Stanford's culture convinced No. 1 Betts to commit sight unseen
Lauren Betts' smile had an audible effect noticeable through the phone when she talked about why committing to Stanford was so easy in the end, despite never visiting the prestigious university.
After giving the standard praise from Stanford commits that she believes the university offers "the best of both worlds" for academic and athletic excellence, she revealed the most impactful reason that has led her — and a number of other elite recruits in recent years — to decide The Farm is home: the culture.
“What stuck out with Stanford is that their personalities are so amazing," she said in a phone interview with Cardinal Sports Report. "They are super sweet. Coach Tara (VanDerveer), her ability to make me a better player really stuck out to me. A few of the girls are from Colorado and that was amazing and made me want to go there more. I know I’m going to feel comfortable going there.”
The Coloradans who blazed the trail down from the mountains to Silicon Valley are Fran Belibi, Ashten Prechtel and Jana Van Gytenbeek.
Betts plays for the same Colorado Premier travel team coached by Keith Van Horn that developed Prechtel, although they did not overlap on the team. Betts and Van Gytenbeek have competed against each other in multiple titanic high school games between Betts' Grandview and Van Gytenbeek's former school, Cherry Creek.
Betts has a strong relationship with Van Gytenbeek's and Belibi's families and Fran's younger sister, Hana, also plays for Colorado Premier: “She’s so nice. She’s the sweetest person ever," Betts said of Hana.
"I’ve known the Belibis for a while now and they are such a great family. Jana’s family is amazing. Through this whole process they were really supportive. I’m really looking forward to playing with them.
Her connection with the Belibis and Van Gytenbeeks helped Betts feel more comfortable with a school she wasn't able to see in person. Like millions of people during the world-stopping pandemic she has made the best of the situation with Zoom meetings.
She used virtual tours and group conversations with coaches to choose a program and university from a list that included, well, everyone. It's not just that Betts is the No. 1 ranked recruit in the 2022 class, she also possesses a physical skill set at 6-7 that is rare in women's basketball.
But she wants to stand out on the court for reasons other than her height. That is why she works with Coach Keith to take advantage of his own experience as a versatile big and how he helped develop Prechtel into a very capable shooter.
“He has always pushed me to new limits," she said. "He has made sure that I improve from the first day I worked with him. I’m really thankful for him. Obviously when he played he was an amazing shooter — I need to make sure to say that so he doesn’t get on me.”
Don't expect VanDerveer to give Betts a green light to shoot threes any time soon, and Betts is still working hard on her inside game, but versatility is a requirement in the modern game.
“I have really pushed her to get comfortable catching on the perimeter, shooting from the perimeter and making passes from the perimeter," Van Horn said.
“She has great natural instincts, great hands, obviously physically gifted with her size and athletic ability and then I think she also has really developed her versatility. She has become a really good shooter and passer.”
Betts is grateful that her basketball development has not been as affected by COVID as many other athletes and she has done her best to take advantage.
“I am so thankful for one of my friends who has her own gym in her backyard and I’ve worked there with my dad," she said. "My AAU has their own development gym so I’m in there a lot with Coach Keith. I’ve been working on my perimeter game a lot. I’ve been trying to expand a little bit more to dribble and shot. Thank God for my AAU team and my friend. I’m glad I have somewhere to get better.”
She also always has a coach she can work with, her father, Andrew. At 7-1 he is a big part of the genetic reason that Lauren towers over most of her competition. Born in England, Andrew played college basketball at Long Beach State and played overseas from 1998 until 2012.
Her mother, Michelle, was a standout outside hitter for Long Beach State's volleyball team and she met Andrew there. According to this ESPN feature, Andrew and Michelle are "amicably divorced, living five minutes apart" and have worked together to instill a drive to excel as a complete student-athlete.
“I want to thank my parents and obviously all my teachers because they knew the situation I was in (as a Stanford recruit) and they pushed me really hard. I think I rose to the occasion and did really well. I’m really thankful for them.”