By Larry Moko, Special to The News
When it comes to Hamilton high school girls’ basketball, Christina Buttenham can be regarded as a trend setter.
Although she’s only half way through her Grade 11 year at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School, Buttenham has already verbally committed to attend the University of Iowa on a basketball scholarship beginning in September, 2014.
“It’s the earliest commitment from a player that I’ve coached,” 15-year-veteran St. Mary Crusaders coach Rich Wesolowski said. “I’ve talked to (NCAA) coaches when kids were in Grade 12, but not Grade 11. I’ve never seen that before. It’s a new trend.”
Buttenham, who can’t officially sign until next November, helped the Crusaders capture back-to-back Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations Triple A girls’ basketball crowns in 2011 and 2012. In addition, this past summer, she was a member of Canada’s Under-17 team that won a bronze medal at the FIBA World Cadette championship in the Netherlands.
Buttenham scored eight points in the medal match against the Japanese. Her teammates included Hamiltonians Kia Nurse (St. Thomas More) and Saicha Grant-Allen (Glendale).
A 5-foot-11 shooting guard, Buttenham said she received 64 letters from schools expressing interest in acquiring her services. She made visits to several, but the one on Dec. 1 to the Iowa City campus – home of the Big Ten Hawkeyes — had her hooked.
“Once we visited, I felt very comfortable,” Buttenham said. “It just felt right. The coaches and the players welcomed me. And they support the national team, which is great. Some schools won’t let you play for your country once you’ve committed.”
Wesolowski, who has guided nine Crusaders senior squads to provincial girls’ high school basketball titles, said he was personally “bombarded” with recruitment calls about Buttenham.
“I got at least one call a day for months,” Wesolowski said. “They are starting to come after kids really early.
A former standout guard for the University of Guelph and McMaster University, Wesolowski believes an early commitment could be beneficial because Buttenham will have time to get bigger and stronger to prepare for the rigours of top-level competition.
“If she puts the time and effort in, hopefully the transition will be smoother.”
Buttenham has come up through the club ranks with the Transway organization. She’s spent a total of nine years with Transway, winning the last five straight Ontario age-group championships.
“I used to do swimming, gymnastics and volleyball,” she said, “but basketball stuck.
“I just think I’ve been truly blessed with the coaches I’ve had on my high school and club teams. And the players I got to play with on Team Canada this past summer made me so much better. Ever since I realized what university was, I’ve always wanted to play in the States. Just because everyone was always talking about it. That was my goal.”
Other St. Mary Crusader products currently playing college basketball in the States are Karly Roser (Northwestern), April Coyne (Fairleigh Dickinson) and Alexandra Yantzi (Lehigh). At the Canadian University Sport level, Crusaders helping their respective teams are Ashley Randall (Lakehead), Vanesa Bonomo (McMaster); Colleen Daly (University of New Brunswick); Emily Hanaka (Dalhousie); Jenna Bugiardini (Victoria).
In addition, more than two dozen female players attended St. Mary as students before accepting U.S. basketball scholarships when the now defunct National Elite Development Academy was based at McMaster from 2006-09. One of the NEDA graduates is Olympian Natalie Achonwa, who currently stars for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.