Bannister's road to North Carolina

When a freshman or sophomore verbally commits to a school, analysis ensues. Universities can't call a prospect at this age, visits are typically few and far between and the schools can't pay for the visits until the fall of a player's senior year. Whether the decision ultimately works out or not, most of these decisions are, in fact, too early in the process.

For Potter's House Christian Academy sophomore Antoinette Bannister, her road to committing early is more the exception than the rule. She committed to North Carolina last weekend, but the decision is several years in the making due to some extraordinary circumstances. And she made the pledge because the Tar Heels extended a scholarship offer for which she'd waited years.

Bannister has played varsity basketball, with her father, Tony, as the head coach at Potter's House, since the sixth grade. For the most part, that is where her recruiting journey began. She attended the North Carolina's elite camp as a sixth-grader but played up and held her own with the high-school-aged kids.

She has attended the camp each year since and got to meet her favorite Tar Heel, Erlana Larkins. From that point on, Bannister, who takes time out to watch collegiate basketball on somewhat of a regular basis, had her top school.

"From the beginning it's been North Carolina No. 1 and UConn No. 2," she said.

The family is not without experience in the recruiting game as Bannister's older brother, T.J., played Division I basketball and now plays professionally overseas.

In high school, T.J. Bannister wanted to go to the University of Florida and Billy Donovan, the head coach of the Gators since 1996 and winner of two national championships in 2006 and 2007, offered him a scholarship. The family wanted to make sure it was the right place and they did not immediately accept the offer. According to Tony Bannister, the coaching staff made it clear that he was their top target at the point guard position and they would continue to recruit him as their point guard.

As time passed the cut-throat world of recruiting forced the Gators to make a decision and they ended up getting a commitment from sharpshooting point guard Ryan Appleby from Stanwood, Wash., in July of 2002. T.J. would end up at the University of Virginia and Appleby would transfer back to in-state Washington after his freshman season at Florida.

The lesson learned for the family was to do as much work researching recruiting as early as possible, rather than wait until time is an issue.

Though Antoinette Bannister is just a sophomore, she had offers piling up. However, one from North Carolina was not among them. The family was up front with all the schools recruiting her that Sylvia Hatchell's 'Heels was her top choice.

It is a regular process for the kids at Potter's House to be quizzed by Tony Bannister on their top 10 schools and Antoinette was no exception. He does so to see if things are changing and to keep his team, who carries a combined 3.65 grade point average, focused on making a good decision.

Antoinette Bannister was not in a rush to make a decision. Most of the schools recruiting her knew they would be waiting to see where she stood with her top handful of schools -- North Carolina, Connecticut, Tennessee, Virginia, Rutgers and Louisville, among many others. She contends that if UNC were not her No. 1 school she would not have committed.

The family and Bannister herself see the coaching staff at North Carolina as extensions of their family and trust she will be in good hands. Hatchell's recent contract extension and long term success of the program also gave her the confidence that she will be the coach there when 2012 finally comes around.

Antoinette Bannister has the benefit of being arguable the top player in the state of Florida in the class of 2012. But she's also put in a ton of work on her recruitment. She has been on more than 15 campuses via camps and unofficial visits. Those schools include California, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Florida, Florida State, Kennesaw State, Kentucky, Louisville, Miami, Ohio State, Purdue, Seton Hall, South Florida, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Xavier.

Most sophomores don't have the opportunity to see that many schools, especially across the country, the way Bannister and her Potter's House teammates do. The standard trip for the team doesn't just include stiff competition from around the country but as a group they try to see at least two universities with each trip so all their players get to see what different place are like and what different people are about.

The team gets the opportunity with the support of Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin, who founded The Potter's House Christian Fellowship and the academy. The church and school supports its athletics and the role it plays in the kids' development, which affords these kids the chance to play a schedule with more mileage than most college programs. It's because of this support and the team maximizing each trip that three players have given relatively early commitments, at least compared to signing week, which is in the fall of each class's senior year. Bannister joins junior teammates Loliya Briggs (Pitt) and Alexis Brown (Seton Hall) as early commitments.

With numerous phone calls, dozens of visits and an offer from her top team, Bannister did the work to make an educated early commitment.

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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at chris.hansen@espn3.com.