One of Juneau's and Alaska's most heralded young athletes came to a big decision Sunday.
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Crimson Bears senior girls basketball player Talisa Rhea, a 5-10 guard and two-time Anchorage Daily News/Alaska Media Class 4A State Player of the Year, verbally committed to play basketball and attend Oregon State University. The earliest she can sign her official letter of intent is Nov. 12.
"It's a real big relief," Rhea said. "It's kind of been a long process. It's been fun, but I'm happy that it's over."
Rhea received plenty of attention from colleges throughout the country for years, but narrowed her choices down significantly in mid-August.
While she considered such schools as Arizona, Long Beach State, Georgia Tech, Hawaii and San Diego, she decided Corvalis, Ore., was the place for her.
"I really like the smaller campus that Oregon State has," Rhea said. "That was important to me. The people at Oregon State were a big part of me choosing."
After years of being a Pacific-10 bottom-feeding team, the Beavers are one of the West Coast's rising programs.
Oregon State is led by second-year coach LaVonda Wagner - a former Duke University assistant.
She inherited a team who won just six games in 2004 and posted a 16-15 record with seven Pac-10 wins in her first season.
"I talked to her a lot," Rhea said of Wagner. "She's been a big part of the recruiting process with her assistants. ... She definitely knows what it's like to be in a big program. She's turning things around at Oregon State."
Rhea led the Crimson Bears in nearly every statistical category - including points, assists, rebounds and steals - last season as JDHS finished third in the state tournament.
During the summer, she played with Team Alaska, an Amateur Athletic Union traveling team headed by East Anchorage girls basketball coach Dorena Bingham. Rhea said she played in 33 games with Team Alaska in Oregon, Washington, Chicago, Memphis and San Diego.
"You can't beat it for exposure," Juneau-Douglas High School girls coach Lesslie Knight said. "I believe she'll get a lot of exposure anyway, especially being a two-time player of the year, but she did get a ton more games in and got to play with a wide variety of people."
As a player, Rhea is one of the more complete guards in the state.
She dictates the pace of a game with her on-court maturity and court vision. Her ability to find her teammates for open looks and take advantage of a crack in an opposing defenses has made her a powerful force.
"She absolutely controls the tempo of a game and that's one of the things many of the college coaches liked about her," Knight said. "Bringing up the ball, recognizing a situation and passing. Many of them believe she'll have the ball in her hands controlling the game a lot."
Her toughness and leadership abilities also set her apart from her peers.
Rhea is an expert at driving the lane and drawing a foul. Her ability to absorb a hard foul, still get a shot off and drain the ensuing free throws makes her an invaluable part of the team.
Rhea made nearly 81 percent of her free throws last season.
"What I think people will be pleasantly surprised by this year is, she's gotten better," Knight said. "She's put on 20 pounds and it's muscle and strength and she's much stronger inside. The colleges were impressed with a point guard or two-guard that can take it inside, get continually pounded, score and hit the free throw."
Juneau-Douglas opens the basketball season on Nov. 27.
Rhea said she's excited to not only get back on the court with her friends and teammates, but also to leave the hectic world of recruiting behind.
"It's a huge relief not to have to worry about it anymore," Rhea said. "I'm excited for my senior year. I'm excited to go about normal-life stuff without have to worry about it."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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