Illinois has always been Leah Bolton's dream school, so it's understandable that she was nearly overcome with emotion when women's basketball coach Matt Bollant extended an offer to her over the phone Monday morning.
"I almost started crying; it's all I ever wanted," Bolton said.
Bolton, a 5-foot-9 guard/forward from Marist, is the fifth player Bollant has landed in the Class of 2013. Bolingbrook's Kennedy Cattenhead, Maine South's Jacqueline Grant and Hopkins' (Minn.) Mikaala Shackelford all have given commitments to the first-year Illinois staff. Taylor Gleason, a 5-10 guard from Goodrich, Mich., recently committed to Illinois after originally committing to Michigan.
Bolton averaged 14.3 points and 5.9 rebounds as a junior last season for Marist (32-2), which won a sectional in Class 4A. Bollant and associate head coach Mike Divilbiss first saw Bolton play July 10 in an AAU tournament for the Illinois X-Citment club and were immediately impressed.
"Coach Bollant and Coach Divilbiss thanked me for having them and making sure they were there, and they wanted to know everything about Leah Bolton on the spot," X-Citment coach Xavier Walton said. "They thought she played extremely hard, they liked what they saw and Coach Bollant actually let me know that he was going to change his recruiting plan and go to an event we were attending in Tennessee so he could watch her play again.
"Leah is a phenomenal hard worker. She doesn't give up on a play. She has a football mentality: She doesn't stop until she hears the whistle."
Bolton said she had offers from at least 15 other schools, including UMass, Memphis, Toledo, Southern Illinois, Xavier and Marquette.
"It was getting overwhelming talking to the coaches all the time, but now that I've made my decision, everything will be so much easier," Bolton said.
Gleason committed to Michigan last summer, but with Kevin Borseth leaving to take the job at Green Bay and former Wolverines assistant Tianna Kirkland on Illinois' staff, Gleason thought Illinois was the best fit for her.
"They have a lot of confidence in me as a player, and I fit their style as a player," said Gleason, who averaged 10 points for Goodrich's 28-0 Class B state championship team. "They're going to teach me fundamentals and help me improve my game."