“Freshman Sarah Tokodi was one of the most highly touted recruits to commit to the University of Akron women’s basketball program, coming out of Parkersburg Catholic High School in West Virginia in 2006. Tokodi was an all-state pick four years in a row, a two-time Street and Smith honorable mention All-American and a Nike All-American.”

Freshman Sarah Tokodi was one of the most highly touted recruits to commit to the University of Akron women’s basketball program, coming out of Parkersburg Catholic High School in West Virginia in 2006.

Tokodi was an all-state pick four years in a row, a two-time Street and Smith honorable mention All-American and a Nike All-American.

The 5-foot-9 guard’s decision to commit to then-women’s basketball coach Kelly Kennedy, however, had as much to do with academics as it did with helping to rebuild the women’s basketball program at UA.

Athletically, I wanted to be a part of turning the program around, Tokodi said. Academically, I wanted to be in the nursing program.

The reputation of UA’s nursing program weighed heavily on Tokodi’s decision.

Akron has one of the best nursing programs in Ohio, and it’s one of the oldest, so that’s why I chose Akron, she said.

Akron head coach Jodi Kest and her staff stressed the importance of recruiting players from successful high school programs. Kest inherited one in Tokodi, who led her high school team to back-to-back West Virginia state championships in 2005 and 2006.

Assistant women’s basketball coach and recruiting coordinator James Brunelli said an effort has been made to recruit players with prior success in order to rebuild the program.

It’s important that we get well-rounded students, Brunelli said. We want them to be from good programs. When you’re taking over a program that hasn’t had much success, you want to surround yourself with people who have been winners.

The coaching staff’s philosophy is to recruit student-athletes who will help the program in the long-term and not just fill a specific need, Brunelli said.

The coaching staff does extensive research on a potential recruit to make sure that theyknow exactly what they’re getting in a student-athlete, both athletically and personally.

We don’t just speak to their high school coach, Brunelli said. We talk to their AAU (coach), we talk to their parents, we talk to their guidance counselor, we talk to their pastor.

We talk to everybody to get to know this person, because although they’re making a commitment to us, we’re making a commitment to them. It’s important to know everything about them.

Freshmen student-athletes must adapt to the increased demands of competing in a Division I sport along with adjusting to college life.

Time management is one of the most important skills that freshmen student-athletes must learn to develop, said Scott Taylor, UA’s coordinator of academic support services for basketball.

Taylor said that the NCAA rules state that student-athletes are allowed to perform in specific activities related to their sport for 20 hours a week during the season and eight hours a week during the offseason.

To help with their transition, all freshmen basketball players are placed in one of two categories based upon their transcripts, the success they had in high school and their test scores.

One group of student-athletes is required to report for a minimum of eight study hall hours per week. Taylor said that they are supervised and have resources available to them, but often work independently.

The student-athletes in the other, more intense group are required to meet with Taylor every Monday and Friday. They also receive one-on-one help with their schoolwork from Taylor or a mentor after they complete their required hours.

The assigned study hours also assist the student-athletes in time manage.

The biggest thing the kids have to learn how to do is manage their time, and that’s what we help them with by assigning them certain hours every day to be in our space, Taylor said. At least initially, we can make sure that (the players) are coming in for two hours a day, and for at least those two hours a day, they’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.

Study tables continue while the teams compete on the road. During the Mid-American Conference portion of the basketball schedule, there is often a game during the week and on the weekend.

Brunelli said that a typical day on the road for the women’s basketball team consists of breakfast, a shoot-around and then a two-hour study table at the hotel.

All the kids are required to bring their studies with them on the road every trip, Brunelli said. Every time we go overnight, we have a built-in study hall down there. The longer the trip, the longer time we have study hall.

Brunelli said that the team conducted a two-hour study hall in an Atlanta airport this season due to a three-hour layover.

We build it in because we know how important academics are, and how easy it is for you to get behind, Brunelli said.

Brunelli echoed Taylor’s sentiments about the importance of commitment and time management.

They have to learn that they just can’t go to the mall anytime they want, they just can’t go out with their friends and socialize anytime they want, Brunelli said. They have practice, they have conditioning, they have study tables they have to put in, and they have their classes they need to go to.

It’s academics, their family and basketball.

Tokodi’s success from high school continued this season as her 12.4 points per game was second highest on the team and second-best among MAC freshmen. She was named to the MAC All-Freshmen team.

Tokodi praised her coaches for making academics a priority on road trips.

Our coaches were really good about making us study and do study tables on the road, said Tokodi. I just made sure that I studied while we were on the way there and at different times at the hotel, too, to get all my work done.

The importance of excelling academically to reach her career goal is not lost on the freshman.

In order to get into the nursing program and succeed, I need to get really good grades.

Tokodi takes pride in being an all-around student-athlete and being a role model for others.

I think it’s important to be a well-rounded person, Tokodi said, and not only be good on the court, but set an example for people off of the court with academics.