ROCHESTER, Minn. — When Alyssa Ustby opened the door to her Chapel Hill, N.C., hotel room, treats were waiting. Lots and lots of treats.
There was also a North Carolina sponge foam finger set aside for her, confetti sprinkled about the room and hand-written cards from each of the University of North Carolina women’s basketball coaches directed at the 6-feet-1 basketball star and 2020 Rochester Lourdes graduate.
That was early last summer, with new Tar Heels head coach Courtney Banghart in full pursuit of Ustby, a do-everything player and Lourdes’ all-time leading scorer.
Banghart had a recruiting battle on her hands for Ustby, including with home-state Minnesota and its head coach, former Minnesota Lynx star Lindsay Whalen. Others firmly in Ustby’s picture were Big Ten Conference power Northwestern, as well as Stanford, Pittsburgh and Utah.
But North Carolina, the final of those teams to recruit her, felt different than the rest. Banghart was familiar for Ustby, as she’d been recruiting her before taking the North Carolina job, at Princeton.
That helped, but it wasn’t all of it.
“When I got to North Carolina, I immediately felt like I had a connection with its coaches and players,” Ustby said. “Plus, the campus was amazing. Everything about it was perfect. My mouth was getting tired from smiling so much about everything.”
A different feel
The truth is, the school that many assumed Ustby would choose, Minnesota, hadn’t seemed so perfect. Not to her. Ustby had enjoyed the Minnesota summer camp she’d attended heading into her junior year and was impressed with Whalen. But the official visit that came the following summer left her discouraged.
She was on it with another recruit, who’d later settle on Clemson as her school. But that player, as Ustby saw it, was getting the bulk of the attention during their Gophers visit.
“I seemed to be with the Minnesota assistant (coach) most of the time, while the other recruit was with Whalen,” Ustby said. “It felt like Whalen had already figured I’d be coming to Minnesota, so it wouldn’t matter.”
As it turned out, the Gophers got neither player.
“At North Carolina, the recruiting visit just felt more easy going; it just flowed,” Ustby said. “But at Minnesota, I’m not sure what it was. It just didn’t feel the same.”
Making it official
Three months after Ustby had completed her official overnight visit at North Carolina, she made it official. After making difficult calls the morning of Sept. 18 to her three other finalists — Minnesota, Northwestern and Pittsburgh — telling them thanks but no thanks, Ustby went from tortured about ending those long relationships, to pure relief and glee.
Welcome to Carolina, Alyssa Ustby!— Carolina Women's Basketball (@uncwbb) November 19, 2019
This Minnesotan picked the Tar Heels over the Gophers this fall and brings much needed size & versatility to the future of our backcourt. She's a 👌-sport stud and a winner in every way. Can't wait to have you in Carolina blue, @AlyssaUstby! pic.twitter.com/xcUHXIuy4s
Finally, this recruiting process — one that started in eighth grade with her receiving a recruiting questionnaire from South Dakota State University — was over.
All of those nights of spending two-plus hours on the phone talking to recruiters would be no more. So was answering all the texts, emails and Snapchats that came from the roughly 20 Division I schools that had recruited her over the years.
Ustby, also a star in softball and soccer, but who’d settled on basketball being No. 1 following her freshman year, would now get her life back. And even better than that was the elation Ustby felt about her choice, North Carolina and that first-year coach of the Tar Heels, Banghart.
“When I committed, there was a lot of emotion for me,” Ustby said. “I went into a multi-purpose room at Lourdes and FaceTimed (Banghart). It was the most relieved I’ve ever felt. I’d been recruited (by so many schools) for a number of years, and it had been so hard to keep up with all of their texts and messages. Once I committed, I felt like I could straighten up and walk again."