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Originally published February 9, 2010 at 9:04 PM | Page modified February 10, 2010 at 6:48 PM

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Washington women recruits who left have no regrets

While Seattle-area natives Sara Morton and Mackenzie Argens remained, former teammates Candice Nichols, Jess McCormack, Kali Bennett and Katelan Redmon left. A fifth player, Nicole Romeo, returned to Australia last year due to lack of playing time.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Friday

Stanford @ Washington, 7 p.m.

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Katelan Redmon hunched over and gave a menacing stare into the camera while clutching a basketball with both palms. The pose was part of a memorable photograph of Washington's once-celebrated 2007 women's basketball recruiting class.

But even then, the purple jersey didn't feel right to her.

Fast-forward 27 months later as Redmon, draped in a Gonzaga practice uniform, reflects back on the oddest year of her playing career, a season marred by unhappy players, homesickness and losing.

"I was ready to come back home," said Redmon, a Spokane native, of her UW freshman season. "I wanted to be back with my family.

"It always crosses my mind, 'What if I would have came here in the first place and not even messed with that kind of stuff.' There is a feeling like I should have just came here in the first place."

But Redmon shunned a campus visit to Gonzaga to play for Washington coach June Daugherty. But then Daugherty was fired in 2007 and replaced by the unproven Tia Jackson.

The differences in their coaching styles were stark to the players — tougher practices, tough love and higher demands — enough to move four members of the touted class to ask then-athletic director Todd Turner for a transfer. He denied three of the requests until the end of the season.

While Seattle-area natives Sara Morton and Mackenzie Argens remained, former teammates Candice Nichols (Loyola Marymount, 8.9 ppg this season), Jess McCormack (New Zealand), Kali Bennett (Arizona State, 6.2 ppg) and Redmon left. A fifth player, Nicole Romeo, returned to Australia last year due to lack of playing time.

"When Katelan left it was really hard for me because I was so close with her, someone I imagined going through the years of my career with," said Washington senior Sami Whitcomb, the Huskies' leading scorer this season (14.6). "We became friends right away because she was a gym rat and I'm a gym rat. We bonded on that level."

Redmon doesn't keep in contact, however. That stare from the old photograph morphed into a warm smile as she laughs about being the "nerdy" one on the Bulldogs team, enjoying her role as a reserve and recovering from an Achilles' heel injury that kept her out of two games.

The No. 24 Zags (19-4, 8-0 West Coast Conference) have broken into the national rankings in both polls for the first time since 2005. Redmon, a lanky wing with pro potential, is an X-factor, averaging 11.9 points and 4.6 rebounds to help the Bulldogs defeat conference opponents by an average of 30.9 points.

"These are the types of games I want to play in," she said.

Coach Kelly Graves knew she'd fit into his system, immediately accepting Redmon when contacted about the transfer.

"I liken it to Kevin McHale, a Hall of Famer who played his whole career coming off the bench," said Graves, noting Redmon will probably average a double-double as a starter next season. "She'd be the star player on every (other) team in our league. But her ego can handle it; that's why I see her as a very mature person.

"She learned a lot that year. It wasn't the best time in her life, but valuable. As an outsider, she seems really happy and comfortable here."

The same can be said for the other transfers, too. Nichols said a "weight was lifted from my shoulders" when she left and Bennett is basking in the Arizona sun.

Bennett's Sun Devils (14-8, 6-5 Pac-10) have won six of their past eight games, including a 67-61 overtime win against Washington. Bennett, a 6-5 center, played 14 minutes.

"I miss the rain, but I'm enjoying life," said Bennett, a double major in design studies and criminology and criminal justice. "Until the last day, I struggled with the decision (to transfer). (Tia) was the initial thing that made me leave. The team, the school and my brother (a practice player) had such a strong tie with me that I was struggling. But in the end, that wasn't going to play well with that coaching style."

While Redmon was more homesick, the others were critical of Jackson's methods in practice, a critique the remaining players don't feel is warranted.

"We all see it and when we're going through it, none of us are thinking that's unfair treatment," Whitcomb said. "To see what's happened and hear it explained differently after people have left — it takes on this whole other look, which reflects negatively on the program as it does the coaches."

And Washington (9-12, 4-7) is left to wonder what-if. Redmon likely will help the Zags advance to the postseason for the second consecutive season while the Huskies will search for scoring and rebounding options after Whitcomb graduates.

Options that were there in that notorious photograph of 2007.

"She (Katelan) is a kid who wanted to be where she is right now and I'm happy for her," Jackson said. "Is she missed? Yeah. Do we worry about that? Not at all."

Note

• Washington center Regina Rogers was diagnosed with a bone bruise in her knee Monday. She is expected to return to the starting lineup against No. 2 Stanford on Friday.

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

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