Kaylah Rainey has spent the better part of the last three years playing basketball as if her future depended on it. In a lot of ways, it did.
Between the winter schedule at Belleville East High School, summer ball with the Chicago-based Midwest Elite AAU team, and Team USA Junior under-16 team, Rainey estimates she plays around 100 games per year. Almost every one — at least over the last 12 months— has been played in front of college coaches looking specifically at her.
Even before the first dribble of her junior season, she'd been ranked nationally by ESPN as the 14th best point guard in her class, and had formal offers from 10 colleges from seven NCAA Division-I conferences.
Pressure? Not to Rainey, a 5-foot-6 soon-to-be senior who averaged 9.1 points and 4.35 steals per game for the 18-10 Lancers. To her, it was simply a matter of patience and waiting for the right fit to come along.
"My parents might have been a little tense," Rainey said of the recruiting process, "but I was pretty chill about it.
"You have to have fun with it."
Rainey thinks she's found her fit at Northwestern and the Big Ten Conference. She announced her verbal commitment to the Wildcats and head coach Joe McKeown on Thursday, but she suspected the Evanston campus would be where she'd land after making her official visit last fall.
Rainey expects to sign her national letter of intent during the early signing period in August.
"It was an all-day visit," she said. "I met the team and we went to a football game when they played Michigan State. Then the other girls were texting me with every milestone or accolade that I got. When I got my 1,000th point, my assists record, my steals record ... That meant a lot to me."
Northwestern checks off most of Rainey's other criteria, namely its academic reputation and the likelihood she'll make an immediate contribution to the team.
Rainey, who owns a 3.8 grade-point average and a transcript that includes advanced-placement classes, entertained scholarship offers from Harvard, Brown and Penn of the Ivy League among others from the likes of Illinois, Kansas and Iowa.
Playing in Chicago, where she was born and lived on and off through her fourth-grade year, is an added bonus. Evanston felt like home, she said.
"In one of her visits, she went to dinner with the other players at the coach's house," said East head coach Amanda Kemezys, who also coached Rainey at Wolf Branch Middle School. "The coach's wife was like another mom to all the players and Kaylah told me, right there, that she could feel how the program runs."
Kemezys, who played women's basketball at Saint Louis University, has been through the recruiting process before. She said Rainey and her family approached it the right way.
"For somebody with her ability who got recruited so heavily by so many schools, she did a really good job taking a methodical approach and just letting the offers come in," Kemezys said. "They weeded out the offers they didn't want until the right offer came in.
"She handled the pressure and the weight of the decision really well."
As methodical and "chill" as the recruiting process was for Rainey, both player and coach say they're glad it's over with.
"I don't have to pay attention to a lot of schools are talking to everybody else but my teammates and my coaches," Rainey said. "I can focus on enjoying my senior year and school ball. It's the best time of my life and I want to enjoy it."