Nov. 13, 2009
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - University of Notre Dame head women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw announced Friday that three of the country's top high school student-athletes have chosen to continue their academic and athletic careers with the Fighting Irish, each signing a National Letter of Intent to attend Notre Dame beginning in the fall of 2010.
Natalie Achonwa (last name pronounced uh-CHAWN-wuh), a 6-3 forward from Guelph, Ontario (St. Mary's Catholic Secondary School/National Elite Development Academy), Ariel Braker, a 6-1 forward from Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. (Grosse Pointe North High School) and Kayla McBride, a 5-11 guard from Erie, Pa. (Villa Maria Academy) all made their official commitments to the Fighting Irish during the early signing period, which began Wednesday and continues through Nov. 18.
All three student-athletes are rated among the top 50 players in the country by various national recruiting services. As a group, this trio is ranked as the No. 10 recruiting class in the country by All-Star Girls Report (and a consensus top-16 class by other recruiting services), giving Notre Dame a Top 25 recruiting class for the 14th consecutive year, a streak only two other schools in the country (Connecticut and Tennessee) can match. It's also the third consecutive top-10 recruiting class for the Fighting Irish.
"I'm very excited about the class that we're signing this year," McGraw said. "I think we really addressed our needs, with three very good players coming in. They're going to change the way we do some things at both ends of the floor next year. We're going to be able to be more aggressive on defense because we're adding athleticism, length and speed, and on offense, we'll look at ways that we can take advantage of the size that we're going to have. It will probably be a whole new look, going from the more guard-oriented team that we have now, to next year when we'll have some depth in the post as well."
"Notre Dame emphasized strengthening their perimeter game and did so with size, athleticism and versatility," said Dan Olson, director of the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.
Ranked fourth in the preseason Associated Press poll and seventh in the preseason ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll, Notre Dame will tip off its 2009-10 season Sunday at 7 p.m. (ET) when it plays host to Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the first regular-season women's basketball game at the newly-refurbished Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center. A limited number of tickets for this, and all Fighting Irish women's basketball home games, are available by contacting the Notre Dame Athletics Ticket Office (574-631-7356) during normal weekday business hours, visiting the Gate 1 ticket windows on the second floor of the Joyce Center, going on-line to the Notre Dame athletics tickets web page (www.UND.com/tickets), or on game night by stopping at the ticket windows located on the east side of Notre Dame Stadium (across from the Joyce Center).
A capsule look at the three newest additions to the Fighting Irish women's basketball program follows:
NATALIE ACHONWA, 6-3, Forward (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary's Catholic Secondary School/National Elite Development Academy)
Statistics/Records: Enrolled at St. Mary's Catholic Secondary School in Hamilton, Ontario, but cannot play this season due to her previous participation with the National Elite Development Academy (NEDA); NEDA is a national training center program that brings together the top 12 female developmental athletes from across Canada to train, live and attend high school in a central location (hosted jointly by the city of Hamilton and McMaster University, and overseen by Canada Basketball) ... selected to join NEDA for her sophomore and junior years of high school before Academy closed in 2009 due to lack of funding; was youngest player selected for NEDA in 2007-08 (age 14) ... played for NEDA team (coached by Mark Walton) that competed against variety of opponents, including Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) and Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) teams, American junior college programs (NJCAA), American prep schools, and other international competition ... highlights of her NEDA career included: game-high 25 points in 2009 game vs. the Toronto Stealth of the semi-pro Women's Blue Chip Basketball League (WBCBL); 18 points in 2009 exhibition vs. Genesee Community College (N.Y.); 19 points in 2009 game vs. Oak Hill Academy (Va.); 19 points and 11 rebounds in 2008 exhibition vs. Monroe Community College (N.Y.); game-high 30 points in 2008 exhibition vs. Laurentian University (Sudbury, Ontario); averaged 16.3 points and 11.7 rebounds with three double-doubles in three-game 2008 exhibition series vs. Argentina U18 National Team; averaged 14.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game at 2007 Laurentian University Invitational Tournament ... spent her freshman year at Centennial Collegiate & Vocational Institute (CCVI) in Guelph, Ontario.
Provincial/Travel Competition: Member of U17 Team Ontario that captured back-to-back Canadian national championships in 2007 (15.3 ppg., 7.1 rpg.) and 2008 (18.2 ppg., 8.0 rpg.) ... also led U15 Team Ontario to 2006 Canadian national title ... played for Guelph CYO All-Stars travel squad, averaging 14.2 ppg., 8.1 rpg., 2.5 apg. and 1.9 spg., helping team to 2006 and 2007 Division I provincial championships (Ontario Basketball Association).
