Iowa Eight: Will Valley freshman be state’s biggest hoops recruit?
If you’re a basketball fan and haven’t heard of Zoe Young yet, trust me, you will.
Young, who turns 15 on Dec. 15, is a secret to most of the state. But she’s already known to big-time college basketball coaches across the country.
The West Des Moines Valley ninth-grader attends Valley Southwoods freshman school. She’s likely the best-known girl to walk the hallways there since Olympian Shawn Johnson.
Young already visualizes a path to basketball superstardom — a Division I college, the U.S. Olympic team and a career in the WNBA.
“Right now, it’s just the foundation,” Young said. “I definitely don’t want to peak where I’m at now.”
Young is part of the Des Moines Sunday Register’s Iowa Eight, the best players in Iowa. She’s joined by fellow college athletes of the future: Mason City’s Makenzie Meyer, Linn-Mar of Marion’s Amanda Ollinger, Davenport North’s Jinaya Houston, Western Dubuque of Epworth’s Megan Maahs, Waukee’s Reilly Jacobson, Indianola’s Grace Berg and Pocahontas Area’s Elle Ruffridge.
Before Young played her first varsity game, the 5-foot-10 guard already received four Division I scholarship offers: Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan State and Louisville.
ESPN.com ranks her as one of the top 25 players in the nation in the Class of 2019.
She tried out for Team USA’s 16-and-under team. She survived until the final cut was made, competing against some of the nation’s best players, most of them older than her.
Young gives glimpses of her potential when she lofts in a 3-pointer or grabs a rebound and goes coast to coast for a layup.
The ceiling? Through the roof.
“It’s one dribble from the 3-point line,” Valley coach Joe Sigrist said. “It’s two steps and it’s a layup.”
Few ninth-graders get such attention so early.
Amanda Zimmerman of Ballard of Huxley committed to Iowa State before her freshman year. Jaime Printy of Linn-Mar of Marion said she planned to play at Iowa when she was just a ninth-grader.
Unlike those two, however, Young is showing no sign of picking a school that early.
The national recruiting and wooing process started when she was a seventh-grader. Indiana called for her.
“Oh yeah, it was crazy,” Young said.
What do these colleges — and there are many more lining up to talk — know about a player who is just starting to draw high school crowds?
It’s potential. They’re banking on Young filling some mighty big Nikes when she’s ready for college.
“When you’re talking about schools like Louisville, they’re not making a lot of mistakes in their recruiting,” said Ankeny Centennial coach Scott DeJong, who has won six state championships.
But before Young was wearing out her basketball shoes, she preferred skates.
Zoe on ice didn’t want to switch to the basketball court. Eventually, that changed.
“At first, I hated basketball, because it took me away from figure skating,” Young said. “It kind of clicked at a certain point.”
Young realized she was picking up the sport easier than other girls her age.
Her parents, Edward and Helena, guided her as she developed.
“I’ve been incredibly blessed with my parents,” Young said. “They’re not only my biggest fans, but my biggest critics.”
She also took the advice of her club coach, Jake Sullivan of Kingdom Hoops.
“He always says you can be the best you want to be,” Young said.
She played at camps at Kentucky, Michigan and Indiana.
Young found herself sitting next to Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma at one event.
Ever confident, she hit him up on Snapchat.
“Hey, Geno,” Young typed.
Valley was the state runner-up in Class 5A last season. Young wants to be part of the last team standing on that court in March.
She wants to keep growing as a player, too.
The national college powers will continue the pursuit, while Iowans learn about who she is.
Young has suited up and is ready for the show to start.
“The lights go on and she really turns it on,” Sigrist said.
OTHER FRESHMEN TO WATCH
National recruiting expert Dan Olson identified four other ninth-graders who could draw a lot of attention:
Grace Cumming, Roosevelt: A 6-2 post player with a wingspan of 6-5. She's ranked No. 34 nationally.
Maggie McGraw, Indianola: Has good size for a guard, at 5-10.
Megan Meyer, Mason City: A 5-8 point guard whose older sister, Makenzie, is an all-stater.
Justice Ross, D.M. East: A 5-10 forward who can make an impact.
THE IOWA EIGHT TEAM
Why she’s in the Iowa Eight: Berg is a dynamic star who can play any position on the court. She scored 16 points a game last season as a freshman, guiding Indianola to the Class 4A state tournament. Berg topped her team in rebounding and blocked shots as well as scoring.
