Stonington's Standout Hits The Books And The Boards
Stonington -- In Stonington Borough and well beyond, word of Heather Buck's announcement rang true.
It was clearest here and in Storrs maybe, but there was no mistaking it in Worcester and College Park and Palo Alto either.
Buck, the senior-to-be at Stonington High School and reigning statewide girls' basketball player of the year, would be taking her game to the University of Connecticut in 2008. Hallelujah.
Four more years (after the one that's coming up) of watching Heather. Two, count 'em two, Stonington grads playing for the Huskies, the five-time national champions with the Hall of Fame coach.
And to think it all came down during a Quiet Period.
At least that's what the NCAA, college athletics' governing body, calls Aug. 1 to Sept. 15, a stretch during which college coaches are prohibited from making off-campus contact with recruits.
Buck shattered the quiet Aug. 23 when she informed coaches at the last four schools in the running for her services — UConn, Holy Cross, Maryland and Stanford — that she had decided to stay where the nutmeg grows.
Her verbal commitment, announced publicly two days later, made it, she said, “unofficially official.”
Since then, “everyone's been coming up and congratulating me,” Buck said last week during an interview in her family's Hyde Street home in the borough. “People are really happy I'm staying so close to home.”
She's heard that, she said, from her family, the kids and teachers at school, from the parents of former and current Stonington players, from, well, just about everyone she runs into.
“I knew people were following the process,” she said. “Some of them had put in a word for UConn.”
Surprising observers and even herself a bit, Buck reached her decision without making what the NCAA terms an official recruiting visit, one that takes place over no more than 48 hours and is paid for by the school being visited. She said she'd learned all she needed to know about UConn from unofficial visits.
Having put the decision behind her, Buck is excited about what lies ahead.
“I get to go through senior year without thinking about it,” she said. “It's reassuring to know it's over, that nothing's going to fall through. I can just focus on getting ready (to play at UConn).”
Buck, who says she's “a center by default” because of her 6-foot-4 frame, has yet to discuss the role she's likely to play at UConn because of rules limiting contact between recruiters and recruits. (UConn coach Geno Auriemma cannot comment on Buck until she signs a National Letter of Intent to attend UConn in exchange for an athletic scholarship, which she plans to do in mid-November, making it “officially official.”) Nevertheless, she figures she'll play a lot of power forward and maybe some small forward.
“I'm 6 feet 3 and three-eighths, which I round to 6-4,” Buck said, noting that she gained an inch-and-a-half during her freshman year. She said her mother, Mayada Wadsworth, is a little more than 6 feet while her father, David Buck, is 6-4 to 6-5. Her 23-year-old brother Matt is a quarter-inch taller than her.
“I was always the tallest girl in class,” Buck said. “Since the seventh grade, I've been the tallest kid, boy or girl. The boys have been catching up.”
Elena Delle Donne of Wilmington, Del., rated the top high school player in the nation in the Class of 2008, has also verbally committed to UConn. A guard, she's 6-5. The Huskies' other recruits include 5-11 guards Caroline Doty of Pottstown, Pa., and Tiffany Hayes of Winter Haven, Fla., both of whom Buck met this summer at the USA Basketball Women's Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Buck has also met the current UConn players, and is eager to be reunited with her former Stonington teammate, Jacquie Fernandes, who will be a junior when Buck arrives in Storrs.
“I've talked to Jacquie about the transition I'll have to make,” she said. “There's a lot more conditioning and lifting I'll have to do. Having her there will really be helpful.”
Fernandes was one of four former high school teammates Buck called to tell she'd chosen UConn. The four — including Morgan Rein, Kasey Solar and Andrea Buck (no relation to Heather) — were all seniors on the 2005-06 Stonington team that won a state championship. Heather was a sophomore then.
“When I think of that team, that's who I think of,” she said. “We played together for two years, and they taught me how to be a leader. I was the little kid on that team.”
Quiet Period or not, August was a month Buck won't soon forget.
She passed her driver's test on the 15th, and got her license two days later, her mother's birthday. Four days after that she turned 17. Then came her announcement. Her dad's birthday was earlier in August and one of her grandmothers had one later in the month.
So ended a summer in which she participated in the Youth Development Festival and traveled with her AAU team, the Rhode Island Breakers, playing basketball until mid-August. A top student — she was ranked No. 4 in her class of nearly 200 last year — she then had to turn her attention to the advanced-placement courses she's taking this year — calculus, English and biology.
Her summer reading included David Mamet's “Oleanna,” “Henry V” and “Plainsong” by Kent Haruf.
She also plays the upright bass in the high school's jazz band and will serve as a Student Government senior representative, having lost a bid for president in a three-way race.
When school resumed Tuesday, Stonington's upperclassmen weren't due until 10 a.m. Buck, however, climbed the railroad footbridge at the end of her street to reach the bus stop by 6:30 so she could get to school in time to help orient incoming freshmen as a member of the Link Crew.
“They didn't have that when I was a freshman and I wish they had,” she said. “It's really a big transition from middle school to high school. I like helping the freshmen. It's like teaching.”
Teaching, in fact, is a potential career option that interests Buck, as is nursing, though basketball could remain her priority for some time.
Participating in the Youth Development Festival awakened her to the possibility of playing for the U.S. national or Olympic teams after college, she said, and playing professionally, either here or overseas, is her goal.
Another goal, she said, is to have a family and a house with a big yard.
“My brother and I are constantly building our dream houses in our minds,” she said. “Ideally, our houses would back up to the same yard so my kids could play with his kids. We agreed that even if we're not next door, we'll never live more than three hours away from each other.”
Buck said she and her brother are “really close,” as are the other members of an extended family that includes her two grandmothers. She laments the fact that she seldom sees her eight cousins, all older, who are scattered across the country.
She's lived in the Hyde Street duplex all her life. Her brother, an engineer at Davis-Standard in Pawcatuck, lives there, too. One grandmother, Margaret “Meg” Wadsworth, lives in the house next door. Her other grandmother, Lavinia Buck, lived up the hill until she relocated to the StoneRidge Retirement Community on Jerry Browne Road.
David Buck picks up both grandmothers in the family Suburban and takes them and other family members to his daughter's games.
“My family's very supportive of me in everything I do,” Buck said. “I feel free to try anything.”
As for her parents' involvement in her choosing a college, they were “hands off,” she said. “They never shared their preferences, never said you should go here or there. Once I narrowed it to seven in January (a field that included Boston College, Notre Dame and George Washington), they said, 'That's it, you can't see the mail from anywhere else.'
In July, she whittled the list to four.
Then, in August, to one. Article UID=6d79d465-3ce3-42ec-acb7-4f3161a83763
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