How Kim Mulkey and Baylor landed the top recruiting class in the country

Shakira Austin can't contain her excitement about going to Maryland. Aquira DeCosta explains why she's part of an epic class at Baylor. Before they break out their pens, the nation's top recruits explain what drew them to their future schools.

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NaLyssa Smith was all set to announce her college choice with a live video on Twitter. She had promised her followers that the news would come promptly at 7 p.m. on Sept. 1.

But then her mother asked a simple question: "Are you sure of your decision?"

Boom.

Time was ticking -- it was 6:45 p.m. -- so she quickly gathered her parents and brother, and a free-flowing debate ensued. Smith grabbed a pen and a pad and started scribbling pro-con notes.

Then it was showtime. No time -- nor need -- for a wardrobe adjustment.

Sweating and dressed in layers, Smith sat down in front of the camera with family members in the room behind her. She started peeling off shirts of the schools she was considering until she had on a black shirt that read:

"LOADING ..."

Smith then said "My final decision is ..." She took that loading shirt off and revealed a white, green and yellow T-shirt that read "Baylor."

Screams from her family and colorful confetti provided the punctuation.

Seconds later, one of Smith's viewers called her on FaceTime.

It was Baylor coach Kim Mulkey.

"She said she can't wait to start working with me," Smith said.

Mulkey had no way of knowing it, but Smith was the first of five such celebrations for the Lady Bears. All five of those recruits signed on Wednesday, and all five are ranked among the top 30 in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100. The class: No. 4 Aquira DeCosta, a 6-foot-3 forward from St. Mary's (Stockton, California); No. 8 Smith, a 6-foot-3 forward for East Central (San Antonio, Texas); No. 15 Queen Egbo, a 6-foot-3 center for Travis (Richmond, Texas); No. 18 Honesty Scott-Grayson, a 5-foot-10 combo guard from Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Maryland); and No. 28 Caitlin Bickle, a 6-foot-2 forward from Cactus Shadows (Cave Creek, Arizona).

Bickle committed Sept. 11, DeCosta and Scott-Grayson provided a double dose of Baylor joy on Oct. 8, and Egbo provided the bow on top on Oct. 24.

Mulkey said recruits who announce their decisions online are tough on her nerves.

"While all the recruits seem to be into social media, I don't quite understand all of it," Mulkey said. "My assistant coaches had to come over to make sure I knew how to follow along with the announcements.

"Although we were the winners for those we went after, it's tough when you're not. I called them and told them how gut-wrenching it was [to watch]. It's creative on their part, but it's tough to watch when you're not sure what's going to happen."

Now that the class is complete, here, in order of commitments, is a closer look at Baylor's class.

A communication expert


Courtesy Baylor

NaLyssa Smith thinks she might have been even happier than coach Kim Mulkey when Queen Egbo and Aquira DeCosta committed.

Smith, who has a 3.4 GPA, is interested in studying communications. And once she committed, she put her communication skills to use, texting DeCosta with the following message:

"Let's shock the world!"

Smith also knew Egbo and told her simply: "Come to Baylor!"

When DeCosta and Egbo committed to Baylor, Smith said she was "probably more excited than coach Mulkey."

Smith didn't know Bickle or Scott-Grayson initially, but the five started a group text and have become close.

Mulkey said she spent five years recruiting Smith, who averaged 23.2 points, 17.5 rebounds and 5.0 blocks as a junior.

"She is one of the most versatile players in the 2018 class," Mulkey said in a statement. "NaLyssa has the ability to play and defend every position on the floor."

Smith said she has long been a fan of former Baylor center Brittney Griner.

"I always felt Baylor was the place for me," Smith said.

Smith dreams of dunking at Baylor. She said she can get the middle of her forearm above the rim, and she can dunk in practice.

"It's kind of a 'sometime-y' dunk," she said. "It's not really consistent. The last game I tried it, the ball went in but popped out."

Words to live by


Courtesy Baylor

Kim Mulkey says every team needs a player like Caitlin Bickle, who averaged 16.2 points and 6.8 rebounds as a junior at Cactus Shadows.

Tattooed on Bickle's rib cage are words from Scripture, Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Bickle, accompanied by her father, got the tattoo at age 16.

