Courtney Ekmark is a 6-0 guard out of Phoenix, AZ, class of 2014 who has committed to the University of Connecticut. She's a pure shooter.
Editor's Note: Starting November 20, Courtney Ekmark will begin blogging for Full Court about the "bucket list" experiences she has during her senior year.
When Courtney Ekmark spoke on the phone last Wednesday, she was between trips. She’d just returned from a weekend back East, during which she’d played a couple games in the Rose Classic in Brooklyn and visited colleges with her younger brother, Andrew, a sophomore in high school.
Before that week was up, Ekmark was one her way again, jumping a couple time zones from her home in Phoenix, Ariz. for her official visit to Connecticut. She would take in the Huskies’ midnight madness, and meet with fellow UConn ’14 commits Sadie Edwards and Gabby Williams.
The 6-0 guard with limitless range committed to the Huskies the summer following her sophomore year at St. Mary’s (Ariz.) High. She is ranked No. 31 on the 2014 Full Court Fresh 50.
Ekmark’s schedule might seem a bit more peripatetic than the normal high school senior, and for good reason. This past spring, she decided to forgo her senior year at St. Mary’s.
In April, she’d traveled with her father, Curtis, to New Orleans for the Final Four. As they watched UConn cruise to its eighth national title, Courtney had turned to Curtis and said, in reference to the quality of competition they witnessed, “Look, this has nothing to do with high school basketball.”
The level of competition was higher, the pace several steps quicker. The Huskies passed the ball quickly and unselfishly. It was cerebral basketball. “It’s a big adjustment to the collegiate level, especially at a program like UConn, where the expectations are getting to the Final Four — and then winning — each season,” said Curtis.
Ekmark wants to contribute from the moment she steps onto the Storrs campus next fall. Burnishing her skill set and preparing for the speed and physicality that await her became top priorities. “I liked UConn because they play the right way,” Ekmark said. “I don’t want to be known as just a shooter; I want to be a great overall player. That’s what I wanted to work on.”
Courtney poses with her parents, Meg and Curtis, after winning her first of three state championships. (Photo courtesy of the Ekmark family)
Her high school career is one of the most decorated in recent memory. She’s won three state titles and one national title with St. Mary’s. She was named the 2013 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year.
But five seniors from the Knights’ ’12-13 team, all close friends of Ekmark’s, were off to play Division 1. Last spring, she’d watched seniors at St. Mary’s grow complacent as their final semester of high school wound down. Their thoughts spiraled toward college, and senioritis slowly crept in. She didn’t want to lapse into that waiting game. So this past spring, after her junior year ended, Ekmark decided to approach her parents about forgoing that final term.
As one might naturally assume, her parents were initially opposed to the decision. But Ekmark had drafted a thorough plan, and she was prepared to work hard.
“It was pure Courtney,” said Curtis. “She had a PowerPoint that brought up the advantages of home schooling. She had examples — Tim Tebow and [current UConn guard] Moriah Jefferson were both home schooled. Top tennis players were home schooled. My wife and I have always encouraged our children to think outside the box, and I’ve got to say, [Courtney’s decision] has worked exceptionally well.”
Ekmark challenged herself with a rigorous course load at St. Mary’s (she was ranked No. 1 in her class,) and dutifully attended summer school. By the end of her junior year, she was just a couple of classes shy of obtaining her diploma.
She is taking dual-enrollment classes this fall that will transfer to UConn. (She’s already finished a psychology course.) That makes for a more flexible schedule, into which she fits a whole lot of hoops.
Ekmark practices with her brother Andrew’s AAU team — widely regarded as the best in Arizona — and usually plays in two games for them on weekends. She spends the rest of her time honing all parts of her game. Curtis said that Courtney grew late, so they discouraged lifting when she was younger. That’s changed this year.
She’s in the gym three times a week with Frank Johnson, one of two trainers she works with. Johnson has experience playing and coaching in the NBA, and at any point, Ekmark might bump into fellow St. Mary’s alum and fellow Johnson pupil Jerryd Bayless who now plays for the Memphis Grizzlies. She makes sure she plays basketball, in some form or shape, every day.
“(Johnson) is teaching me so many tricks that the pros use — teaching me how to work on my floater, and how to use my hips to be coiled and explode past people,” Ekmark said. “Keeping the ball on my side with my dribble. There’s so many tips.”