International Competition: Three-time Canada Basketball selection and two-time international medalist ... most recently this past summer, became youngest player (age 16) ever named to Canadian Senior Women's National Team for the 2009 FIBA Americas Championship in Cuiaba, Brazil, helping country to bronze medal (third-place finish) and berth in 2010 FIBA World Championships in Czech Republic ... played in all five games for Canada in tournament, averaging 6.6 ppg. and 4.2 rpg., while finishing second on team in steals (1.2 spg.) and blocks (0.6 bpg.) ... earlier in the summer of 2009, suited up for Canadian Junior Women's National Team at FIBA U19 World Championships in Bangkok, Thailand, sparking team to its best-ever placement (fourth) -- reached semifinals before losing to USA squad co-captained by her future Notre Dame teammate, Skylar Diggins ... started all nine games in tournament, averaging 10.3 ppg. (second on team) and 6.1 rpg. (third on team), along with a team-high 1.4 spg. ... made international debut at age 15 (youngest player selected) for Canada's junior team at 2008 FIBA U18 Americas Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, pacing her nation to the silver medal (4-1 record); averaged 7.2 ppg., 5.8 rpg. and 1.0 spg. in the tournament.
Awards/Honors: Third-team all-star at 2009 FIBA U19 World Championships ... 2007 Laurentian University Invitational all-tournament team ... MVP of Canadian provincial championship tournaments in 2006 (U15) and 2008 (U17), and first-team all-star in 2007 (U17) ... two-time tournament MVP (2006, 2007) for Ontario Basketball Association Division I provincial championships ... NEDA team captain as junior (2008-09) ... CCVI Female Athlete of the Year in 2006-07 ... as freshman at CCVI, earned city MVP honors in both basketball and soccer, as well as regional MVP laurels in basketball ... lettered and was team all-star in three sports at CCVI (basketball, soccer and volleyball) ... ranked 24th by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report (fifth-highest small forward), 80th by All-Star Girls Report (18th among wing forwards) and 85th by Blue Star Basketball ... not rated by ESPN Hoopgurlz, which does not currently evaluate Canadian players; if she were rated in that service's top 25 (see quote below), that would place Notre Dame in top 10 in ESPN Hoopgurlz class recruiting rankings.
Personal Data: Born Nov. 22, 1992, in Toronto, Ontario ... last name is pronounced uh-CHAWN-wuh ... hometown is pronounced GWELF ... daughter of Marion and Manny Achonwa ... middle of three children ... older brother, Adrian, is a freshman on the basketball team at the University of Guelph (Ontario) ... consistently named to academic honor roll throughout her high school career ... in 2009, was selected as one of Guelph's top 40 influential people under 40 by the Guelph Mercury ... will be first international player to join Notre Dame women's basketball program ... one of two members of Notre Dame Class of 2010 (along with Ariel Braker) who have played multiple sports in high school -- seven of the 14 current Fighting Irish players also were two-sport prep standouts, six of whom (Solomon, Watson, Becca Bruszewski, Skylar Diggins, Brittany Mallory and Fraderica Miller) will be returning in 2010-11 ... has expressed an interest in studying business at Notre Dame.
Coach McGraw on Achonwa...
"Natalie is the best player in Canada for her age. She really had a great summer with the Canadian National Team, and because of that, she wasn't out on the recruiting circuit, but she's definitely a top 25 player. She's unlike any player we've had in the past, in that she's 6-3 and she can post up, but she can also step outside and hit the 3. She can rebound, she can defend, she can score and we're expecting big things from Natalie."
Canadian Senior National Team head coach Allison McNeill on Achonwa...
"Natalie was a wonderful surprise this summer as she made our Senior National Team as a 16-year-old. She was a great addition and improved immensely over the summer. She picks things up very quickly and has a great feel for the game. She is a tough competitor and we look forward to seeing her develop at Notre Dame and in our National Team program. I am excited to see how she will impact our team next summer as we head to the 2010 World Championships."
Bret McCormick (Analyst, All-Star Girls Report) on Achonwa...
"Natalie already has a college-made body and possesses tremendous upside. She's going to surprise a lot of people at the college level."
All-Star Girls Report evaluation of Achonwa...
"Athletic, strong body, long arms, nice shot, good passer, can put on the floor, can go coast to coast, shoots 3, plays hard, smart player, good upside."
Dan Olson (Director, Collegiate Girls Basketball Report) on Achonwa...
"... considered the country's top player. Achonwa has the physical attributes capable of playing at the next level and offers tremendous versatility to her game."
Collegiate Girls Basketball Report evaluation of Achonwa...
