Why college coaches are getting a second shot at super recruit Mi'Cole Cayton

Mi'Cole Cayton's to-do list includes writing her senior paper, attending prom and finding a new college. Courtesy Sydney Spurgeon

When Mi'Cole Cayton was 8 years old, she would tag along with her 12-year-old cousin when he went to his football practices. When it was time for his teammates to run sprints on the grass, Cayton would line up even with them -- and smoke them all.

Again and again and again.

"The boys were like, 'Who is she?' " Cayton said.

Nearly 10 years later, Cayton, a 5-foot-9 senior guard at St. Mary's (Stockton, California), is about to introduce herself to a bunch of folks she wasn't planning to meet. At least not now. Not like this.

Last November, Cayton, the No. 80 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2016 class, signed a national letter of intent to play basketball with Nebraska, the only school she visited during her recruiting process. Then she helped lead St. Mary's to a 28-1 and a No. 2 final ranking in the espnW 25 Power Rankings.

But Cayton's world turned upside down earlier this month when Nebraska coach Connie Yori resigned for what she said were personal reasons.

Her resignation came amid reports that Yori mistreated and bullied her players, claims that Yori has denied.

"I'm going to be real -- I cried," said Cayton, who turns 18 on July 31. "Tears came out because I know I would have benefited in a huge way had I been coached by [Yori]."

Cayton has since re-opened her recruitment with the possibility of picking another school.

"She recruited me super early before anyone else had called," Cayton said of Yori. "The way she talked to me -- automatically, there was a connection. I couldn't wait to get out there and ball for her.

"[Yori] has the same style as [St. Mary's coach Tom Gonsalves]. Tom always said, 'Don't walk into my gym if you are not ready to compete,' and [Yori] is the same way."

Cayton has reached out to Yori since her resignation.

"She told me the stuff they said about her is not true, and I believe her," Cayton said. "I was saddened by the whole thing.

"Some kids are just not used to tough coaching. That doesn't have anything to do with bullying or intimidation. It should just push you to raise your game to the next level."

Cayton, who averaged 12.0 points as a senior on a loaded St. Mary's team, said she still loves the facilities and academics at Nebraska and is open-minded about playing for the Cornhuskers, who have hired Amy Williams as their new head coach.

But Gonsalves said Cayton is in a "great situation" to pick from a variety of coaches and programs.

"The interest has been incredible," Gonsalves said. "It's been twice as much as it was prior to her committing."

Among the schools pursuing Cayton are Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Iowa State, Minnesota, Mississippi, Rutgers, San Diego State, UCLA and Utah. See what he means?

"Somebody is going to get a great player," Gonsalves said. "She is a nightmare to guard because she is so quick and she can shoot the 3."

Gonsalves said Cayton is almost without flaw. If anything, he said, she could maybe play under control more, but the 2016 Naismith girls' basketball coach of the year hesitates to say that because her fiery demeanor is part of what makes Cayton so good.

Cayton's basketball hero has long been Kevin Garnett, and she has a habit of pounding her chest after a big play just like the NBA star.

"In the sixth grade, I was watching a Celtics and Lakers game with my dad," Cayton said. "Something about Garnett sparked my eyes. I loved his intensity, the way he bangs his heart. Straight up, he has a passion for the game.

"Even though we play different positions, mentally, that's how I wanted to play."

Cayton got a chance to meet Garnett when she was in ninth grade. The Celtics came to California to play the Sacramento Kings, and Cayton and her father, Michael, had a connection that allowed them to take photos with Garnett.

Her nickname is "Baby KG," and her defense might be even better than her offense. For a long time while growing up, Cayton was a track star, running everything from the 100 meters to the 800 meters. She was in fourth grade when she first tried basketball.

It didn't go well at first.

"They were doing dribbling drills, and she ran out of there crying," her father said. "She said, 'I can't do that.'

"But I encouraged her, and she went back in there to play defense. Girls who had experience couldn't get past her. She shut them down, and coaches started utilizing her on defense."

Cayton has other skills beyond defense.

She had a 3.87 GPA in her most recent semester, and she helped with this year's yearbook, laying out pages, doing interviews and selling more than $3,000 worth of advertisements.

That experience with the yearbook has helped her grow.

"If you would have interviewed me freshman year, I wouldn't have known what to say," Cayton said. "I'm older now and more outspoken. I get it now."

Cayton, who hopes to study law, eventually aspires to become a judge.

But the big question now is where she will get that college education.

Cayton said Williams has promised to make a home visit in the next two weeks, and there does appear to be an opportunity for the Cornhuskers.

Williams, who played for Nebraska from 1994 to '98, led South Dakota to the 2016 WNIT championship. She now gets a chance to recruit Cayton, but it won't be easy.

"It's been really tough these past few days with all these people calling me," Cayton said. "I have to try to build a relationship with other coaches.

"I have no clue how long this will take. But it's stressful because I have a senior paper to do, I have my prom on April 23 and I have to figure out what dress to wear and who to go with, and I have homework and coaches calling me.

"Just when I thought everything was going smoothly, it turns out I'm going to have a long senior year. But the way I look at it, God gave me this opportunity for a reason."