School: Davenport North
Why she’s in the Iowa Eight: Houston announced plans to play at the University of Iowa prior to the start of the season. She scored 21.4 points a game last season and helped Davenport North to a 17-5 record. Offers great size in the backcourt.
Why she’s in the Iowa Eight: The North Dakota State recruit led Waukee to the Class 5A state championship last season. Scored 16.8 points a game last season. Led her team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. Combines good size with agility. Able to play close to the basket or on the wing.
School: Western Dubuque
Why she’s in the Iowa Eight: Maahs, a Northern Iowa recruit, has led Western Dubuque of Epworth to back-to-back state runner-up finishes. She averaged 13 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game last season and helped her team to a 25-1 record.
School: Mason City
Why she’s in the Iowa Eight: Tremendous shooter who averaged more than 20 points a game last season. The first-team Des Moines Sunday Register all-state selection is an Iowa recruit. She sank 47 3-pointers last season. A four-year starter, she’s already played in two state tournaments.
School: Linn-Mar (Marion)
Why she’s in the Iowa Eight: An Iowa recruit who is strong enough to crash the boards but able to step out to the 3-point line. Averaged about 15 points a game. Ranked No. 90 among 2016 players nationwide by ESPN. Also an all-state volleyball player.
School: Pocahontas Area
Why she’s in the Iowa Eight: Ruffridge could threaten the state’s all-time scoring record before she graduates. She’s already racked up 1,345 points in two seasons. The Iowa career best of 2,756 was set by Deb Remmerde of Rock Valley, who graduated in 2003. Ruffridge averaged 27.1 points last season.
School: W.D.M. Valley
Why she’s in the Iowa Eight: Young is one of the state’s most-watched freshmen. She scored 13 points and hit three 3-pointers in her high school debut vs. Des Moines North Nov. 24. A top-flight recruit, she’s already received four Division I scholarship offers.
NEARLY THREE DECADES OF WATCHING STARS
Reporter John Naughton has covered girls’ high school basketball for the Register since 1988.
During that time he’s seen and interviewed hundreds of future Division I athletes, stars that went on to college fame.
John’s take on some of the state’s top college recruits in that time:
Kiah Stokes, Linn-Mar (Marion)
John’s comments: With a post-high school career at NCAA champion UConn and the WNBA’s New York Liberty, Stokes has one of the most impressive resumes of any Iowan. She was very poised and mature as a teenager and was raised in a basketball-loving family (her dad is former Hawkeye Greg Stokes). She played for a state title team at Linn-Mar in 2010. Her future college coach, the legendary Geno Auriemma, was in the stands at Wells Fargo Arena that week. It was fun to interview him there. Stokes was a McDonald’s All-American. She was a first-round draft pick after playing for three NCAA championship squads at UConn.
Gillian Goring, Waterloo West
John’s comments: When you’re talking about big recruits, Goring fits the bill. At 6-7, she was a towering sensation when she arrived at West for the 2001-02 season. The native of Trinidad made an impact in her only season in Iowa. I’ve covered several players that were near Goring’s height, but have never seen a high school girl with that sort of presence. I held up my hand to hers and Goring’s fingers were several inches longer. She earned all-America honors in high school. She was courted by UConn but ended up playing at North Carolina State.
Shelley Sheetz, Cedar Rapids Kennedy
John’s comments: Sheetz was a big-time recruit, one of the top players in Iowa’s early days of five-on-five basketball. She graduated in 1991, earning Miss Iowa Basketball honors. One of the games she’s most remembered for was a state tournament loss to Cedar Falls when she scored 35 points. What a fiery competitor. Sheetz went on to play at Colorado.
Tammi Blackstone, Cherokee
John’s comments: One of my favorite girls’ basketball memories was watching Blackstone dunk in warm-ups. I interviewed her several times in her high school career and kept track of her pursuit of mastering the dunk. At first, she grabbed the rim; that transitioned to dunking a tennis ball. By her senior year, the Drake recruit threw down the ball in warm-ups. She never was able to do so during a high school game, but it was a remarkable thing to see it done in any circumstances. Blackstone graduated in 1996. She was named our Female High School Athlete of the Year. When I visited her home, her mom told her to pick me some sweet corn from the family garden. Some of the best corn I’ve eaten.
Stephanie Rich, Washington
John’s comments: Rich played on three state championship teams and went on to a college career in Wisconsin. She always seemed very mature for her age. She always referred to me by my first name, once she got to know me. Rich, who graduated in 2001, had a memorable final game at the state tournament. When she left the championship, a big grin on her face, she leaped to the team bench to greet her coach. I had to smile, too.