Women's Basketball 2014 Recruiting: UCLA signs Number One-rated class

November 14, 2013

Good news seems to be emerging from Westwood all the time these days, as UCLA's football program is resurgent and nationally-relevant again, and its baseball team just won the national title. Now the Bruins women's basketball team also appears ready to join the party.

UCLA women's basketball coach Cori Close announced the signing of five highly-rated high school standouts that will give the Bruins the top rated recruiting class in the country according to such recruiting services as ESPN’s HoopGurlz, Blue Star Basketball, and Prospects Nation.   All five signees are considered Top 40 players, with three ranked in the Top 10 nationally.

"It’s with great humility and excitement and passion all wrapped up into one that I welcome this incredible class of Bruins," Coach Close said. "I’m just so excited for how this puzzle of five incredibly gifted young ladies on and off the court fit together to help continue to grow our program here at UCLA. I really want to say thank you to the administration, to the support staff and to all of the people who worked so hard to put us in a position to have the first ever No. 1 recruiting class in this program’s history."

The class consists of Jordin Canada (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward HS), Recee’ Caldwell (San Antonio, Texas/FEAST), Lajahna Drummer (Inglewood, Calif./Long Beach Poly), Kelli Hayes (San Jose, Calif./Archbishop Mitty HS) and Monique Billings (Corona, Calif./Santiago HS). The quintet consists of both guards and forwards, and will enter UCLA in the fall of 2014 as freshmen.

Canada, a 5-6 point guard and a consensus Top 10 player, averaged 17 points, 8 assists, 5 steals and 4 rebounds per game in the 2012-13 season, helping lead her team to a CIF Division 4AA state championship with a 30-0 record.  She was named the Los Angeles Times Player of the Year in 2012-13 as a junior, and won a gold medal with Team USA’s U16 squad in 2011.

"Jordin is an automatic nightmare for any defense," Close said. "Her quickness and her ability to get into the seams of the defense affect both sides of the ball. The fact that I’m able to be her coach is pretty spectacular. Her whole entire family understands the mission of UCLA and the mission of our women’s basketball program. Jordin is really special in the way that she can play at high speeds and make the defense make choices, and she’s an absolutely selfless distributor of the basketball. She’ll have an opportunity to make an immediate impact."

Caldwell, a 5-9 point guard, was named to the 2012 Texas Association of Basketball Coaches All-State Team, and was also on the Team USA U16 squad with Canada that won a gold medal. She is also considered a Top 10 player.

"Recee’ really was the start of the domino effect in this recruiting class," Close said. "She was the first one to get on board and say ‘I want to be a part of this special thing at UCLA.’ The very first time I talked to her, she attempted to give me an 8-clap over the phone to show me her history of loving UCLA. It still needs work, but she grew up loving the Bruins. She and her family were probably our best recruiters of the class. Recee’ has great leadership, shoots the basketball really well and stretches the defense. She is very vocal and has a great basketball IQ, far beyond her years. We’re really lucky to have her and Jordin (Canada) in our backcourt."

Drummer, a physical 6-1 forward, averaged 16.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 blocks, and 2.2 steals per game during the 2012-13 season for the St. Bernard Vikings. She will be attending Long Beach Poly for her senior year.  Drummer is ranked as one of the Top 10 players in the country by most recruiting services.

"Lajahna is a woman among girls in high school," Close said. "She will have such an immediate impact in terms of the physicality of the game and how hard she plays. People will have to match her intensity and it will raise the level of our practices, let alone the level of our games. You usually have to teach, even great players, the speed and how hard you have to play at the next level. Lajahna will not need to be taught that. Not only is she fast, but she’s powerful and aggressive. She’s developed a great mid-range jumper. She takes pride in how hard she plays and loves to compete and win. I feel like her competitive drive is going to be such a fuel behind what this class wants to accomplish."

Hayes, a 6-0 guard, averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game in the 2012-13 season, helping lead her team to the Division II state championship. She is ranked as one of the Top 50 players in the country by most recruiting services.

"Kelli Hayes is such an unsung hero," Close said. "She does all of the non-statistical things that are the difference between winning and losing. She has a great IQ and will defend any place on the floor. She can score from the deep jumper to the post up and is very versatile. She’s a walking mismatch. What she can do in terms of her on court giftedness is spectacular but her work ethic and her leadership is what puts her into a special category. She’s a rope holder; she gets all the people on the same rope and makes sure everybody is connected. Kelli Hayes’ impact on our program will not only be deep, but it will also be wide."

Billings, an athletic 6-4 forward, averaged 12.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.3 steals per game in the 2012-13 season, helping lead her team to a CIF-SS Division 1AA championship with a 28-2 record.  Billings is ranked as one of the Top 40 players in the country by most recruiting services.

"Monique Billings is one of the most spectacular athletes I’ve ever seen," Close said. "She has a tremendous spring off the floor and is very quick. She’s a great player now, but her potential could go to absolutely new heights. Her upside is almost indescribable. She can shoot the basketball, she can run the floor, and she’s a phenomenal shot blocker not only in her rise but also in her timing. She’s just so athletic. She can guard a point guard or she can guard a five. It really doesn’t matter, her athleticism and her length, it’s very impactful on both sides of the ball."

Coach Close noted that UCLA's rich tradition of success in men's basketball served as a motivating force for this group of talented recruits.

 “I’m the one who deserves the least amount of credit and I’m the most grateful because a lot of people worked really hard to get this class here,” Close added. “All five of them walked into Pauley Pavilion and looked up and appreciated the history of what had come before them and saw the banners hanging from the rafters and noticed that not one of those is an NCAA women’s basketball national championship. They make no bones about it, they are coming here to change that. It will take great sacrifice and drive, and they know what’s ahead of them. They’re ready to put their stamp on this incredible place.”

Other recruiting news: Long Beach State signs two guards

Long Beach State women’s basketball head coach Jody Wynn announced the signing Thursday of guards Jessica Gertz (Oregon City, Ore.) and Cecily Wilson (Gilbert, Ariz.). The duo will join the 49ers in 2014-15.

Gertz, a 5-10 guard, was named the MVP of the End of the Trail River City Classic, after averaging 22.1 points for Oregon City Black.

“Jess is a pure shooter and a born winner,” Wynn said. “She stems from one of the greatest high school girls’ basketball programs in the nation under coach Kurt Guelsdorf. Oregon City has a long line of young women who have graduated and gone on to play college basketball. Jess is a leader on and off the court, and has learned how to win at a young age. Her quick shot release will really benefit her at our level, and when you add her winning mentality and relentless work ethic, Jess will be a wonderful asset to our program.”

Wilson, a 5-8 guard, averaged 13.5 points and 2.5 assists per game, earning first-team all-city and all-district honors.

“CeCe fits in very well with our team and is a great worker and student of the game,” Wynn said. “She is a tremendous athlete and a tenacious defender who really gets after it. She sees the floor well, makes her teammates better, and also has a very good mid-range game. We are thrilled Cecily is a 49er and we know she will develop into a fantastic player for The Beach.”

By Staff of The Daily Sports Herald and news services

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