For some supertalented seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, this heavy recruiting will result in the last decision about their own futures they will be able to make until many years later -- if they're good and lucky enough to become free agents in the professional leagues. So the pressure to make the wisest, most potentially lucrative decision of which college to attend is intense.
And though they might be the first to come to mind, Tony Temple and Kareem Rush aren't the only local stars to generate such excitement. A flashy all-state guard, one known for crisp, no-look passes and behind-the-back dribbles, faced such a choice not long ago. The top prospect at a powerhouse high school program, this sharpshooter received hundreds of letters and pamphlets from Division I schools.
In 2000, Katie Houlehan was Kansas City's most-wanted baller.
She considered Creighton and Iowa, both reliable athletic juggernauts that would offer her prime exposure and likely postseason play. She thought about South Dakota, which not only had a top-10 team but also would be a getaway school, offering a way to leave the area and her massive family and find herself.
Finally, she mulled over a prospect that offered none of these things:
The school had never made an NCAA tournament.
It drew crowds that were smaller than some Katie had seen in grade school.
It had gone 2-25 the year before and finished with just six scholarship players.
And it was right here in Kansas City, which meant there would be no escaping her family. Her older brothers could still intimidate her dates, and her father's often critical voice would still boom from the stands at every home game.
She weighed her options, and then she chose the University of Missouri-Kansas City, despite the fact that she seemed way out of its league.
Since Katie's arrival, UMKC has experienced a resurgence, drawing more than a thousand fans to home wins over Big 12 opponents such as the University of Kansas and luring other top players from the two-state area. With this fresh talent in place and Katie playing in her junior year, UMKC moved to a best-ever 3-0 conference record and has since extended that mark to 7-0. The program now boasts a credible coaching staff and much-improved facilities, making it even more attractive to future recruits.
And much of it can be traced back to Katie's decision to stay in Kansas City, a choice so many homegrown actors, athletes, artists and musicians have opted against. More so than the Royals and the Chiefs, both made up of myriad mercenaries, or the Tigers and Jayhawks, both stocked with out-of-state ringers, UMKC is Kansas City's team.
And Katie Houlehan is the player who has made it a winner.
There's an eruption high up in the bleachers of Swinney Auditorium on January 12. Down on the court, Katie has made an opponent bite on a faked jumper, then driven and made a sensational left-handed layup.
The source of the booming applause is Katie's father, John Houlehan, who sits in the upper reaches of the stands because he's the sort of fan who can make whole sections of other spectators wince in unison.
Just moments after Katie's layup, at the other end, a Valparaiso guard slips past her, and John explodes again. This time, he sounds less than pleased.