Fairland's Stapleton signs to play at Michigan
PROCTORVILLE, Ohio -- Fairland High School principal Jon Bradley played the Ohio State fight song as he passed girls basketball player Terra Stapleton in the hall.
Another teacher said, "Go Bucks" and grinned as he passed Stapleton in the school office.
"I'm getting that a lot today," said Stapleton, the Dragons all-state center who celebrated her signing with the University of Michigan Wednesday in the FHS library.
Stapleton, the Division III player of the year in Ohio as a sophomore, signed with the Wolverines, Ohio State's arch-rival. She considered the Buckeyes and several other schools, but said she felt at home in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The 6-foot-4 senior committed to Big Ten rival Minnesota in October 2012, but changed her mind earlier this month, desiring to play closer to home. Minneapolis is 860 miles, or about 14-plus hours by car, from here. Ann Arbor is 328 miles, about a six-hour drive.
"People kept telling me Ohio State's less than three hours away," Stapleton said with a laugh. "They were interested in me, but their play wasn't my kind of play. Michigan plays a more physical style and they needed a center. I just fell in love with their campus. Their coaches stay on you to help you get better and they're passionate."
Minnesota offered similar qualities, but in the end, distance was the determining factor for the family minded Stapleton.
"It had nothing to do with Minnesota," said Stapleton, her long blonde hair flowing over her yellow Michigan hoodie. "I loved Minnesota. It's just in the past year I've really grown closer to my family. I'm really close to my grandma (Gloria Stapleton) and my cousin Maddox and my parents.
"I knew that Minnesota was a long way for my grandmother to come see me play. Michigan is a lot closer. Plus, my dad is a big Michigan fan."
Stapleton has averaged 18.1 points. 11.9 rebounds and 4.5 blocked shots per game in two seasons at Fairland. ESPN ranked her as the 16th-best post player in the 2013-14 recruiting class. Stapleton is the tallest recruit in the Wolverines' five-player signing class, which features players from Long Beach, Calif.; the Bronx, N.Y.; Germantown, Md.; and Point Pleasant, N.J.
"We're excited to add a player like Terra to our already great class," Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "The one thing we were missing with this group was some size, and Terra will bring that to our team. She will be able to give us a presence on the low block both offensively and defensively while also helping us on the glass. She will be a wonderful addition to our team."
Fairland coach Jon Buchanan said he is thrilled Stapleton will play in the Big Ten Conference.
"A lot of schools recruited her," Buchanan said. "Schools from the Big East, Conference USA, the Mid-American, the Horizon. Ever since she was in Buddy League, though, she set a goal to play at the highest level of college basketball. The Big Ten is one of the top three or four conferences for women's basketball. We're very proud of her."
Fairland has produced several women's college players, including Deanna Carter, Julie Curry, Brenda Dillon and Kim Crager.
Whether Stapleton is the best, Buchanan declined to say.
"It's up for debate because there have been so many great players here," Buchanan said. "Will Terra play at the highest level? Yes. She's the best player on the best team Fairland ever had. We've gone 20-0 twice with her. Credential-wise, I'd say yes."
Stapleton plans to major in sports management or special education. She said she has many people to thank for pushing her to be her best, including her family, Buchanan, AAU coach Larry Lambert (deceased), Fairland's fans, Brenda Dillon and her Buddy League coach, Kenny Dillon.
"When I first played basketball, I scored in the wrong basket," Stapleton said. "I knew so little about basketball. I was a softball player.
"Larry Lambert saw something in me and the others helped me get where I am."