Nov. 13, 2013
THE FLATS – Georgia Tech women’s basketball head coach MaChelle Joseph has announced that Zaire O’Neil, Erin Garner and Imani Tilford have signed National Letters of Intent to join the Yellow Jacket program beginning in the 2014-15 season.
“My staff has done an amazing job attracting three outstanding student-athletes to Georgia Tech,” Joseph said. “We are excited about the impact this class will have on our program. Erin, Zaire and Imani are three of the top players in the country and all three hail from the east coast. They bring a lot of skill, speed and strength to our program.”
Coach Joseph has shown her strengths in recruiting yet again, signing Prospect Nation’s 11th-rated class. The trio gives Georgia Tech a top-20 recruiting class for the fourth straight year. Blue Star Basketball tabs the Jackets’ 2014 recruiting class at No. 30 in the country while the All Star Girls Report ranks it at No. 18.
“Georgia Tech has continued to raise the bar securing some of the country’s top high school prospects yearly since MaChelle Joseph took over the program,” Brandon Clay of Peach State Basketball said. “They have done the same once again with the 2014 recruiting class. By picking up Letters of Intent from three prospects all ranked in the top 75 in the country per ProspectsNation.com, this class brings both talent and depth to the Flats. Coach Joseph and her staff addressed needs at the point guard position as well as on the interior. In the process, they’ve managed to secure a top 15 recruiting class nationally.”
“Georgia Tech has put together an impressive group of talent together for their 2014 recruiting class,” Keil Moore of Peach State Basketball said. “Scoring three of the best recruits in the country and going out of region to get them all is quite the accomplishment. They managed to go to the northeast, most specifically New York and New Jersey, and recruit talented prospects that fulfill immediate needs in the program. With three talented prospects on the way next year, Georgia Tech has put together another consensus top 25 class nationally.”
Zaire O’Neil: Forward, 6′ 1″, New Jersey
O’Neil is ranked as the #12 recruit in ELITE Prospect’s top 100 players for the class of 2014 and the #5 forward in the country. She was tabbed as the 10th best forward in the nation by ESPN Hoopgurlz and has been ranked as the 39th overall recruit. The 6’1″ forward earned five-stars and a scout’s grade of 97 from the web site as well. She also checks in at #49 by the Blue Star Basketball Report.
“Zaire is a game changer,” Joseph said. “Her versatility is what separates her. She had an All-American type summer. She dominated every game she played in against the best players in the country. Zaire will be an impact player at Georgia Tech and in the ACC.”
O’Neil had quite the junior season at Malcolm Shabazz High School. The Newark, NJ native averaged 14.6 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game as a junior for the Bulldogs and led them to a 33-1 record. O’Neil had a large part in helping Shabazz win the NJSIAA Group Two State Title and aided the squad to a Tournament of Champions title. Shabazz finished the 2012-13 season at No. 1 in the Top 15 power rankings and is ranked as the preseason #2 team.
“O’Neil is a beast with strong body,” Bret McCormick of the All Star Girls Report said. “She is a lefty that finishes down low against contact but can go coast to coast. She is very physical and a good rebounder. O’Neil can dominate and take over the game.”
As a junior, O’Neil was named a First Team- All-MSG Varsity New Jersey selection and was honored as the Essex City Player of the Year for 2013. From 2011-13, O’Neil and Shabazz have won the Essex County Championship, the SEC Conference Championship and the State Championship. As a sophomore and a junior, O’Neil was an All-State selection. She was also named All-County in 2012 and the Freshman of the Year in 2011. As a sophomore, she was a Second Team All-MSG Varsity New Jersey selection.
“I am very excited for her,” Vanessa Watson, O’Neil’s high school coach said. “I watched her grow from grade school and now to her senior year of high school. She impacted our program right away as a freshman and has had a very successful career. She is an all-state player and a great person. I am very happy she has achieved what she has and has been given the opportunity to be a part of Georgia Tech. She will do well there and play a major role building the program and helping to grow women’s basketball at Georgia Tech.”
O’Neil scored 1,312 career points so far and has gone 66-4 in her high school career. She has over 500 rebounds and during her junior season, had 12 straight games with a double-double. Her career high is currently 21 rebounds in one game.
“Georgia Tech’s highest rated prospect Zaire O’Neal of Newark, N.J., is as talented as any forward in the country,” Moore said. “She is a great fit for Georgia Tech as she has the ability to fit the defensive identity of the program while also bringing a scoring punch.”
O’Neil also played tennis and threw the shot put and discus on the track and field team at Shabazz. She won the City Tennis Championship in 2012 and was a Group Two State Finalist in the Discus in 2012. She is the president of her senior class, a member of the National Honor Society and has been on the Honor Roll every year so far.
“O’Neil has been dominant at times, recently serving as one of the country’s top forward prospects,” Clay said. “We’ve seen her make a 60 foot pass on a rope for a layup on one possession and watched the smooth left-handed power forward made multiple 17 foot jump shots on the next. The nation’s No. 12th ranked prospect even has shown that she can stretch the floor by hitting the trail 3-pointer as well.”
