Any time a women’s basketball player dunks in a game, it’s news.
When the player in question is only 15 years old, that’s huge.
Laeticia Amihere, a 6-foot-3 Canadian forward, was years removed from college, much less the pros, when she first threw down a dunk in 2017, and when she did so, it drew the attention of media outlets across the U.S. and Canada.
Now, ESPN’s No. 10 overall player in the class of 2019 is down to three schools in her recruitment — Kentucky, Louisville and South Carolina. Amihere took her official visit to USC the weekend of Oct. 12, and is set to announce her decision on Nov. 14.
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But while dunking will always be attached to Amihere’s name no matter where she goes, whichever school ends up winning her services will be getting a far more rounded player than she is often credited as being, according to her coach at King’s Christian Academy, Zelimir Stevanovic.
“A lot of people, and I always hear this, only talk about the dunks and the physical traits, but there is so much more to her,” Stevanovic told The State. “There’s understanding of the game, there’s the timing and understanding of where to go and what cut to make. There’s the passing ability she has when she has the ball, when she’s on the ball, and just overall leadership as far as correcting and supporting her teammates … on and off the court. The total package. Sometimes I get annoyed that people only talk about her dunks and her physicality.”
Stevanovic’s belief in Amihere’s versatility is such that he doesn’t expect her to be a traditional center or forward on the next level — he believes she is best suited to play as either a small forward, the 3 position, or a point forward, a stretch 4.
“You’re looking at a girl that can guard every position, literally, from point guard to 4 or 5,” Stevanovic said.
That’s despite the fact that Amihere is just coming back to competitive basketball after suffering a torn ACL a year ago. In that year away, her ESPN ranking dipped from No. 2 overall to No. 10 and second at her position. Still, Stevanovic said none of the schools recruiting her before the injury backed off after, and in his view, she’s come back “stronger than ever” — in more ways than one.
“Mentally, in a weird way, I think this was something that was definitely quote-unquote good for her,” Stevanovic said. “She grew as a person, she matured overnight, she now understands how difficult this whole journey can be and what it takes, and she understands what the setbacks are … she’s been great all eight, nine months, traveled to all the games with the team, tournaments, here, USA, attended all the practices, along with all the rehab. So I think she definitely grew as a person during this time.”
While she was rehabbing, she couldn’t run, but she could shoot and lift weights, and she’s added 18 pounds of “pure strength,” Stevanovic said.
“She is in such good shape and so physically gifted … to where that actually, when you’re that strong, you’re that athletic, that actually helps you prior to surgery, in surgery and in rehab,” Stevanovic said. “I played professional basketball overseas and I know how hard it is for me to come back from it, because I just wasn’t as athletic as she is.”
Because Stevanovic knew how hard it can be to recover from such a major injury, he said he kept waiting for Amihere to “crumble” mentally. She never did. He credits that to her maturity and self-awareness of both her flaws and strengths.
“She’s one of the most self-analytical 16, 17-year-old girls that I have ever met,” Stevanovic said. “She constantly watches game film, fully aware of all her shortcomings. With all the hype around her and you’re this and you’re that and ESPN, she’s always fully aware of what she doesn’t know how to do and what she needs to work on, so I think what will take her to the next level.”
Where she’ll land on the next level is still very unclear — Stevanovic said Amihere enjoyed her visit to South Carolina, which he called a “phenomenal” program. But Louisville also offers a highly-regarded program that has advanced to three Final Fours in nine years, while Kentucky would be a place where Amihere could be the face of the program almost immediately.