith Division championship game at the Nike Tournament of Champions in December and she had a game-high 28 points in the Arizona Division I state championship game in February as the Knights capped a 30-0 season by claiming the mythical national championship.
“She could care less about stats,’’ Curtis Ekmark said. “The neat thing about our high school program is that all of our kids really came to St. Mary’s to be part … All of them could’ve been stars at other high school programs. But they all came to St. Mary’s to be part of something bigger than themselves. And that’s what Courtney enjoys. She enjoys winning. She enjoys playing on the best team. And she enjoys winning championships. And I think that’s what drew her to UConn is that the atmosphere is about winning championships. It’s not about individual accolades.’’
The path to an oral commitment has been roughly a year in the making for Courtney. She is the first member of the Class of 2014 to commit to UConn.
“I know she was always interested in UConn and I know we’ve always admired UConn’s program from afar,’’ Curtis Ekmark said. “But until relatively recently we didn’t really know the people over there very well and she had been getting interest from a lot of big-time programs like Stanford and Duke and North Carolina and all kinds of places. So a year ago I wouldn’t certainly have said it was a foregone conclusion, but once UConn got interested and once we got to know them it became pretty clear that that was going to be a good option.
“We started talking with them kind of at the end of last summer and throughout the school year and started to get to know them better. And Courtney got on the phone with the coaches and I started talking to the coaches. They came out to Arizona a couple times. So it was kind of a process throughout the school year.’’
Courtney will actually be in Connecticut this weekend when she accompanies her brother, who will participate in at an Elite Camp at Yale. Curtis said he will arrive Friday.
Courtney will return to the state June 18 to visit UConn and play pick-up with the Huskies. Curtis said that she wanted to come by herself, but her mother Meg will join her. They are expected to stay until June 21.
Here are some more comments from Curtis Ekmark:
Q: How big of a deal is it to have Courtney heading to UConn?
A: “It’s huge. I’m proud of her and happy for her. I know how hard she works so I know that she’s really excited. So I’m thrilled.’’
Q: Is UConn a good fit for Courtney because of how hard they play and the type of players they have?
A: “I think that is why she was drawn to UConn because I think she admires that and I think that’s familiar to her and she’s comfortable with that. And I think that’s what drew her to UConn is the way they play and the type of kids that they have.’’
Q: Did you give Courtney a basketball when she was in her crib?
A: “That’s a little bit of an exaggeration. It might have been a little ball, but it wasn’t a full-size basketball. But it was funny … It was more of a joke because my wife played tennis at Marquette. She was a college tennis player. So it was kind of a joke that I was going to get the basketball in there before my wife could get the tennis racket in her hand.
“But she did also have a little tiny tennis racket in there too. It was just one of those little soft, squishy balls. Like a little basketball the size of your fist or something.’’
Q: When did you first realize that Courtney was going to be an elite player?
A: “It’s really been a gradual process. She’s always been really passionate about the game. But she is kind of a late bloomer physically. So she’s always had success and always played on really good teams that have won state and national championships. And she’s always been skilled and she’s always worked at it and had a high basketball IQ. But you never know how big or strong a kid’s going to get. And so it wasn’t until recently that she had a little bit of a growth spurt. Well, she still hasn’t really filled out physically. But at least she’s taller now than she used to be. So I’d say it was only recently when she grew.’’