By Joseph Staszewski
Nia Oden felt even better signing her National Letter of Intent than she did at the time of her commitment. The Christ the King senior declared her intent to attend the University of Illinois in early October, but had yet to visit the school. She got to see the campus for the first time at the end of the month.
“It turned out I absolutely loved it,” Oden said. “Never saw it before. I did a virtual tour online, but I never actually saw it. My visit reassured me that this was the right decision.”
She and teammate Bria Smith, who is headed to Virginia, and Cory Edwards, the boys’ team’s George Mason-bound guard, all made their decisions official Nov. 10, the start of the official signing period. The trio of team captains were joined by family members and teammates in the school’s library. They consider themselves an example for those coming after them to look up to as they strive to one day be sitting at the table after earning scholarships.
“All three of us are leaders for our teams,” Smith said. “We have to give good examples. This was definitely a good example for all of them. It shows you hard work can get you anywhere.”
Added Edwards: “It shows what hard work can do for you, getting a free scholarship to go away to college.”
Smith was considered a top 10 recruit in the country by scouting services and chose the ACC school over Georgia and Louisville. Oden had an eclectic list that included St. Bonaventure, Brown, UMBC and Cornell, but felt a connection with Illini Coach Jolette Law. Smith and Oden joked that they planned to pick schools with matching colors. Edwards, who missed the end of the Royals’ Federation title run with a dislocated foot, rewarded George Mason for their loyalty. They had showed interest in him since he was a freshman.
“When the point guard who signs with George Mason has a 90 average and will run through the wall with no questions asked or get up on the baseline first, it makes my job a lot easier because everyone is going to fall into place,” CK boys’ Coach Joe Arbitello said. “Guys are going to follow what he does.”
The night finished off a whirlwind few days at the Middle Village school. It had its Midnight Madness Sunday morning. There was a laser light show, guest DJs and the raising of two banners commemorating the school’s Federation crowns. Signing day can be just as special for a program.
“It’s not about winning games,” Royals girls’ Coach Bob Mackey said. “It’s about seeing parents light up, whether it’s Bria Smith and her parents, Nia Oden and her parents and Corey Edwards and his parents. You know what, it’s a great night.”