The question begs to be asked.
How does a superstar prep athlete grow up in the backyard of the Razorbacks but not come close to signing with the program? No scholarship offer or even the hint of one?
Such was the case with college junior Megan Herbert, who is taking the University of Central Arkansas basketball program to new heights. Before she was a Sugar Bear, though, the Northwest Arkansas native was raised a Razorback fan. The five-foot-11 power forward starred at Shiloh Christian School in Springdale and played on summer traveling teams for more exposure. In the end, though, she was offered only one scholarship – to UCA. Naturally, Herbert remains grateful.
“I was more than ecstatic to come to UCA,” she says. “It did not hurt my feelings at all” that Arkansas didn’t offer a scholarship, she adds.
The most obvious reason why she likely didn’t offers from bigger programs is size. SEC post players are typically 6-foot-3 and above, and Herbert would likely have had to transform into a wing player (which she played in junior high before shooting up eight inches from 5-feet-3 in the span of a couple years).
“I knew I was undersized,” Herbert says. “I also knew it didn’t matter if I played hard.”
Herbert’s stepfather, Mike Wakefield, says he was surprised Herbert didn’t get more attention from Arkansas and its head coach Tom Collen. “In all the time she was right here in Arkansas’ backyard, she got one Christmas card from them [as] total recruiting material. She got more from Pat Summitt at Tennessee than she got from Tom Collen at Arkansas.”
Wakefield made this point not so much as a dig at Arkansas, but to praise the way Tennessee lays the groundwork for their recruits. “Pat Summitt couldn’t tell you who Megan Herbert is from anybody, but she had a system in place where she was sending that stuff out to the top players around to leave all the doors open.” [although, when it comes to arms races involving recruiting paraphernalia, it helps that the athletic budget for Tennessee’s women’s basketball program is likely larger than Arkansas’]
Granted, Collen did watch Herbert numerous times, Wakefield recalls. In the summer before her senior year, Herbert played for a Little Rock-based national traveling team coached by former Parkview star Dion Cross. Still, she was not 100% until the very end of that summer because of a previous knee injury. Herbert, it turns out, had played her entire junior year with a 1/4-inch meniscus tear, Wakefield says. She chose to postpone surgery until a week after the state playoffs, which put her out of action for six weeks. “That summer, whenever she was being evaluated by all the colleges, she was just coming back from knee surgery.”
What if Herbert hadn’t been recovering that summer? Would she have shown such better quickness that would have convinced Collen she could handle playing small forward in college? It’s worth asking: In the time Herbert has been in college, the Razorbacks have gone 45-34, but only 10-25 in SEC play. It’s unlikely Herbert would regularly average 20/10 in the SEC, but it’s possible she could have developed into an all-conference, 15/7 type of player.
It’s speculation, of course, but not unfounded. Consider that UCA split its last two games against Alabama. In them, Herbert averaged 18.5 points, 17 rebounds and shot 44% from the field.