"I only wanted to get a tattoo if it was something I live by," Bickle said.

Bickle kept her faith even after she tore her ACL and her meniscus this past July 24. She plans to continue her rehab all the way through June, when she will report to Baylor.

The Bears were confident Bickle would make a full recovery and continued recruiting her. Bickle's official visit to Baylor ended Sunday, Sept. 10. The next day, she committed ... but only after sending Smith a text.

"I said, 'Hey, we're going to be teammates!' "

Bickle, who has a 3.3 GPA and plans on majoring in either health or communications, said she loves how friendly everyone is in Texas. Baylor's rich history and promising present were persuasive, too.

"I would have to be insane or an idiot," she said, "not to pick Baylor."

Before Bickle arrived at her high school, Cactus Shadows compiled a three-year record of 23-54. But in the past two years, Cactus Shadows has made it to two straight state title games.

"Caitlin is a hard-nosed player with a no-nonsense attitude," Mulkey said of Bickle, who averaged 16.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.2 blocks as a junior.

"She's a confident 3-point threat with an infectious personality. She is the glue player in this class."

East Coast, West Coast


Courtesy Baylor

Aquira DeCosta could be a matchup nightmare for Baylor opponents for years to come.

The two players in the class who live farthest apart -- East Coast kid Scott-Grayson and Californian DeCosta -- became somewhat of a package deal.

They met as sophomores in Colorado, where they both made USA's U16 team that went to Mexico.

"I've known her for such a long time, and we have such a special bond," DeCosta said. "She asked me if we could commit to Baylor together at the same time, and I was about to ask her the same thing."

DeCosta hadn't even left her Baylor visit before committing. She called Mulkey from the plane and broke the news. "She thought I was joking," DeCosta said. "She didn't expect me to decide that fast."

DeCosta, who has a 3.0 GPA and wants to study communications or business, said she went to a volleyball match during her trip to Baylor and was impressed with the support that sports other than football get on campus.

She has led St. Mary's to three straight sectional titles and a 2016 state championship. She has won one gold and two bronze medals with Team USA and averaged 18 points, 13 rebounds and 4 steals as a junior.

"Aquira is a winner," Mulkey said. "She presents matchup problems with her ability to hit 3s, finish difficult shots and own the offensive glass."

Courtesy Baylor

Honesty Scott-Grayson and Aquira DeCosta bonded as teammates on USA Basketball in 2015.

Scott-Grayson, who has a 3.4 GPA, wants to study music production and is interested in being a producer. Perhaps her love of music is why she said the most fun she had during her Baylor visit was at a karaoke costume party at Mulkey's house.

The vibe among all five recruits, Scott-Grayson said, already is strong, and the potential for championships is obvious.

"It had a big influence on me," Scott-Grayson said of the other players who chose Baylor before her.

Scott-Grayson, who won a bronze medal with Team USA, averaged 8.7 points last season while leading Paul VI (Fairfax, Virginia) to a 32-2 record and a VISAA title.

"Honesty is one of the most explosive and dynamic combo guards in this class," Mulkey said. "She's a floor general, wants the ball at the end of games and is a great playmaker."

Crowning moment


Courtesy Baylor

Queen Egbo, the fifth member of Baylor's class to declare, believes all the talent around her will help her own game grow.

Bickle said Egbo's commitment was large in more ways than one.

"Queen was our only true big," Bickle said. "She made the puzzle fit."

As a junior, Egbo averaged 17.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks for a Travis team that went 30-8.

"We saw Queen at Baylor camps throughout the years and quickly realized she was one of the best post players in the country," Mulkey said. "She has strong post skills and the ability to face up and score.

"Her athletic ability to track down and block shots is second to none."

Egbo, who has a 3.4 GPA, wants to study kinesiology, but she went about her recruiting process with the precision of a surgeon.

Yes, she was the last of the five to decide, but she was in no hurry.

"I wanted to make sure I would have no regrets," Egbo said. "I wanted to make sure this was a school where I would be for four years."

That said, having four other top-30 players committed to Baylor before her surely didn't hurt.

"I want to be around great players," she said. "Where there are great players, there's room for me to grow. I know all the girls on the team are going to push me to get better."

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