"Athletic, mobile insider displays nimble footwork in the post, lateral quicks, faceup-4 game to the arc, active on glass; emerging faceup game with attacking perimeter skills, superior size at position."
ESPN Hoopgurlz (May 2009 evaluation) on Achonwa...
"Big-time wing prospect with a pro-ready body in high school. Fundamental skills are top notch as is her basketball I.Q. What she lacks in lateral foot speed she makes up for with smarts and strength. She passes the ball well, even off the dribble, she has poise with the ball and can knock down long range jumpers. Canadian players are not currently included in the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred, but competes in line with U.S. players in the top 25."
ARIEL BRAKER, 6-1, Forward (Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich./Grosse Pointe North High School)
Statistics/Records: Entering fourth season at Grosse Pointe North High School (combined record of 70-9, .886) in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., where she has been a three-year letterwinner and mainstay for head coach Gary Bennett ... has helped team to 2007-08 Michigan Class A state title, as well as two regional championships (and one regional runner-up finish), three district crowns and three conference titles (undefeated in league play past two seasons) ... as junior in 2008-09, averaged 12.3 ppg., 8.1 rpg., 4.3 spg. and 2.4 apg., after suffering a knee injury during AAU ball the previous summer ... as sophomore in 2007-08 (state title season), averaged 16.0 ppg., 11.0 rpg., 7.2 spg. and 3.8 apg. ... as freshman in 2006-07, averaged 10.6 ppg., 8.8 rpg., 5.0 spg. and 3.4 apg. ... currently holds eight school records, including: rebounds in game (24), steals in a game (12), rebounds in season (271), steals in season (181), free throws made in season (96) and free throws attempted in season (163) ... found great AAU success playing for Michigan Shock/Pistons and head coach John Ciszewski ... helped AAU teams to four consecutive top-10 finishes at AAU Division I Nationals from 2006-09 (best was third in 2008), as well as two adidas Deep South Classic titles (2008 U17 select, 2009) and four AAU state championships ... averaged 19.7 points, 15.3 rebounds, 6.7 steals and 5.3 assists per game during final three seasons of AAU career (led team in scoring each year) ... also a standout high jumper at GPN, qualifying for state meet as a sophomore in 2008.
Awards/Honors: Detroit News Class A Player of the Year (2008) ... Detroit Free Press Final Four All-Tournament Team (2007) ... two-time Detroit News Dream Team selection (2007, 2008) ... three-time Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan (BCAM) Class A all-state (2006 - third team, 2007 and 2008 - first team when renamed "BCAM's Best") ... three-time all-metro selection (2006, 2007, 2008) ... three-time MAC Red Conference MVP and all-conference pick (2006, 2007, 2008) ... two-time team captain (2008, 2009) ... ranked 41st by All-Star Girls Report (eighth among wing forwards), 42nd by Blue Star Basketball, and 84th by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report (14th among small forwards).
Personal Data: Born July 11, 1991 ... daughter of Veronica and Daniel Braker ... one of five children, growing up in Evansville, Ind. ... will become 16th player from state of Michigan to suit up for Notre Dame, second only to Indiana's 19 residents on the Fighting Irish all-time roster ... will join Notre Dame sophomore forward/2008 Michigan Miss Basketball Kellie Watson (Ionia, Mich./Ionia HS) as current Michigan residents on Notre Dame roster, while sophomore forward Erica Solomon spent some of her formative years in the Detroit area and graduated from Detroit Country Day School (Beverly Hills, Mich.) in 2008 before her family moved back to her birthplace of Charleston, W.Va., last year ... some other notable Michiganders who have played basketball at Notre Dame include: Jeannine Augustin (Rochester/starting point guard on 1997 Final Four team), Letitia Bowen (Buchanan/holder of school's career rebounding average record at 8.8 rpg.) and Julie Henderson (Ann Arbor/ranks among program's all-team leaders with 130 games played) ... one of two members of Notre Dame Class of 2010 (along with Natalie Achonwa) who have played multiple sports in high school -- seven of the 14 current Fighting Irish players also were two-sport prep standouts, six of whom (Solomon, Watson, Becca Bruszewski, Skylar Diggins, Brittany Mallory and Fraderica Miller) will be returning in 2010-11 ... currently coaches U13 girls' basketball team near home ... also competed in gymnastics for four years ... has read every book in the Twilight series ... has designs on studying international business at Notre Dame.
Coach McGraw on Braker...
"Ariel is going to help us in the press. She can rebound, she can run and she gives us some really good size."
Bret McCormick (Analyst, All-Star Girls Report) on Braker...
"Ariel is a disruptive defender. She's one of the best in the country at getting out in the passing lanes."
