Notre Dame women's basketball: Irish land one of Ohio’s best

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

Former Notre Dame women’s basketball assistant coach Kevin McGuff, preparing for his first season as Ohio State’s head coach, was looking to put together a sweep of the top girls basketball players from Ohio’s top AAU team.

McGuff racked up verbal commitments from four players from the nation’s No. 2 AAU team, All-Ohio. He won’t be getting the fifth key player from the All-Ohio team.

Kathryn Westbeld, the nation’s No. 21 women’s basketball prospect in the class of 2014 according to ESPN Hoopgurlz and All-Star Girls Report, has made a verbal commitment to play for Notre Dame and McGuff’s mentor, Muffet McGraw.

Per NCAA rules, McGraw is not allowed to comment on Westbeld’s commitment until the Ohio standout signs her national letter of intent . The early period for signing in basketball is Nov. 13-20.

“The academics was a huge part of it,” Westbeld said of her decision. “Everyone there said it was a 40-year decision, not a four-year decision. That’s so true. And I really formed a great relationship with the team and coaches the few times I was there.”

Westbeld said that the Irish will take advantage of her size on the wing.

“Since I’m 6-1, if I’m on the wing, that just adds another height problem for our opponents,” Westbeld said. “I’ve been playing a 3 and more of a guard the past two or three years.”

A 6-foot-1 senior, Westbeld is the No. 4-ranked forward prospect in the nation. The Kettering, Ohio, native averaged 15 points and 9.1 rebounds a game as a junior and helped lead Fairmont High School to a state championship last season.

Westbeld scored 13 points and had 12 rebounds as Fairmont knocked off two-time defending state champ Twinsburg in the championship game. Twinsburg’s loss was its first in 43 games, and its first loss to an Ohio opponent in 74 games. Fairmont was 27-1 last season.

Westbeld chose Notre Dame over Connecticut, Ohio State and Duke. Her teammate at Fairmont and All-Ohio, Makayla Waterman, committed to Ohio State. Waterman is a 6-2 forward who is the No. 69 prospect in the nation and the No. 14 forward prospect according to ESPN Hoopgurlz. Ohio State has verbal commitments from three other All-Ohio players, Alexa Hart, and twins Kelsey and Chelsea Mitchell.

“I think she made a great decision,” said Kathryn’s father, James Westbeld. “It’s always been her decision. She had choices, and none of which would have been wrong. I think she made the best decision.

“There was a little bit of pressure that way (to play for Ohio State). That’s what was tough. The part to stay in state and try to get the program turned around and win a championship for your home state wore heavy. She’s always been a team player. She is really unselfish. This was one thing she went against her nature to do. It was a 40-year decision that she made. I’m really proud of her.”

Notre Dame’s recruiting class for 2014 is power-packed with the addition of Westbeld. The Irish already have commitments from Brianna Turner, the nation’s No. 2-ranked prospect, and Mychal Johnson, the nation’s No. 40 prospect according to All-Star Girls Report. Turner is a 6-3 forward from Manvel, Texas, and Johnson is a 5-8 point guard from Huntington, W. Va.

Recruiting expert Bret McCormick of All-Star Girls Report said that the commitment from Westbeld gives Notre Dame one of the top recruiting classes in 2014, along with UCLA and Connecticut.

“That’s a great get for Notre Dame,” McCormick said. “Kathryn is really skilled. She’s more of a four, but she could play a 3, and maybe even a two.

“(Westbeld) has a high basketball IQ, like Muffet likes. She can shoot the 3, but her strengths are inside.”

McCormick said that Westbeld should be an impact player as a freshman.

“That’s why Notre Dame and Connecticut win, they get players like Kathryn Westbeld,” McCormick said. “She has a high basketball IQ, she’s talented, and she knows the fundamentals. She knows what to do on the basketball court. Power isn’t her game, but she can score inside with either hand. She knows how to play. If she’s double-teamed, she’ll pass it. “

Tom Jenkins coached Westbeld on his Sports City U and is also the executive director of the Ohio Girls Basketball Report.

“It’s a great signing for coach McGraw and the Notre Dame program. From a non-basketball standpoint, she’s a high character kid. In the 15 years I’ve been running Ohio Basketball Report, I’ve not seen a higher character person.

“She is a consummate team player. She’s all about championships. She’ll make whatever personal sacrifice she has to make in order to win championships. That obviously is one of the pieces making her decision, not just the opportunity to win one championship, but to win multiple championships at Notre Dame. That’s what Notre Dame offers, the opportunity to compete for a national title every year.”

Jenkins said that Westbeld played all five positions in Fairmont’s run to the state title.