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The Bigger The Challenge, The Better For Top Sophomore Charli Collier

Starting with her dad in her driveway, Charli Collier is used to going up against other gifted players. John Leyba for ESPN

Like many kids, Charli Collier grew up shooting hoops with her dad in the family driveway.

But it wasn't quite as serene as it sounds. For one thing, her dad, Elliott Collier, is 6-foot-8. For another, he refused to take it easy on his daughter, forcing Charli to her weaker left side before swatting away shots with impunity.

Charli wouldn't quit -- it's not in her DNA.

Thanks to her lessons learned while shooting hoops with her father, she was prepared when something similar happened about six months ago. For the first time, Collier went up against her new AAU teammate, 6-foot-4 Lauren Cox of Flower Mound (Texas). The two are teammates on Texas United.

"I had heard of her, but when you first play against her, it's kind of hard," Collier said of Cox, the No. 1 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2016 class. "She's older than I am, and she knows all the moves.

"Playing her got me frustrated. I had to calm myself down and tell myself: 'Don't get mad. Learn from it. Take what she does, and add it to your game.' "

That's exactly what has happened as Collier, 15, has grown in stature -- she's now 6-4½ -- and in ability.

Collier, who will be a sophomore this fall at Barbers Hill (Mont Belvieu, Texas), is the No. 1 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Terrific 25 for the 2018 class.

Last season, she averaged 17 points and seven rebounds as a freshman starter for Barbers Hill, which advanced to the Class 5A regional semifinals.

Collier even ventured out to the 3-point line 30 times -- fairly adventurous for a freshman center -- and made eight of them.

"The high school 3-pointer is not a problem for her," said her AAU coach, Justin Higginbotham. "She works hard to be versatile. She doesn't want to be pigeon-holed as just a big."

In AAU ball, Collier also practices against 6-foot-4 Jade Williams, a standout at Prestonwood Christian Academy (Plano, Texas). Williams, ranked No. 23 in the Super 60 for the 2017 class, was a member of USA's U16 team that won a bronze medal last month at the FIBA Americas Championship in Puebla, Mexico.

Suffice it to say, Collier did not back down from Williams or Cox.

"Charli is a long, strong and athletic player," Cox, a member of USA's U19 team, said via text from Spain, where she is playing in an exhibition tournament. "She's really young and still has a lot to learn. But she has a ton of potential."

Athletic roots

Charli's mother, Ponda Collier, was a 6-foot center and a three-year starter at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, which was an NAIA school at the time.

Her husband, the aforementioned Elliott Collier, is where Charli likely gets her "never quit" attitude.

Elliott Collier tried out four times for his high school basketball team at Booker T. Washington (Shreveport, Louisiana). Each time, he was cut.

Convinced that he could play, Collier walked on at Montana State University Billings (NCAA Division II) and became a starter, eventually playing a bit of pro ball in Honduras.

Ponda and Elliott's love for basketball has carried over to their two children, Charli and son Casey, 13, who already is 6-1.

Casey doesn't beat Charli in one-on-one. But it's not for a lack of trying. The two engage in some spirited battles in the front driveway, and Charli -- much like her father did to her -- swats Casey's shots away in an effort to make him better.

One of the family traditions when the kids were younger was watching the NFL on Sundays.Then, when commercials aired, Charli and Casey would dribble with their left hands fast as possible until the game came back on TV.

Ponda and Elliott insisted they did not force basketball on the kids. In fact, Charli's first sport was soccer, where she showed an aptitude for running fast and scoring often.

Charli was also an accomplished young swimmer, gymnast and volleyball player. Fishing is another favorite pastime that she enjoys with her brother and father.

But it is basketball that she truly loves, and the college scouts love her as well. Charli committed to Texas in October of her eighth-grade year but has since reopened her recruitment, to the delight of numerous coaches.

"After she committed, she started seeing other girls go on social media, picking schools," Ponda said. "She asked me: 'Mom, how do I know I don't like these other schools?'

"When she decommitted, Louisville came to her school (in March) to recruit her, and that made her day. That was the first school outside of Texas to recruit her."

Since then, Collier has made unofficial visits to numerous schools, including Tennessee -- she's a big Candace Parker fan -- Kansas and Kentucky.

Academically, Charli's favorite classes are math and science. She has an interest in becoming an air traffic controller or an engineer. Her mother is a geometry teacher at her school.

"The recruiting process for me is kind of crazy," Charli said. "I've been talking to a lot of coaches, including Connecticut and Notre Dame and all the schools that have been to the Final Four.

"I like all of them. I honestly don't know where I'm going to go because I'm so young."

Determined to improve

What do the college coaches love about Collier?

"She has great hands, and her footwork is really nice," Higginbotham said. "When she faces up to the basket, she is extremely tough, and she's a fierce rebounder.

"It's rare for her to have a bad game. But when it happens, she's mad at herself. She will come off the floor and immediately ask me what she can do to improve."

Higginbotham said Collier is an outgoing kid -- she and Williams have started a trend where they take selfies in front of different Walgreens they find on their travels.

But beneath the happy-go-lucky exterior is a girl who burns to be great, Higginbotham said.

When Collier was cut from the USA U16 team -- she made it as an alternate but did not travel with her buddy Williams and the others to Mexico -- it hurt.

"It crushed her," Ponda said. "It took her a while to get over that."

Of course, with her father's history of determination, Charli hasn't let that setback derail her plans.

She picked up tips for her next attempt at making Team USA, leaving no doubt that there will be a next time.

"Michael Jordan got cut [in high school], too," she said. "It just motivates me to do better."