LINCOLN — It might have been the worst week in Allie Havers’ otherwise sterling athletic career. But it’s how the curious recruiting case of NU’s top women’s basketball newcomer begins. It’s the summer of 2012, and the 6-foot-5 forward from Mattawan, Mich., had just joined a Detroit-based summer AAU team for a tournament in Chicago. A three-sport star who was all-state in volleyball and softball, Havers had spent most of her year away from the club hoops scene.
She’d just decommitted from Michigan, which had switched coaches, and was looking to impress new suitors. If not, a college volleyball career likely awaited. Ohio State wanted her as a middle blocker.
Havers knew it’d be a long tournament when she took a 3-pointer and the coach yelled, “No!” Havers was a 33 percent 3-point shooter, but the AAU coach had no clear sense of her skill set. Indiana and Illinois coaches pulled their scholarship offers based on her absence from the games.
“I didn’t know any of the girls on the team, and they didn’t know anything about me,” Havers said. “I played two minutes a game.”
Good thing Nebraska assistant Shimmy Gray-Miller — new to her job as NU’s lead recruiter — was watching Havers in warmups. Yes, warmups. Gray-Miller noticed athleticism, a nice shot, some dribbling ability. She saw a player who might fit into the Huskers’ perimeter-oriented system.
Gray-Miller followed up. NU coaches sat down to watch Havers’ highlight tape.
“I thought ‘this kid is, like, really good!’?” Gray-Miller said.
Next to watch was NU head coach Connie Yori.
“She’s watching it, watching it, rewind, watch, watch, rewind,” Gray-Miller said. “And then Connie said, ‘she’d be great in our system. We’ve got to get this kid.’
“There’s not always a science to recruiting. This one just kind of happened. And we got really, really lucky.”
Just how lucky may depend on how quickly Havers strengthens a lanky frame that worked perfectly for being all-state in three sports but may get banged around some in the rugged Big Ten. Still, Nebraska seems confident that Havers — who averaged 19.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in her senior year at Mattawan — is a steal, a cross between the Huskers’ two best current players, Jordan Hooper and Emily Cady, with three inches of height on either one of them. And Havers, ranked as the nation’s No. 76 player by Blue Star, could be the best all-around athlete of the three.
“She’s a beast,” Gray-Miller said.
Check the record:
>> In softball, she led Mattawan, a town of less than 2,000 residents, to two Division I state titles in her last three seasons. First she played shortstop. As a senior, she was asked to be the team’s top pitcher, so she finished 25-5 with a 1.14 ERA, while hitting .354 with five home runs. In the 2-1 state title win over Bay City Western this June, Havers struck out 11 and brought in the winning run on a suicide squeeze bunt.
How did Havers play shortstop at 6-5?
“I had the length!” she said, stretching out her arms. “I just had to lay out. I loved diving. If you’re going to play shortstop, you have to cover some ground. I think I did that pretty well.”
>> In volleyball, she was nominated for state Miss Volleyball as a middle blocker, winning all-state honors as a senior. She was second-team all-state as a sophomore and junior.
>> In basketball, Havers didn’t always have a consistent supporting cast and sometimes played every position. Still, she finished her career with 1,561 points, 1,015 rebounds, a school-record 348 blocks and 174 steals. As a senior, she had her tonsils removed and lost weight, but missed just one game. She was, again, all-state in Michigan’s largest class and nominated for Miss Basketball.
She said she’s “very happy” with her high school career. She had moved to Mattawan as a grade-schooler and torn a path through youth athletics that might be hard to duplicate. She moved from softball being her top sport to volleyball and finally to basketball. Of the three, she said, basketball is the best team sport and the one most suited to “being creative.”
Havers resisted the push to specialize in volleyball or basketball, the sports in which she had strong college potential. Softball, she said, helped her develop better footwork in basketball. And she loved the team too much to leave it before she had to. Yori supported Havers playing softball deep into the summer, delaying her arrival in Lincoln until July 19.
“Credit to Connie for encouraging that,” Gray-Miller said. “Allie was concerned, because the softball season ran so long. But Connie was like, ‘Go for it. Do it.’?”
Havers said she’s now ready to lock in on one sport. First stop: the weight room. There’s strength to build and weight to gain. She made considerable improvements in high school, where as a freshman, she said, she could lift only a 45-pound bench bar.
“It’s going to take a game for me to realize how much stronger I need to get,” Havers said. “But I’m stronger than people think.”
Because NU’s defensive strategy usually calls for fronting a bigger post player, Havers’ length should create difficult entry passes. She’s versatile enough to extend her defense on perimeter shooters, too. On offense, her game seems similar to Cady’s. Havers shot 70 percent from the free-throw line in high school and can knock down 3-pointers when asked to do it.
“They’re going to test everywhere but point guard,” she said. “Probably forward. But if there’s a mismatch in size, I’ll probably go down in the post. I’ll have to earn the time for sure, just like everyone.”
Gray-Miller, who helps with Nebraska’s post players, expects Havers to play a lot on a Husker team in need of size against a tough schedule.
“She’s really athletic,” Gray-Miller said. “She doesn’t rebound as well as we would like her to right now, but she can rebound. She’s really good shot blocker.”
>> NOTES: For the 2014 recruiting class, NU has two commits: forward Kaylee Page of Wamego, Kan., and guard Jasmine Cincore of Memphis, Tenn. The Huskers could have room for three more. Gray-Miller said Nebraska continues to look at adding more post players and potentially a point guard to eventually back up Rachel Theriot.
“We definitely need some help inside,” Gray-Miller said. “We’d like to sign a big, big post player. We’ll be fine at point this year — Rachel’s going to take the point — but we’d like to sign a point guard. But we really need some size. We’ll be the smallest team in the Big Ten this year.”