In anticipation of our coverage of the Homeschool East Coast Basketball Championships in Lynchburg, Virginia, we thought it would be appropriate to catch up with one of the most famous homeschooled athletes in the women’s game -- Taber Spani of the Tennessee Lady Vols.
Last weekend the senior put up a career-high 33 points against Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and was named to the All-Tournament team. Spani was the first-ever homeschooled player recruited by the Lady Vols, an experience that head coach Holly Warlick said she would “gladly do again.”
Spani was first discovered by Tennessee while playing AAU ball for the Cy-Fair Nike Elite.
“We were at an AAU tournament recruiting Glory Johnson and we saw Taber play and we were like ‘who is that’,” recalls Warlick. “We hadn’t recruited a homeschooled kid before, but we didn’t care -- a baller is a baller.”
Taber, who hails from Lee’s Summit, Mo., played homeschool ball with Metro Academy in Kansas City. Spani helped guide her team to five National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championships. During her high-school career she racked up 4,113 points, 1,758 rebounds and 825 assists. Spani went on to be named a McDonald’s, WBCA and Parade All-American.
Here’s our interview with Taber:
Full Court: Tell me about your family. Weren’t all of you homeschooled and is everyone a scholarship athlete?
Taber: I have four sisters; all five of us were homeschooled. My oldest sister played at Kansas State. I’m second oldest. My sister Tanis plays at Southwest Baptist; she’s on scholarship there. Sajil is a senior in high school; she’s getting recruited locally by colleges in the Kansas City area, and Taris is a freshman. She’s very competitive and may end up being taller than me, so I think she may consider going to a national-level program like I did.
Full Court: How much has sports grown for homeschoolers and what are some of the challenges that players or teams face?
Taber: It was tougher five or 10 years ago. A lot has changed -- many states allow you to play for the public-school team or you play for a homeschool team which can compete against public schools. That’s how it was in Missouri -- you’re a sanctioned school.
The competition level is a little bit different; it’s not as strong. But I think now, with AAU exploding, that’s where I got recruited. Also homeschooling leagues are now having huge statewide and regional tournaments. It’s really grown a lot.
For me the challenges are far out-weighed by the positives. If there was a challenge it would be the overall competition day in and day out. Larger public schools often have more structure and athletes to choose from.
Full Court: Did your team have organized practices and what are the advantages a basketball player might have because they are homeschooled?
Taber: We would practice from 6-8 in the morning and then we would do school. I think the great thing about homeschooling that corresponds so well with basketball or any sport is you have to be self-disciplined and you really have to be on your own schedule. It’s so much like college, where if you do your work and you really time-manage your schedule, then you can do more. A lot of kids in public school can’t do that.
Also, for me, the transition from homeschool to college was very easy. I already had those built-in skills of time management that are so critical at the college level when you’re juggling a full class schedule, life on campus as well as basketball.
Full Court: Because of the flexibility in your schedule as a homeschooler, were you able to get extra workouts in?
Taber: We had a lot of extra workouts. It was great because I had three training partners built in with my sisters. So we would do speed, strength and agility in the afternoon, and then we would work in different shooting and ball-handling drills. I definitely got extra workouts in because of my flexible schedule.
Full Court: How important is playing on an AAU team for homeschoolers?
Taber: I was first seen by colleges through AAU, and then colleges started following me at homeschooling tournaments, but you really do get seen in the summer. And I would even apply that to the smaller private-school kids -- you have to get on a good AAU team in order to be seen. I would definitely recommend that.
Full Court: What advice or encouragement would you give to homeschoolers who hope to play sports in college?
Taber: The biggest thing is, there is great opportunity. If you work hard and develop your game and get on a good AAU team, you are not limited. You look at Moriah Jefferson who is at UConn and I’ve been blessed to come here (Tennessee) and Whitney Williams went to Iowa State. I’ve seen so many boys and girls go to college. You can be a McDonald’s All-American. You can play on USA Basketball. It’s really limitless.