All-Star Girls Report evaluation of Braker...
"Very athletic, wiry, long arms, runs well, can put on the floor & score going left or right, good rebounder, good length disrupts offenses, step out to 15', can go coast to coast, good passer."
Dan Olson (Director, Collegiate Girls Basketball Report) on Braker...
"Ariel Braker emerges as the ultra-athletic perimeter threat with untapped potential."
Collegiate Girls Basketball Report evaluation of Braker...
"Slender and ultra-athletic tweener, active, catches in traffic, quick leaper with wide wingspan, offensive rebounds, developing midrange game, mobile in uptempo."
KAYLA McBRIDE, 5-11, Guard (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy)
Statistics/Records: Beginning her fourth year, third as a starter, at Villa Maria Academy (combined record of 78-13, .857) in Erie, Pa., where she has been coached by Scott Dibble ... recently helped VMA to 27-3 record and 2009 Pennsylvania Class AA state championship, while team rose as high as 15th in ESPN Hoopgurlz East Region rankings during season ... as junior in 2008-09, posted team highs of 17.3 ppg., 7.8 rpg. and 4.6 apg., along with 3.1 spg. and .820 free throw percentage ... as sophomore in 2007-08, sparked top-ranked team in Pennsylvania to 24-5 record while averaging 13.0 ppg., 6.8 rpg., 4.5 apg., 3.1 spg. and shooting .730 from foul line ... as freshman in 2006-07, served as top reserve ("sixth man") on Pennsylvania Class AA state runner-up squad that went 27-5; she averaged 6.7 ppg., 4.3 rpg., 1.6 spg. and 1.3 apg. with a .740 free throw percentage that season ... enters senior year with 1,111 career points, only 293 shy of school's all-time record ... tallied career highs of 32 points and 14 rebounds in the same game -- a victory last season over Oak Hill Academy (Va.), which was ranked 16th in the nation at tipoff ... VMA has earned three consecutive preseason No. 1 rankings in Pennsylvania Class AA (including 2009-10), while collecting one state title, two state finals appearances and three consecutive district championships in McBride's career ... also sharpened her skills on AAU circuit playing the past three years for Erie Irish AAU under head coach Doug Chuzie, following one season with the Western Pennsylvania Bruins (coached by Hal Kestler).
Awards/Honors: Two-time Sporting News preseason honorable mention All-American (2009, 2010) ... 2009 Pennsylvania Class AA Player of the Year ... two-time all-state selection (2008 - third team, 2009 - first team) ... two-time first-team all-region pick (2008, 2009) ... 2007 Western Pennsylvania Freshman of the Year and recipient of the Swintayla Cash Award ... ranked 20th by both ESPN Hoopgurlz (fourth among shooting guards) and Blue Star Basketball ... ranked 22nd by All-Star Girls Report (also fourth among shooting guards) ... ranked 67th by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report (10th among shooting guards).
Personal Data: Born June 25, 1992 ... daughter of LuAnn and Lamont McBride ... oldest of four children ... will become fifth Pennsylvania resident to join Notre Dame women's basketball program, and the first since two-time honorable mention All-America wing Charel Allen (Monessen/Monessen HS) from 2004-08 ... hails from same hometown as Notre Dame assistant coach Angie Potthoff-Barber, who was a standout player at Mercyhurst Prep from 1989-93 (leading the school to a state title in 1991) and is a member of the Erie Metropolitan Sports Hall of Fame.
Coach McGraw on McBride...
"Kayla is going to be a really valuable person for us, particularly when Lindsay (Schrader) and Ashley (Barlow) graduate, because she's a mix of the two. She has the potential to be a McDonald's All-American this year, and we think that she can come in and make an impact for us right away."
Bret McCormick (Analyst, All-Star Girls Report) on McBride...
"Kayla has really stepped her game up and had a great summer. I believe she has a great career ahead of her at Notre Dame."
All-Star Girls Report evaluation of McBride...
"Good athlete, long arms, slashes to the rim & finishes, nice shot, good handles & passer, shoots 3 ,combo guard good b-ball IQ ,can score & distribute, true gym rat, loves the game, reminds me of (former Maryland guard) Marissa Coleman."
Dan Olson (Director, Collegiate Girls Basketball Report) on McBride...
"Kayla McBride gives the Irish additional backcourt size and a definite scoring punch."
Collegiate Girls Basketball Report evaluation of McBride...
"Off-guard with size at position, lead-guard mentality with unselfish demeanor, scorer's mentality with 1-on-1 creative game, range to the arc, deceptive quicks, court awareness; postup game vs. mismatch."