Utah Valley University women's basketball head coach Cathy Nixon announced the signing of four future student-athletes to National Letters of Intent. All four players will be eligible for action during the 2014-15 season.
Three of the four Wolverines-to-be are high school freshmen and will enroll at UVU as true freshmen this fall. Comprising that group are Deijiah Blanks (San Diego, California/Mount Miguel High School), Denajha Kie (Las Vegas, Nevada/Quest Preparatory High School) and Jazmin O'Bannon (Henderson, Nevada/Liberty High School). Signing as a junior college transfer is Patrice Toston (Seattle, Washington/Southern Idaho), a first team NJCAA All-American last season.
"The big word that summarizes this entire class is potential," Nixon said. "All of these players are good now but have the capacity to become very good."
Coming in as a true freshman, Deijah Blanks was a first-team All-California Interscholastic Federation pick out of Mount Miguel High School. She was named back-to-back Grossmont Valley League Player of the Year, helping her team achieve its 14th consecutive league title. Standing at 5-foot-9, Blanks averaged 23.5 ppg during her senior season and was a tremendous rebounder at the guard position, pulling down 7.5 boards per contest. She also averaged 3.5 steals per game. In the preseason, she was listed by The Real Deal Basketball as one of the top 20 seniors to watch in the San Diego area.
"Deijah is a big, strong athlete," Nixon said. "She brings a lot of things both offensively and defensively. She's strong off the dribble, finishes well and is a good midrange jump shooter. She doesn't make a lot of mistakes and plays within herself, but she is just loaded with potential."
Another true freshman, Denajha Kie is a 5-9 shooting guard who was named the Charter Association MVP for the 2012-13 season out of Quest Preparatory High School in Las Vegas. Kie also spent a short time at Centennial High School in Las Vegas, helping that team to a Class 4A state championship as a freshman and was listed by Area Codes Basketball as one of the top performers from the 2012 Las Vegas Spring Showcase.
"The first thing you notice about Denajha is her athleticism," Nixon said. "She has a lot of quickness and is very good defensively. She's had a good high school career and we feel like she will thrive in our system, being able to do the things that we need off the dribble."
A 6-3 center, Jazmin O'Bannon is the daughter of former UCLA standout and NBA power forward Ed O'Bannon. In 31 games last season, O'Bannon averaged 7.6 ppg and 6.5 rpg as a captain for Liberty High School in Henderson, Nevada. Those figures helped lead LHS to a 26-5 record, a ranking as high as No. 2 in the state and a runner-up finish in the Nevada state tournament.
"Jazmin comes from a great basketball family," Nixon said. "She suffered through a few injuries in high school, but has come back stronger and will continue to get stronger in our system. She's a great girl who works very hard and has a huge upside."
Rounding out the class is 5-7 guard Patrice Toston, a JUCO transfer. A native of Seattle, Toston was a first team NJCAA All-American selection last season after averaging a team-leading 16.5 ppg for Southern Idaho all the while dishing out 3.5 apg. Behind Toston's efforts, the Golden Eagles went 29-4 and advanced all the way to the NJCAA National Tournament after winning the Region 18 Tournament title. CSI was ranked eighth in the final NJCAA poll. Toston was a first team all-region pick during her freshman campaign, a year removed from a prep career that featured league, district and regional championships at Franklin High School.
"We're thrilled to have Patrice," Nixon said. "Being able to sign a first team NJCAA All-American is a sign of the growth of our program inside the WAC. She's a great player and a really good person. She appreciates the culture here and the players that we have. The success she had in a really tough Region 18 with CSI speaks volumes. She's a great finisher in the paint and adds an element that will complement our returners."
These four spring signings join a trio who already signed with Utah Valley from the early signing period in November. Guards Taylor Gordon (Mount Pleasant, Utah/North Sanpete High School) and Madi Kelly (Eagle, Idaho/Rocky Mountain High School), as well as center Brooke Wheeler (Springville, Utah/Springville High School) will all enter the 2014-15 season as true freshmen.
"We're excited about all our signings this year," Nixon said. "Brooke won a state championship, Taylor had just a phenomenal year and Madi was a true leader for her team and was instrumental in their success. It's awesome to have players that we can be excited about in every way: as people, as students and as players. I don't think there's ever been a more exciting time to be a part of this program."
Utah Valley is entering its second season as a member of the Western Athletic Conference. Last season, the Wolverines went 7-23 and finished eighth in the league standings.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.