With Johnson, she discusses Lakers star Kobe Bryant’s mastery of the little things — like keeping the ball up at all times when he faces a defender, the better to prevent turnovers. Subtlety becomes an essential tool as the competition becomes stiffer. The intensive experience has been, Ekmark says, “awesome.”
She’s also created a bucket list for this final year at home, split into five categories: God, family, education, basketball and “other.” She rattles off examples of what she wants to accomplish in each.
- God: “I want to go on a mission trip — I haven’t decided where yet, but I want to work alongside the homeless.”
- Family: “Go on some cool trips. I think we’re going to Europe during (Andrew’s) spring break. I want to visit my former teammates in college, and I think I’ll have the schedule to see my brother play in his high school games.”
- Education: “I want to learn about different jobs, and find out what I’m interested in. I had the chance to follow my dad around work for a week. (Curtis owns a law firm.) He has a bunch of friends with different jobs, and they’ve said I can follow them around their work.”
- Basketball: “My No. 1 goal is to be ready to play for UConn. That’s why I’m working out with trainers and playing in the boy’s league.”
- Other: “These are things I wouldn’t normally have the time to do, like taking a cooking class. I want to do sideline reporting for sports games. There’s also the Board of Visitors, which is a group of girls that get selected to do social things like a charity ball and a fashion show. That should be fun.” (The Board of Visitors is the oldest charitable organization in Arizona.)
More on that education front — recently, Ekmark sat down to lunch with a lobbyist. “It was awesome,” she said. “I learned more in one lunch than I did in all of AP Government last year.”
Curtis remembers Courtney telling him about the lunch. “I liken it to that Rodney Dangerfield movie Back to School,” he said. “He’s sitting in this college economics class with this professor who’s talking about building a company. And as the professor breezes through all these imagined logistics, Dangerfield goes, ‘Well, where are you gonna build this Fantasyland?’
“It’s nice to have real world experience. She’s tagging along to meetings, she’s asking all kinds of questions. You meet with a lobbyist, you see how the process really works.”
Ekmark brings the ball up the court during the 2012 Nike Tournament of Champions. (Photo by Kelly Kline)
In UConn, the Ekmarks see a program with one of the defining cultures in the game, where Courtney can continue to grow. Geno Auriemma and his staff develop their players, and imbue in them the principles of good team basketball.
The second game Ekmark had played at the Rose Classic was an all-star affair. It was a typical encounter, with the emphasis on individual exploits rather than the team. For Ekmark, it made her pick of UConn all the more poignant. She’s heading to a program that exemplifies the way she wants to play basketball. (She still has fun at All-Star games — she played in the Full Court Fresh 50 Invitational last month, where she said she had a blast. (Watch game HERE))
She’s visited the Storrs campus a number of times, played in summer open gyms alongside her future teammates. What awaits her couldn’t be more enticing.
“I thought about it all the way home,” Ekmark said of her flight from New York, after the Rose Classic, to Arizona. “I’m lucky to go to a college with kids who play the right way.”
Curtis concurs. “I think the culture at UConn impresses me most,” he said. “They’re really careful about who they recruit. It isn’t about rankings; it’s about who fits that culture. Courtney knows she won’t play with anybody who won’t play hard, or take it as seriously as she does. The No. 1 thing about Courtney is her brain, and UConn is a program where that’ll be utilized.”
Her work ethic should pay dividends, as well. Ekmark played all types of sports growing up — she was a gymnast until she grew too tall — but eventually narrowed her choices to basketball and tennis.
When she picked hoops, it was not in halfhearted fashion. Ekmark remembers setting a goal of making 10,000 shots. She created a chart, and set out to accomplish the task. (She did — and she still has the chart.) “I was pretty young,” Ekmark said. “Probably 12.”
Curtis, who’s coached Courtney since the U9 AAU level, prefaces his next compliment with, Well, I am her dad…but what he says rings true. “In terms of work ethic, she’s one of the most dedicated and disciplined people I know — and not just in high school. She’s always been very organized in how she goes about things.”
When Ekmark enters Connecticut next fall, she will be entirely committed to the school and the basketball program. That puts a premium on this final year at home, when she can spend time with her family and enjoy the freedom to try new things.
So far, it’s been a blast.
- Katie Lou Samuelson raises the bar set by her talented sisters
- 6-6 A'ja Wilson does it all at Basketball on the Bayou