Karissa McLaughlin swamped with suitors after reopening her recruitment
Minutes into her debut game as a freshman, Karissa McLaughlin drained her first high school touch. It was a 3-pointer.
Then she hit another. And another. And another. And another. Without missing. All before the second quarter. Coach Rod Parker turned to one of his assistant coaches at Homestead (Fort Wayne, Indiana) and laughed. McLaughlin had dashed any doubt about starting a freshman.
"She came out in a bang," Parker said. "It was pretty much, 'Here I am. I'm ready to play.'"
McLaughlin did all that while fighting typical first-game nerves.
"After I hit those five 3s in a row, I was like, 'Wow. I can do this,'" McLaughlin said.
Turns out that was just the beginning of a prolific prep career. McLaughlin, the No. 61 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2017 class, racked up 2,586 career points and earned Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year honors earlier this week.
She put an exclamation point on her Spartans career when Homestead topped Pike 61-54 to win the Indiana 4A state title last month. She had 29 points and six assists in the win. McLaughlin went 103-10, including an unblemished 42-0 mark at home, during her time at Homestead.
But McLaughlin's plans took a twist earlier this month when Florida coach Amanda Butler was let go after 10 seasons.
The Gators granted McLaughlin a contact release, allowing her to talk with other schools. That opened a flood of calls from coaches across the country. She's reopened her recruitment, but for now she is still bound by her national letter of intent with Florida.
McLaughlin and Butler have talked since Florida's March 6 announcement.
"I really looked up to her," McLaughlin said. "She'll always be one of my role models and mentors."
Along with the Gators, McLaughlin is considering Michigan, Purdue and Indiana. She'll wait to commit until after Florida hires -- and McLaughlin meets -- its next coach. Destiny Littleton, the No. 33 prospect in the 2017 class, also recently reopened her recruitment after Southern California coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke resigned.
Florida's decision blindsided McLaughlin -- a goofy and outgoing teenager -- who had planned on soaking up the final weeks of her senior year before moving to Gainesville.
After all, Florida logos are everywhere -- from her walls to the car.
"I thought I had my whole future already planned out," McLaughlin said. "I wasn't worrying about anything. I had to restart, kind of. That is kind of upsetting. But I believe everything happens for a reason.
"I think God's going to lead me in the right direction and things are going to happen perfectly -- how they're meant to be."
McLaughlin and her family decided to limit the recruiting scope to a few schools, though roughly 20 BCS colleges showed interest. They'll revisit schools in the coming weeks to refresh their memories and talk more in-depth.
"We don't want to be left at the last second with no options," McLaughlin's father Bert said.
All of McLaughlin's offers didn't come by fluke. Bert, a former coach, taught her the fundamentals -- and sparked her interest. That all came from an early age. She remembers practicing on a hoop in the corner of her dad's practices as a 6-year-old.
"He lowered it down for me," McLaughlin said. "I had to make sure I had my form right, and I wasn't allowed to shoot 3s."
McLaughlin's basketball training took a step forward in seventh grade when she began working out with Vernard Hollins, a local trainer who runs Always 100. She credits Hollins for playing an instrumental role in her success. Opponents recognized her shooting ability, but Hollins helped add elements to make her game dynamic.
"She's relentless in her desire to improve and compete," Parker said.
Beyond basketball, McLaughlin keeps the mood light. Homestead teammates count on her to dance, play music or freestyle lyrics before the biggest games of the season. That's all before she unleashes her deadly 3-point shot -- 46.1 percent last season, to be exact.
"I think I can rap, but really everyone says I can't," McLaughlin said. "Everyone is like, 'OK, Karissa. That's good. Good job.'"
Faith is a big part of McLaughlin's life. She keeps a box of her wishes, prayers and dreams on her desk. When she's down, the messages remind her of the bigger picture.
"We're proud of the way she uses the platform that she has to be a positive influence and express her faith," Bert said.
The oldest of three siblings, Bert can see Karissa working with children one day. McLaughlin, who holds a 4.33 GPA, said in college she wants to study business or sports marketing.
Around Fort Wayne, McLaughlin's popularity is no secret. Young fans clamored for her autograph at the state title game. Some even brought laminated pictures. And for good reason.
Parker said McLaughlin's been a leading force in establishing a winning culture at Homestead.
"It's cool to know that there's younger kids looking up to you and that you're making a difference," McLaughlin said. "I was full of smiles."
Now it's college coaches who are clamoring for her signature, hoping to bring Indiana's top prospect -- not to mention plenty of 3-pointers -- to their campus this fall.
"She's an awesome kid," Nike Lady Gym Rats AAU coach James Banks said. "I wish I could carbon copy and continue to produce her year after year after year.
"I think she did more for us than we could have ever done for her."