Erin Garner: Forward, 6′ 4″, New Jersey
Garner is ranked at number 68 in ELITE Prospect’s top 100 players for the class of 2014 and the 10th best forward in the recruiting class. She is listed as the #127 recruit by the Blue Star Basketball Report and the #149 recruit by the ASGR. She was earned three-stars and a scout’s grade of 90 by ESPN Hoopgurlz. “Erin has the potential to become an inside presence at Georgia Tech,” Joseph said. “She is big, strong and mobile. Erin has tremendous potential and I am excited about the impact she can have at Georgia Tech.”
The 6′ 4″ forward played a critical part in Trenton Catholic’s run to the Non-Public B championship during the 2012-13 season. During the run to the state title, Garner averaged 10.8 ppg, was second on the team in rebounding and led the team in blocks. She scored 22 points, a season-high, and grabbed 14 rebounds in the South Jersey, Non-Public B final.
“Erin Garner of Trenton, N.J., joins Georgia Tech as a post player with tremendous upside,” Moore said. “Garner is a two way post player who can score, rebound and block shots.”
Following the championship, Garner anchored the team to a semifinal appearance at the NJ Tournament of Champions. As a junior, Trenton Catholic finished the season, 23-7. Garner was named The Times of Trenton’s Hamilton Plus Female Athlete of the Week after her impressive postseason run.
“This is big,” Khaliq Lewis, the head coach of Trenton Catholic said. “We are really proud of her. When she transferred here as a junior, she made a big, immediate impact. Erin is a great kid and this opportunity is great. She will add value to the Georgia Tech team right away.”
Trenton Catholic also won the 2013 NJ District Championship. During both ninth and 10th grade, Garner was named an ELITE Basketball Academy All-American.
“Garner showed a big progression in her game during the 2013 calendar year,” Clay said. “She’s a talented post player who can catch and shoot fluidly out to 15′. Her strength still lays in her ability to rebound the basketball. The No. 68 prospect overall, Garner is continuing to develop her footwork and confidence on the block and we love her size and long term potential.”
In 2012, Garner was named an ELITE Basketball Academy Super 64 Camper and an ELITE Basketball Academy Fab Five Camper. She played AAU basketball for the Philly Freedom Stars.
“Garner is athletic and strong with good footwork,” McCormick said. “She has untapped potential and bigs tend to mature late. The sky is the limit for her.”
Imani Tilford: Point Guard, 5′ 7″, New York
Tilford is ranked at number 67 in ELITE Prospect’s top 100 players for the class of 2014 and 17th at the point position by Prospects Nation. She is ranked as the 24th highest point guard recruit in the class of 2014 by ESPN Hoopgurlz, also earning a scouts grade of 90 and three stars. Tilford won two national tournaments this past summer with her AAU team, the New Jersey Sparks – Atlanta SummerJam and the Adidas Nationals.
“Imani is a true point guard,” Joseph said. “She can score and distribute. She knows how to make everyone around her better. The thing we are excited about is Imani is one of the best defenders we have seen. She can run our system on both ends of the floor. Imani brings skill, speed and scoring ability to our point guard position.”
The Blue Star Basketball Report ranks Tilford as the #125 recruit. During the 2012-13 season, Tilford averaged 25.3 points, 3.8 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game for the Falcons of Woodlands High School. She has over 1,000 career points heading into her senior season. Tilford is a native of Greenburg, N.Y.
“Tilford is compact and explosive with the ball in her hands,” Clay said. “A willing facilitator, Tilford is a true floor general who showed this summer that she can finish plays with contact in the lane. Ranked No. 67 overall, she was one of the marquee on-ball defenders on the club circuit regardless of the position.”
“Imani Tilford has all the tools to be a big time player in the ACC for Georgia Tech,” Ty Postell, Tilford’s coach at Woodlands High School said. “She is a true point guard that has the ability to break down defenders off the bounce and get the ball to scorers in the proper position. She is a workhorse who is always looking to push the ball in transition with her dynamic ball handling. She is a lock down defender who thrives on shutting down the opposing guards. She fell in love with Georgia Tech on her official visit because of the style of play, coaching staff, the family environment and the high level academics which will prepare her for life after basketball. She looks forward to competing in a high level conference like the ACC with an opportunity to take a program like Georgia Tech to the next level.”
As a junior, Tilford was named to the Class B All-State Girls Basketball Fifth Team by the New York State Sportswriters Association. As a sophomore, Tilford led her high school team to the sectional semifinals at the Westchester County Center.
“Tilford is explosive and can get to the hoop on anyone,” McCormick said. “She has a great mid-range game and knocks down the 3-ball. Tilford has good court vision and has a scorer’s mentality. She can be a scoring machine.”
“At the point guard position MaChelle Joseph and her staff landed Imani Tilford of White Plains, N.Y., a feisty guard with the ability to make plays off the bounce for herself and other,” Moore said. “Tilford fits Coach Jo’s personality and should be able to make her presence felt in her first years on campus.”