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Thursday, March 21, 2013
Baylors talented recruits ready to carry on success

By Walter Villa

During a recruiting trip to Baylor last fall, Khadijiah Cave found out firsthand what a tall order replacing Brittney Griner will be.

It was during a Lady Bears practice when she got the message -- loud and clear from Griner herself.

"She came over and shook my hand," Cave said of Baylor's 6-foot-8 senior legend. "I wasn't expecting that. I was in shock seeing her. I don't think she knew my name, but she knew I was one of the recruits.

"Later on, we played one-on-one for a bit, but I quit after a while because she was beating me. [At one point] she was facing me, and she just palmed the ball over my head, took it back and made a shot. I said, 'OK, I'm going to stop now.'"

Cave, a 6-4 senior forward for Laney High School in Augusta, Ga., decided to sign with Baylor and will be part of a four-player recruiting class in Year 1 AB -- After Brittney.

Along with Cave, the Lady Bears have signed 5-9 guard Breanna Hayden from Madison (Dallas), 5-11 shooting guard Imani Wright of Liberty-Eylau (Texarkana, Texas) and 6-3 forward Nina Davis from Central (Memphis, Tenn.).

Details have yet to be finalized, but Cave and her family are planning to make the trip to New Orleans for the NCAA tournament championship game on April 9, assuming Baylor is there playing for a repeat. It would be Griner's final game before she becomes the likely No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft next month.

Hayden, whose older sister, Kimetria Hayden, is a starting senior guard for Baylor, has met Griner several times. She is optimistic her class will be able to step up for the Lady Bears next season.

"If we bring it and play as a team like they have been doing, we'll be just fine," said Hayden, who is planning to attend as many games as possible during Baylor's NCAA run.

Wright agrees with Hayden and points out that the burden won't fall on the incoming class alone.

"There are some pretty good classes already there ahead of us," Wright said. "So I don't really see it as pressure on us.

"I wanted to play with [Griner], but then again, we now get the opportunity to build a new team and a new legacy."

Cave, on the other hand, is feeling some heat to make sure she does her part to build that new legacy.

"I know there will be a lot of pressure on me," she said. "I have to come in and work hard and get better -- not to replace [Griner] but to help the team win without her. I can't just sit on the sideline and not do anything. I know I will have to make an impact right away."

Fans will be watching to see if Baylor will have staying power after Griner's departure. The incoming class is ranked 20th in the 2013 class rankings by espnW HoopGurlz and is loaded with talent.

Davis was Tennessee's Miss Basketball in Class 3A last season. She won a state title as a junior, averaging 19 points and nine rebounds. As a senior, she led her team to the state semifinals, averaging 28 points and 11 rebounds. She shot 56 percent from the field and 52 percent from 3-point range.

Hayden, who was named the small-schools athlete of the year by the Texas Girls Coaches Association, averaged 29 points and nine rebounds.

Wright, named an all-state player by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists as a senior. She also won five gold medals at state track meets as a jumper and sprinter.

Cave averaged 23 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks, leading her team to a 30-1 record and a second-place showing in the state tournament. She had 31 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks in the state semifinal.

Laney coach Otis Smart considers Cave the sleeper among Baylor's quartet.

He said Cave, a lefty, first earned attention when she scored 38 points in a junior varsity game. She was 5-11 at the time and just continued to grow.

"She runs relays and the 800 meters in track and field," Smart said. "She also does the high jump.

"I think basketball scouts noticed that she can run the floor and jump. She has great size and coordination and a great attitude. I think once she gets to Baylor, she will take off."

Cave, who has a 3.3 GPA, is more modest.

"I think I'm ready, but I know there are things I need to work on," she said.

After playing center in high school, Cave will be expected to transition to small and power forward at Baylor.

"I need to improve my dribbling," Cave said, "especially with my right hand, because they want me to be able to play on the wing and get used to being outside the post."

At least Cave knows one thing: Nothing will be tougher than what she has already done, going up against Griner one-on-one.