|Wednesday, July 16
|Bethany LeSueur is head of the class|
By Mark Nolan
Bethany LeSueur opened the door to the Garden City High (N.Y.) gym six years ago and peered inside. Basketball tryouts had already begun, and the girls dribbling and shooting baskets stopped and stared as the 5-foot-8 seventh-grader sheepishly walked in.
"I came a little late for tryouts because the middle school let out later, and they had already started," says LeSueur, now a 5-foot-10 senior point guard. "I was trying not to make a big entrance. The last thing you want to do in that situation is to make a big entry."
LeSueur stood out like a New Yorker in Arkansas that day ? until she began to play.
"Bethany walked in with a basketball under her arm and sneakers around her neck," says Garden City head coach John Dell'Olio. "This girl started dribbling, and she could go lefty or righty. When I tell you this girl could play ... she wasn't skinny, she had strength and size and she was the best dribbler I had seen in a long time."
LeSueur's first impression on her new coach and teammates proved lasting. After just five games that year, Dell'Olio named her a starter on varsity. She was a 12-year-old middle school kid playing on a team with 17- and 18-year-olds, but she fit in like one of the gang.
"I just figured I'd give it a shot and maybe make JV," says LeSueur, who turned 18 on Jan. 6 and is the top scorer in Long Island girls' basketball history with 2,660 points (as of Jan. 12). "Once tryouts started, I knew I could compete on varsity. I just didn't know if I would make it as a seventh-grader. Once I was on the court, I started to calm down. I stopped thinking, 'Oh my God, these girls are six years older than me!'"
The National Scene
It didn't take long before people from the Throgs Neck Bridge to Shelter Island began to hear the name Bethany LeSueur. Now, she is regarded as one of the nation's best high school players.
LeSueur has traveled to Las Vegas, Indiana and Florida as a member of AAU teams since the fifth grade. She is a two-time Nike All-American and Newsday Player of the Year and was last year's Gatorade Player of the Year for New York. She has made the Nassau County All-Star first team every year since seventh grade and has signed to play at the University of Virginia next season.
But has the national spotlight gotten to her?
"It doesn't really bother me," says LeSueur, who maintains a 99 weighted grade average. "It's kind of nice, but one day they could be writing good things and the next day be writing bad things."
LeSueur's achievements aren't the only things that have attracted national attention. Dell'Olio points to Garden City's record since LeSueur first put on the Lady Trojans' jersey -- 106-10 over the last six seasons (5-2 this year), including a 58-game winning streak in Conference B play and two Long Island Championships -- as further evidence of her dominance.
"[The other coaches] keep asking me if she's coming back again," says Dell'Olio, 57, with a laugh. "You don't get very many girls like this."
Colleges have also noticed her ability, which is why LeSueur was besieged by phone calls and letters from recruiters. At some games, there were more college coaches than fans in the stands.
"Everybody in the country was after her," says Dell'Olio, who teaches physical education at Elmont High and has coached girls' basketball at Garden City for 21 years. "I can't tell you how many coaches came to watch her play. It puts pressure on you. You're always on stage, but now (that she has signed with a college) she can just play her game and relax."
LeSueur's success has come with a price. She was forced to make a choice between the sport she loved and the sport she loved more.
"It was tough because I love soccer and to leave my team as the captain was hard for me," says LeSueur, who is averaging 26.8 points per game this season after posting 30.9 ppg last year. "It was especially hard this fall with recruiting. It was a tough, long process, and I was away a lot and busy on the phone for hours talking basketball. I love to play soccer, but basketball is what I really love to do, and I couldn't have been in both places at the same time."
It's not often that two high school basketball legends appear on the same court. Twice, though, LeSueur battled with Sachem High (N.Y.) graduate Nicole Kaczmarski.
Now a sophomore at UCLA, Kaz (as she is known) was the all-time leading scorer in Long Island history (2,583) and a four-time Newsday Suffolk Player of the Year. Garden City and Sachem played non-league games in 1998 and '99, with LeSueur and Kaz stealing the show.
"Both games, it was a packed house," says Dell'Olio. "People came to see the best two players on Long Island, and they saw a game."
In the first game, during LeSueur's freshman year, Garden City edged Sachem in overtime, 76-72. Kaz scored 36 points and LeSueur scored 32. In the second game, Garden City again beat Sachem, 85-53. This time, with an added year of experience, LeSueur bettered Kaz, scoring 30 points to her 24.
"As far as girls' basketball on the Island, those were the biggest games in the past couple of years," says LeSueur. "So many people came to the games, and a big part was to see me versus Nicole. I don't think that was the whole game, but it was fun, us going at each other. It was talked up a lot."
LeSueur may be the best girls' basketball player on Long Island, but she gets some stiff competition in her own back yard.
Her twin brother, Peter, 17, recently signed a scholarship to play lacrosse for Johns Hopkins University. Her father, Paul Sr., played professional soccer, while her older brother, Paul Jr., 23, was a captain on the Johns Hopkins lacrosse team two years ago. Her sister, Sarah, 21, played lacrosse at Notre Dame and her mother, Liz, was an AAU swimmer while at Garden City High.
"Usually at games, half of the crowd is my family," says LeSueur. "That's important to me."
Dell'Olio says Bethany may have inherited her intense work ethic, which often keeps him from getting home for dinner on time.
"She's very serious about basketball," says Dell'Olio. "She never leaves the court. I have to shut the lights off and close the gym to get her off the court; I mean that sincerely."
LeSueur is excited about her final high school basketball season so she can hopefully lead the team to a state title. But she is also anxious to begin playing at Virginia, where she may major in sports marketing. And though she will be playing in another state, she won't be lonely. Amy Appelt, a senior who plays basketball at Garden City, also signed with UVA -- to play lacrosse -- and will be LeSueur's roommate in college.
"I'm very excited about going to college with her," says Appelt, who scored 86 goals last year for Garden City's lacrosse team. "She's going to get to meet my friends from lacrosse, and I'll get to meet her friends from basketball, so it will be like two different worlds meeting."
LeSueur isn't too worried about whether she will be able to make the adjustment to college basketball. After all, she played varsity high school ball as a seventh-grader. Still, she plans to attack college like everything else she does.
"Most people don't think that athletes are good students, but I guess I just like to do well in things," says LeSueur. "I'm already accepted to college, and most of my friends are like, 'Why do you even come to school?' For me, if I'm going to start something, I'm going to do it well."
Material from SchoolSports.com.
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