Charli Collier: 'I want my family to be able to watch me play'

USWNT's Mallory Pugh, Boston College two-sport star Kenzie Kent and No. 2 women's basketball prospect Charli Collier talk to Julie Foudy about what it means to be in the spotlight at a young age at the 2017 espnW: Women + Sports Summit.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- On her player bio for USA Basketball, Charli Collier listed Tina Charles as her favorite member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic women's basketball team. In the same survey, the University of Texas-bound high school senior compared her game to that of Candace Parker.

But Collier, the No. 2 recruit in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2018 class, can't wait to model her game after another women's hoops legend.

"Tina Thompson will be my position coach [at Texas], and that will be amazing for me," Collier said last week after speaking on a panel at the espnW: Women + Sports Summit. "When she played with the Comets and Cynthia Cooper, just seeing how smooth her game is, I feel like I can pick up from that."

Thompson, a four-time WNBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, retired from playing in 2013 as the WNBA's all-time leading scorer. In March 2015, Thompson was named an assistant on Texas coach Karen Aston's staff, and she was promoted to associate head coach last month. The Longhorns reached the Sweet 16 the past two seasons, including an Elite Eight run in 2016. They are 56-14 since Thompson joined Aston's staff.

Thompson, a 6-foot-2 forward, was the first player in WNBA history to amass 7,000 points and 3,000 rebounds. She also made 748 3-pointers and shot nearly 42 percent from the field in her WNBA career.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Texas-bound recruit Charli Collier recalls watching Tina Thompson dominate in the WNBA -- as well as her "signature lipstick."

"I want to become versatile like that, to have that overall game because it can help you in the long run," said Collier, a 6-foot-5 post player. "I feel like her being the woman that she is outside of basketball, she can help me with life skills as well."

Collier shook up the recruiting world last month when she decommitted from UConn and committed to Texas. Collier originally gave the Longhorns a verbal commitment as an eighth grader. Then she reopened her recruitment in high school and verbally committed to coach Geno Auriemma and the Huskies in November.

But on Sept. 22, Collier's 18th birthday, she announced on Twitter that she had changed her mind, is now headed to Texas and plans to sign her letter of intent on Nov. 8.

"No disrespect to UConn. They're the top team," Collier told HoopGurlz's Dan Olson at the time. "I wish them the best."

According to Collier, the feeling was mutual. When she called Auriemma and UConn assistant Marisa Moseley -- "those were the main two who recruited me" at UConn -- about her change of heart, Collier said both were "really understanding."

"He was really supportive. He said, 'Good luck with the rest of your career,'" Collier said. "He wished the best for me and was really encouraging me to do what's right for me and what's right for my family."

For Collier, that meant staying closer to home. She wants to be part of the program Aston is rebuilding at Texas. Plus, the Longhorns' Austin campus is only three hours from home in Mont Belvieu, Texas. Having family nearby has become increasingly important since her father, Elliott, died during her sophomore year after a battle with cancer. Collier lives with her mom, Ponda, and younger brother, Casey.

"My mom, she's a single mother, and I felt like being with her, being with my family, that's what I need. That's my support group," Collier said. "I want my family to be able to watch me play, and I want to watch my brother grow and play high school football.

"Texas is a great program, and I know UConn is the best program in the country. But I feel like either way, I will be successful."

Collier spoke fondly of her father at the espnW summit and credited him for motivating her throughout her career -- and for the best advice she has ever received.

When she got cut after participating in the 2015 USA Basketball U16 national team trials her freshman year of high school, he reminded her that Michael Jordan was once a 15-year-old who got cut from his school's varsity team.

"That gave me more drive to make the team," Collier said. "I know it's cliché, but his lesson was don't stop trying. If you really want something, you have to go out and get it. That's what I did."

Sure enough, the next year -- after her dad died -- Collier helped the USA Basketball U17 team win a bronze medal at the FIBA World Championship.

Nowadays, Collier is preparing for her senior season, enjoying watching Casey play football and trying to keep it all in perspective. At the espnW Summit, Collier said it's important to remember to have fun with basketball because the recruiting process often felt like a business. That is yet another reason to keep family close.

And, Collier added, on those occasions when a three-hour trip home might not be possible, there's always Thompson.

"If I ever need to, I know I can come to her for anything," Collier said. "I've got to know her over the years. She's just overall a great person."

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