Alyssa Ustby had an overwhelming feeling when she first set foot on the University of North Carolina campus.
That was one month ago. Wednesday, she made it official. The Rochester Lourdes basketball star announced that it would be her college home a year from now. She was going to be a Tar Heel.
“As soon as I stepped on campus at North Carolina, I knew it was going to be my new home,” said Ustby, who in the last two weeks had narrowed her choices to North Carolina and Minnesota.
“I’d been torn between Minnesota and North Carolina. But when I went on my official visit to North Carolina, I didn’t want to leave.”
In Ustby, the Tar Heels are getting a 6-foot-2 do-everything player who was All-State last year when she averaged 25 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists and 3.4 steals. She’s also been a multi-sport athlete, starring in basketball, soccer and softball.
Ustby is listed as a three-star recruit by ESPN and is ranked as Minnesota’s third-best player from the class of 2020. Paige Bueckers (Hopkins, University of Connecticut commit) and Lauren Jensen (Lakeville North, Iowa commit) are ahead of her.
Ustby, who will be in her fourth year as a starter for Lourdes head coach Aaron Berg, is highly regarded in multiple areas. That includes her being a nearly 4.0 GPA student and having myriad intangibles.
“Beyond basketball, Alyssa is a great person and the coaches saw that who were recruiting her,” Berg said. “And that’s what makes her a great teammate and leader. She’s going to work hard for her coaches and her new team.”
Ustby had scores of college offers. That included big-time program Stanford, as well heavyweights Texas, Minnesota and North Carolina.
But in the end, it came down to Minnesota and North Carolina. At Minnesota, she’d have been playing for second-year Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen, a Minnesota women’s basketball icon. At North Carolina, the coach is Courtney Banghart. Banghart replaces longtime Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell, who resigned at the end of last season after a program review found concerns about her making “racially insensitive” comments and pressuring injured players to continue to compete.
Hatchell was 18-15, 15-16, 15-16 and 14-18 in her final four seasons at North Carolina.
Banghart’s reputation is glossy. In 12 season as Princeton’s coach, she amassed a 254-103 record, led her team to eight NCAA Tournament appearances and was named the 2015 Naismith National Coach of the Year.
All of it left Ustby with a difficult decision. Whalen or Banghart? Stay close to home or have a new beginning?
“Lindsay Whalen is a phenomenal person, and I’ve only heard great things about her as a coach,” Ustby said. “This was the hardest decision of my life, to play for my home state and stay close to home, or take a chance with a program that is a (plane) flight away.”
But one day after making her choice, Ustby says she is at peace with it. Her faith in Banghart, the program she is intending to build, Ustby’s connections with the players she met at North Carolina, and the school’s idyllic campus won her over.
“What drove me toward Banghart was her passion toward the game and her passion to share it,” Ustby said. “She is one of the most knowledgeable coaches I have ever met, and I know that she will be a great coach for me.
“When I was at North Carolina, it just felt like home. I forgot that I was a plane ride away. I knew that was a sign.”
Ustby will begin this next high school basketball season as Lourdes’ second all-time leading scorer, behind Stacy Sievers with 1,760 points. She is the school’s all-time leading rebounder, with 931 boards.