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How Six Of The Nation's Best Basketball Recruits All Wound Up At Maryland

How sweet do all those 2016 recruits look to Maryland fans? From left, Blair Watson, Sarah Myers, Jenna Stati, Stephanie Jones and Kaila Charles. Courtesy the Staiti family

Keys jingle-jangling in unison, throats sore from screaming and clothes drenched from a downpour, the University of Maryland student section roared for the Terps football team.

In the stands for that rainy Sept. 12 game against Bowling Green were five of the nation's top basketball prospects -- Jenna Staiti, Kaila Charles, Blair Watson, Sarah Myers and Stephanie Jones -- who had all given their verbal pledges to Maryland.

The recruits' parents -- sitting in a different, more reserved part of the stadium -- were told at halftime that there had been a change of plans. They were escorted out of the stadium and taken to the gym, ostensibly to dry out.

But that's when the real waterworks began.

"The coaches brought all five girls on the court, each wearing a No. 16 jersey (to signify the class of 2016)," said Sandy Staiti, Jenna's mom. "That brought me to tears. It was like when you see your daughter in a wedding dress."

Indeed, 16 never looked so sweet, at least for the Maryland coaches, recruits and their families.

"I saw the joy on my parents' faces," Charles said. "I was glad I could make them happy while I'm doing something I love, too."

With three weeks to go before the opening of the NCAA's early signing period, the Terrapins -- whose top recruit, Destiny Slocum, wasn't even present that day -- have assembled the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation.

Slocum, a 5-foot-7 point guard from Mountain View (Meridian, Idaho), is the No. 7 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2016 class. She had made her visit to Maryland in June and committed in August and wishes she could have been on campus for that September gathering.

"I've never met any of them," Slocum said of her fellow recruits. "Of course I felt jealous [not being there]. I have to be patient. I will get my time with them. I just look at it as we're getting six super players."

Myers leads off

Myers, a 5-10 shooting guard, and Staiti, a 6-5 center, live five miles away from each other in Cumming, Georgia. But because of the way the school districts are drawn, the two have been rivals on their middle and high school teams, pooling their talents only for AAU ball in the summer.

In June of 2013 -- a couple months before the start of their sophomore years -- Myers of South Forsyth and Staiti of West Forsyth went to a basketball camp at the Maryland campus.

Two weeks later, Myers committed to Maryland. One day after that, Staiti also chose the Terps.

Myers said she and Staiti hadn't discussed being a "package deal" because they wanted to each make independent decisions.

"When I got on that [Maryland] campus, I knew it was going to be at the top of my list," Myers said. "I wanted to get [the commitment] done with right away."

Staiti, who was a nationally ranked swimmer at age 12 before getting tired of the solitary nature of the sport and switching to basketball, admits that her friend Myers played a role in her commitment to the Terps.

"She had a big influence on it," Staiti said. "Knowing someone [in the same recruiting class] was a bonus. And I already knew I wanted to play for Coach [Brenda] Frese."

After visiting Maryland, Staiti took a tour of Duke. But after Myers decided on Maryland, Staiti ended her recruitment as well.

"I wanted to get my commitment done with," Staiti said. "I wanted a plan for my future."

Staiti, ranked 17th in the country, averaged 29 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks last season, leading West Forsyth to its second straight state tournament appearance and the best record in program history (21-6).

Myers also was outstanding last season, averaging 21 points. And even though she is the only Maryland recruit outside the Top 100, Matt Huddleston, who coaches Myers and Staiti for the Georgia Metros AAU team, vouches for Myers' skills.

"Both are hard workers, but Sarah in particular," Huddleston said. "Her motor doesn't seem to have any limits. She competes on every drill in every practice.

"Sarah is a hustler. She will be a fan favorite at Maryland."

Recruiting class doubles

Jones and Watson were the next two to commit. Jones, the No. 51 prospect, committed in September of 2014, and Watson, ranked 28th, joined the class a month later.

In the case of Jones, it was hardly a surprise. Her sister, 6-3 center Brionna Jones, is already a star at Maryland, making first-team All-Big Ten last season as a sophomore.

Stephanie, a 6-2 forward at Aberdeen (Maryland), said it wasn't automatic that she would choose the Terps, it just worked out that way.

"I kind of wanted to experience the whole recruiting process, just go everywhere and see what everyone had to say and see if Maryland was the best place for me," she said.

As it turned out, the other schools never really had a chance. Although she had offers from schools such as Duke, Louisville and Notre Dame, she was mostly dealing with their assistant coaches.

At Maryland, she already had built a strong relationship with Frese, and that sealed the deal, giving the Terps a player who averaged 20 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks last season.

Watson, a 6-foot wing from Nutley (New Jersey), is similar to Staiti in that she got a relatively late start in basketball. Nutley played tennis and soccer before discovering hoops in sixth grade. When she got her first college recruitment letters -- from Stanford and Navy -- she was skeptical.

"I thought: 'There's no way I'm this good. I think they sent this to the wrong house,' she said.

"But it motivated me to keep working."

Growing up in a small town where she was always the tallest girl, Watson was used in the post almost exclusively. In eighth grade, she realized she lacked a jumper. So she studied Kobe Bryant, falling in love with his shooting form on step-backs, fadeaways and pull-up jumpers. Then she headed to her local park.

"I told my guy friends that I wanted to learn how to shoot," Watson said. "I kept practicing. Eventually, all my guy friends would say: 'Yo, Blair, we need a shooter. Come on our team.'"

Which is essentially what Maryland said as well.

Watson, who averaged 22.5 points last season, chose Maryland because of its elite level of play, its family atmosphere and the fact that the campus is just a three-hour drive from her home.

"They checked all the boxes for me," she said. "Perfect fit."

There's more!

The four-player Maryland recruiting class went from good to great when Charles committed in May and Slocum pledged in August.

Charles, a 5-11 wing for Riverdale Baptist (Maryland), is the No. 25 prospect in the country. She won two Maryland 4A state titles at Eleanor Roosevelt before making the move to Riverdale because she wanted to play tougher competition.

And despite getting more than two-dozen offers from programs such as Duke, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Penn State, Charles said Maryland was a fairly easy call.

"I talked to a lot of coaches, and I appreciated all the offers," said Charles, who averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds last season. "But I just appreciated the way Maryland recruited me, and their players were very welcoming."

After getting the commitment from Charles, all the Terps needed was their point guard of the future, and they found her in Slocum, who had originally committed to Washington before changing her mind.

Slocum was Idaho's Gatorade Player of the Year last season, averaging 25.1 points, 5.6 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals. She also led Mountain View to its first state title. And then won a gold medal with Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Championship.

"The hardest thing for me was going to the East Coast," said Slocum, who added that her parents encouraged her to look at the entire country and not just schools close to home.

"At first, I was super defiant. I didn't want to go to the East Coast at all. But I realized that with the talent I have, my plan is to change people's [perceptions] on girls' basketball.

"I want to show that we have a passion for basketball, and I also want to be a good person and help out in the community."