TAYLORVILLE – For one of the few times in her basketball career, Allison Curtin was caught off guard.
When the News-Gazette All-Stater from Taylorville came to the University of Illinois on Wednesday for an unofficial recruiting visit, she was expecting merely to take in the campus sights and to hear the merits of the school and its women's basketball program extolled.
Instead, Curtin heard something she'd never expected would happen nearly this quickly – that Illini coach Theresa Grentz had a scholarship awaiting her signature.
"I was very surprised," the 5-foot-9 forward said. "I didn't think it was going to happen. I thought we were just going to talk about things.
"But I definitely wanted to go there. I always dreamed of going to Illinois and playing basketball there, and then when Theresa Grentz came to Illinois (in 1995), it made me want to go there 10 times more because of all the things they've achieved."
Curtin is the first recruit to orally commit to the UI for the 1998-99 season. The senior-to-be will make it official during the early signing period in November. Under NCAA rules, Grentz cannot comment on individual recruits until receiving a signed letter.
Last season, Curtin was the leading scorer and rebounder for a 34-1 Taylorville team that placed second in the Class AA state tournament. She averaged 23.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, 5.6 steals and 3.4 assists while shooting 62.5 percent from the field.
Curtin has known virtually nothing but team success since middle school. Her seventh-grade team placed second in the Illinois Elementary School Association state tournament. The next year, her eighth-grade squad won the state title.
During Curtin's three years on the Taylorville varsity – she moved into the starting lineup midway through her freshman season – the Tornadoes were 84-9.
"She's by far one of the best athletes I've ever coached," said Carol Wilson, an 11th-year coach who has been at Taylorville since Curtin's freshman season. "I think the biggest thing she brings to Illinois is she knows how to win and has a very competitive attitude. She hates to lose."
Curtin, who plays primarily around the basket in high school, is projected as a guard in college.
"She'll have to work on her perimeter game – three-point shooting and ball handling," Wilson said. "She's got the defense to play Division I. She has to get physically stronger, but that will come with time as she matures."
Curtin, a News-Gazette All-State special-mention pick as a sophomore, had been contacted by more than 100 colleges. Besides Illinois, she said, schools showing the most interest were Illinois State, Bradley, Evansville and St. Louis.
Wednesday's trip was Curtin's first recruiting visit, and she said she's glad to have settled on a school entering her senior season.
"It's good to have it out of the way," she said. "Now I don't have to worry next year about who is watching me at such and such a game."