It has been an enjoyable – and long – vacation. One which I greatly enjoyed. But now I am back with just a few days left on the schedule for R&R before the start of the college basketball season.
One of the things that happened while I was away was the announcement by Courtney Ekmark, the soon-to-be senior guard from Arizona, that she would be foregoing her senior season at St, Mary’s to be home-schooled this year.
Ekmark, one of three guards who have orally committed to the UConn class of 2014, plans to have a busy year in this unexpected situation.
Here is my story …
Among the affirmations girls basketball star Courtney Ekmark has heard from her father is an old standard about the value of hard work.
“I’ve always told my kids that the harder you work the more options you will have in life,” Curtis Ekmark said.
Courtney Ekmark, who recently turned 18 years old, has worked hard to develop into one of the nation’s top players. She’s good enough to be included in UConn’s Class of 2014, one of three young guards who have already verbally committed to the program.
But she also an exemplary student. And taking summer courses during her first three years at St. Mary’s in Phoenix, Ariz., put her into position to be just two classes shy of graduation before her senior year.
That gave her the options her father promised. That’s why she decided last week to forego her senior high school season – and what likely would have been an All-American year – to be home-schooled.
“I don’t know if I will miss out on that much. I was pretty much done [academically] with high school. I only have a few more credits remaining to graduate,” Courtney said. “So now that everything is lined up, I figured I would rather spend the last year [before UConn] with my family getting ready for college.
“And as for the awards I may have won, they are great, but they don’t really matter that much to me. I played three years of high school basketball and won three state titles and one national championship. I think that’s pretty good.”
Ekmark, a 6-foot guard, averaged 19.6 points, five rebounds, and four steals last season for St. Mary’s (29-1) helping it to its third straight Division I state championship. She was named the Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year and the No. 1-ranked student in her class.
She had been coached her entire high school career by her father. But Curtis left St. Mary’s after the season to pursue a club coaching opportunity with Nike where he is expected to start a girls’ club program in Arizona for 4th through 12th grade.
Courtney said her decision wasn’t based on what her father had done. More important to her was that five of her close friends has already graduated and will play Division I college basketball this season.
“What Courtney noticed about them was they all had “senioritis.” So she figured, why should I just sit around and allow myself to become complacent,” Curtis said. “Why don’t I look at another way to spend the year? We told her if she put together a plan, we would support her.”
“She knew Moriah Jefferson [UConn’s sophomore guard] was home-schooled. And now she’s put together a whole list of things we wants to get done this year. It will be great for her, although it would have been nice for her to finish up high school, as well.”
Courtney and her brother, Andrew, a high school sophomore, were home-schooled in middle school. Both enjoyed the experience.
“She thought it prepared her well for high school and then figured. ‘Why not do it again before college?,” Curtis said.
“And the process [of home-schooling] is easy in Arizona. We have home-school charter schools that offer the curriculum that Courtney will require to take. She can check in every day with her teachers, get a sense for how much work needs to be done.”
With the time left to herself, Courtney will do many other things she’s never had the time for.
“I made a senior year bucket list, things I haven’t been able to do up to this time,” Courtney said. “I split it up into different categories based on things that are important to me. Foremost is the chance to spend time with my family, which I very much look forward to. We’re going to take cool trips as a family.”
She said she plans to travel extensively to visit her friends who now play at Michigan, Harvard, Louisville, UCLA and Indiana. She also will be spending a lot of time in Storrs to watch her future teammates play, practice and work out.
“I know she wants to see as many games and practices as she can, get a sense of what the pre-season conditioning program is like,” Curtis said.
Courtney will also be spending time with many of her parents’ business associates, getting some experience in various professional fields in hopes of finding something she wants to pursue as a major.
“She doesn’t know what she wants to do after college. So she will have the chance to spend time with friends of mine who are in different businesses,” Curtis said. “She may even have the chance to work as a sideline reporter for a local television outlet that does high football games in the fall.
“She’s thinking that she’s another Erin Andrews or something.”
In terms of basketball, she is currently playing for California’s Elite “Cal Swish” AAU team which still has the junior national and Nike national championship remaining to play.
Once school starts, she will concentrate of strength conditioning – a first for her – while playing with her brother’s AAU team, Nike Arizona Elite team. Curtis Ekmark is also the coach.
“She will practice with them and play tournaments with them in the fall and spring. That will enable her to play almost 50 games against varsity high school boys,” he said. “The only thing she won’t be doing is play in NCAA official scouting tournaments.”
But more important, Courtney will be with her family for the entire year, the last one before she enters the often unrelenting world of big-time college athletics.
“Once Courtney leaves home, she will be 100 percent committed to the UConn program,” Curtis said. “So it will be nice to do things one last time as a family.
“And as far as this year is concerned, I don’t think there are any high school games that prepare you for the level of play at UConn. As a matter of fact, a lot of time all you pick up are bad habits.
“It would be different if she wasn’t battle-tested. She’s played on a lot of games for teams that have gone deep into the playoffs. And she played for club teams that have advanced far, as well. She has hundreds of big games under her belt as a high school player. I don’t think missing 27 games of experience this season will hurt her.”