If the rebuilding of a program is a step-by-step process, Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown is exhibiting some very long strides. The last minute commitment of Morgan Jones, the No. 11 prospect in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100, gives the Wildcats what is sure to be a highly ranked signing class after the early signing period.
McKeown's first signing class was ranked 20th nationally and included highly regarded Kendall Hackney, the 55th ranked prospect among 2009 graduates. In his second season Northwestern made their first postseason appearance in 16 years and the folks in purple opened their current season last week with a signature win over LSU.
The future gets even brighter with the addition of Jones of Altamonte Springs, Fla., Alex Cohen from Bayside, Wis. and Canadian Karly Roser of Hamilton, Ontario.
Jones, a 6-2 forward who may well find her future on the perimeter, is easily one of the most versatile players in the 2011 class. The maturation of her game over the last two years has allowed the potential she exhibited early to become a consistent reality in her play. Her size combines with impressive ballhandling and passing skills and an instinct for creating on the drive. Opponents in the Big Ten will be challenged to match up with her size and interior game or to address her threat for penetration. Jones length and agility also makes an asset defensively in the multi-scheme and aggressive defensive approach that McKeown's teams are always noted for.
Adding to and almost defining versatility in the post is the 6-5 Cohen from Nicolet High School. Ranked as the 60th prospect in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100, her arrival coincides with departure of Wildcat standout and All Big Ten post Amy Jaeschke. Without a doubt she has the size and frame to be a factor on the block but what really sets her apart is her ability to operate away from the rim. Cohen is comfortable both in the high post as well as roaming the perimeter in a four out motion set. If she's not starting the break, she has the ability to get out in transition and be a factor at the other end. She'll have to add a more physical dimension to her game for the hardnosed interior play in the Big Ten, but all the tools are there to make an impact.
A 5-10 guard, Roser brings a wealth of experience with her from both St. Mary's High School and Basketball Canada. This past summer she participated in the FIBA U17 World Championships with her Canadian teammates and the year before was part of the Canada Basketball National Elite Development Academy. Another versatile offensive threat who can play the point or off guard, she can help fill the role that will be vacated by Wildcat starting senior point guard Beth Marshall. This summer Roser was second for the Canadians in scoring at 9.6 points per game but even more impressive was her shooting percentage of 50% from the floor for the event.
This year's Northwestern roster includes just three seniors but each of them will leave a considerable hole to fill when they depart. If this fall's signing class is an indication of the next step forward for McKeown and Northwestern, it's a big leap right over those holes.
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Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at email@example.com.