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It's a players' market

So you're a talented high school girls basketball player. And you always wanted to be a Division I player. If you live in North Dakota, you might be in luck. There might be no better place to be.

So you're a talented high school girls basketball player. And you always wanted to be a Division I player. If you live in North Dakota, you might be in luck. There might be no better place to be.

Thanks to North Dakota State and North Dakota moving to NCAA Division I, one of the most sparsely populated states in the union is flush with D-I scholarships for their women's basketball teams. There are 30 in all - the NCAA limit for women's basketball is 15 per team - and, if you're good enough, you can bet Bison coach Carolyn DeHoff or Sioux coach Gene Roebuck would love to gift wrap one for you. It's a P.R. thing - for a college coach there is no better talent than homegrown talent.

It gets better. If you take into account neighboring South Dakota State and South Dakota, also Division I schools, there's a total of 60

D-I women's basketball scholarships in the Dakotas.

Sixty! That is an astounding number for a pair of states in flyover country, particularly if you've seen any high school girls games in North Dakota the last couple of years. The talent pool is not as deep as it once was.

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"We certainly don't have that many Division I college basketball players, not in North Dakota," Fargo South coach Craig Flaagan said. "In a good year we have two, possibly three. If that. We have some Division II women's basketball players, but Division I kids are few and far between."

What we have is a players' market, something area college coaches have been mumbling under their breath the last couple of years. With the influx of D-I scholarship money in all sports, plus the large pool of Division II and NAIA dollars in the Dakotas and Minnesota, regional high school athletes have never been so popular with recruiters.

Women's basketball stands out. In addition to the Division I schools, the Division II Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference is well-funded in women's basketball with better than 100 scholarships available among the league's 12 teams. Plus some of the NAIA schools in the Dakota Athletic Conference are well-stocked with scholarships for their women.

Title IX is doing its thing.

And recruiting, always a brutal business, is even more competitive.

"It's kind of like baseball free agents. The price has been driven up," Minnesota State Moorhead women's basketball coach Karla Nelson said. "The value of an average player has risen. I don't want to belittle anybody or make anybody mad, but it's the truth. Five or six years ago, there was a certain kid I could offer a half-scholarship or maybe even have them walk on. Now those kids are scholarship basketball players.

"There is more competition from those Division I schools. Some of the kids we used to get who would start are going to those places and basically completing their rosters."

Don't mistake Nelson's lament for a complaint. She says the increased opportunities for women is "a great thing. As a coach, you just have to recruit harder and hopefully kids will see something about your program they like."

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For DeHoff, having a pocketful of money and few local kids on which to spend it is nothing new. She was an assistant at Utah, Weber State and Wyoming before coming to NDSU. Geographically speaking, the state of North Dakota has an advantage over those places.

"In Utah, there were not many players and then you'd go regionally - Idaho, Wyoming, the states the border - and there was nothing," DeHoff said. "So there was a large appeal for me when this job opened in terms of regional recruiting. Obviously you start with the North Dakota player or players, then you look at Minnesota and South Dakota. There are some players there."

So 60 D-I women's basketball scholarships among the wide-open Dakotas does not seem oddly out of place?

"I've never thought about it. I think it gives women an opportunity to play at the next level, so that's a good thing," DeHoff said.

DeHoff also offers this nugget of hope to MSUM's Nelson and others hoping to pick up a player or two that's not quite good enough for Division I:

"I'm not tied to 15. An operating number of 11 or 12 players has always worked well at the bigger schools," DeHoff said. "We signed five recruits this year, so we're at 15 now. But it's not always going to be like that. I've said before I think 11 or 12 is the optimum number and I believe that."

Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com . McFeely's blog can be found at www.areavoices.com

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