Southall pledges to USC sight unseen

In spite of one success last month, the belief has persisted that the USC women's basketball program would struggle with recruiting with what cannot be described as anything but an absentee head coach situation.

But then Thaddesia Southall drove up on Sunday from Long Beach, Calif., to inform the Trojan coaching staff of her commitment while incoming coach Michael Cooper was up in Seattle leading the Los Angeles Sparks to a first-round, WNBA playoff series-clinching victory over the Storm. Moreover, Southall made the verbal without having conducted a conversation with Cooper or making an official visit to the USC campus.

So much for the theory that the Trojans would be rudderless until Cooper put the WNBA season and Lisa Leslie's storied career to bed. Southall, a 6-foot-4 forward with a condor-sized wingspan, is the second prospect from the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred, at No. 99, to commit to USC. No. 35 Desiree Bradley, a 6-foot-1 wing who first abandoned a verbal to Oklahoma State, was the first.

"People keep asking how I can do this without speaking to coach Cooper first," said Southall, a mainstay for Long Beach Poly, a perennial national power. "I know I can't talk to him until after the Sparks' season. But he's seen me play. I know he knows of me. I knew I wanted to go to USC and decided to hurry up and do this so I could focus on my SAT and the coming season. My heart was with USC. If everyone waited just to talk to Cooper first, they might not get to go to USC if they wanted to."

In a way, Southall's verbal was a gimme for associate head coach Ervin Monier, who is overseeing the program until Cooper arrives. Southall said she seriously considered Arizona State and Louisville, but considered Louisville too far away. She said she very much liked ASU coach Charlie Turner-Thorne, but nothing really could overcome the affection she held for USC.

Southall said she became enchanted with USC when making an unofficial visit when Mark Trakh still was head coach. After Trakh resigned, her heart sank.

"I wondered if the next coaching staff still would like me," Southall said.

They did, of course. As a junior for Poly, Southall averaged 10.7 points, to go with 6.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks from the forward position, despite still-developing offensive skills. She also held fast for USC, which offers a sports nutrition program she desired.

Besides, Southall played club ball for a team called, of all things, the (Cal) Sparks. It had to be a sign. So did one other thing.

"Cooper coached Lisa Leslie," Southall pointed out. "He did well with her. I think he's going to do well with me, too."

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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girl's club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.