Badger graduate Sarah Bonar was a special find for University of Rio Grande basketball coach David Smalley. It's perhaps by fate that Smalley was guided in the direction of the small town hoops star.
"We were actually recruiting another player (Nichole Mabry) that knew Sarah," Smalley said. "Mabry came down and visited and I told her the type of player we were looking for. Nichole told me she knew someone that would fit the bill."
Mabry, along with another incoming freshman recruit Taylor Hale, met Sarah in Chicago. The three met in 2011 while playing for the Eastern Ohio All-Star basketball team in the Nike Tournament of Champions.
"I made a phone call to Sarah, brought her down for a visit, worked her out and she was the real deal. I was fortunate on my part to stumble into a kid of her type of caliber," Smalley said.
Bonar has contributed immediately as a freshman. She has played and started all 27 games this season for the Red Storm, averaging 10.7 points per game and leads the team in rebounding, averaging 6.4 per game. Bonar said she was surprised after finding out that she would be starting as a freshman.
"I was definitely caught off guard," Bonar said. "I honestly had no clue coming into the season how I would be contributing to the team. I was willing to contribute in any way, whether it be a few minutes off the bench or helping my teammates in practice to help better themselves."
Alma Mater: Badger, 2012
The skinny:?Leads the team with 6.4 rebounds per game ... averages 10.7 points per game ... has started every game of her freshman season ... Recorded a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds against Miami-Middletown this season
For Smalley, it was a no brainer to start Bonar.
"I don't stand on the old premise that a lot of coaches play seniors and juniors and sophomores and freshmen sit and wait their turn," Smalley said. "My philosophy is, if you get it done, you're going to play."
Bonar has adjusted just fine in the Rio Grande basketball program. Smalley has seen Bonar mature as a player and as a leader.
"She has improved in a lot of areas," Smalley said. "When Sarah came in, she was timid, maybe didn't have the confidence. She now has that confidence. Now you can see she is a verbal leader, she's a leader by example and you can see what she's focused on what she wants to see out there (on the court) from the team concept."
Even when Smalley has praised Bonar about the improvements she has made throughout the season, the Badger graduate stays humble and continues to work hard to better her game.
"There is always room to improve and I'll be the first to admit that," Bonar said. "At the same time, from my high school level to the collegiate level, there have been a lot of changes. From my position on the floor to how I contribute to the team, no matter what my role is, I am excited to be here and be given the opportunity."
Although Bonar has had individual success, the Red Storm have struggled this season, which is uncharacteristic since Smalley took over the program in 1992.
Coming into this year, Rio Grande has averaged 21 wins per season under Smalley. Currently, the Red Storm are 6-21. He knew this year his team was going to be young as there is only one junior and one senior on the team. With the young squad, he said that with Bonar's talent, she is the type of player that he's looking for to restore the program.
"That's our goal and that's what we're doing. Smalley said. "She's multi-talented. She can play a little bit of point if we need that. She can be that two guard, she can be the slashing three. We'll bring in other pieces in to compliment her 10 points and 6.5 rebounds. But think, a freshman, she just came from high school and she's doing that the first year."
Despite the team's hardship, Bonar has kept a positive mentality and believes in the program and the direction it is going.
"I'm looking forward to the remainder of the season to see how much we can improve," Bonar said. "Even though we're young, I feel our potential is right there and we are capable of achieving great things. I just hope coming into next season that we all come in with the mentality that we are all ready to get back into having a winning season, go into the tournaments and advance far.
"I love playing here with these people. I am really grateful for being here and Rio Grande is the place I was meant to be."