Candice Agee was somewhere between 6-foot and 6-foot-2 when she was 12 years old, her parents say.
So as one might imagine, she developed into quite the sought-after basketball talent in her high school days. The Californian, a McDonald’s High School All-American and member of the USA under-18 National Team, fielded about 85-90 letters from colleges all over the country interested in her talents during her recruitment.
When she was selecting which one she would attend, she once put her hand in the middle of a map of the United States and drew an imaginary line.
“ ‘I’m not going past the line, the halfway mark,’ ” recalled Sinae, her mother. “That was her original plan.”
But now, the freshman forward/center is a member of the No. 10 Lady Lions, who play almost 2,500 miles away from her home, preparing to take on one of the elite powerhouses that had interest in her in No. 2 Connecticut tonight. And despite everything that has happened to her new school during the past 13 months, her trust in it has never wavered.
How did that happen?
Happy Birthday, Coquese
Agee had no problems when she played against her male family members, who didn’t take it easy on her, at age 12.
That’s when Rodney, her father, just knew.
“Oh, she did great,” Rodney said with a laugh. “She was a lot faster than all of us… Then I knew she was really serious about the game when she playing against grown men and not being scared.”
But that wasn’t a first for Candice. Sinae said she had played on all-boys teams from the age of five until middle school, and she gave them legitimate competition. And at Silverado High School, where she would develop into a top 40 ESPN recruit in the class of 2012, Candice still practiced with boys in the gym.
That high school career ended with 1,296 career points, 814 rebounds, 460 blocks 183 steals and countless awards and championships.
A can’t-miss target, Lady Lions assistant coach Kia Damon said she made the first point of contact with Agee’s family, communicating with her parents before she spoke to Candice. Things would quickly develop from there; Damon said calls would become three-ways, with the coaches (led by head coach Coquese Washington), Candice and her parents all on the same line.
“My parents just sat me down and put me in front of a computer, and I just went crazy looking up stuff about Penn State,” Candice said. “And the coaches didn’t even need to convince me that much — every single one of them I got along with great.”
Sinae was sold more so on the academics and the Penn State degree; Rodney, who helped coach Candice, was sold on the athletics and the way Washington’s team played.
As coincidence would have it, Agee realized that she’d become a Lady Lion last year on Washington’s birthday, Jan. 17, right after she got off the phone with her.
“My mom was like, ‘you shouldn’t wait, it’s her birthday. Call.’ So I called right back five minutes later,” Agee said. “She was getting out of the car, pulling up to her driveway, and she went crazy. She hopped out of the car, left the car running, it was so funny. She ran into the house, left the groceries in the car.”
It was made official in November 2011 when Agee signed her national letter of intent.
That imaginary line disappeared.
“[Washington] came in and just totally washed that out,” Sinae said. “It no longer was an issue. Her feeling the love and the attentiveness that we knew that [Washington] would give her just totally took that concern and it no longer was an issue.”
Not going anywhere
Candice heard it.
“I was getting it at home before I even left. It was just kind of hard because people were like, ‘oh, you still want to go there?’ ” Candice said.
Those questions were asked because of the well-documented and unprecedented events of the last 13 months that rocked Penn State’s world.
Agee first practiced here in the summer, a summer in which former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s investigative report was released, former head coach Joe Paterno’s statue outside Beaver Stadium was removed and the football team was hammered with devastating, or what many saw as Draconian, sanctions.
In July, when all of those events occurred, a plane flew above Beaver Stadium, right across the street from where Agee practiced with her new team, with a message: “Take the statue down or we will.”
“It was a crazy time,” Agee said. “I didn’t know how it was going to be with the threats and whatnot. It kind of got scary there for a minute.”
Sinae said all of that news didn’t have any bearing for Candice or the family. Sinae said Jerry Sandusky, now serving 30-60 years in prison after being found guilty on 45 counts of child sex abuse, was only one man who committed his crimes years ago, and it isn’t a reflection of Penn State.
Candice’s own stance:
“I’m like, ‘you guys don’t know the school that I know,’ so that was something I had to move past,” Candice said. “…I never had the pleasure of meeting [Paterno] myself, but from what I know and from girls who met him and spent some time with him say, he was a really great guy.
“I’m not going to be swayed by the news, because going in not knowing anything, I’m going to go with who I trust to get that information.”
Now that Agee is here, she’s fit in nicely.
Perhaps that’s understating it.
“That’s my girl,” junior forward Talia East says. “I love Candice.”
East, whom Washington once called the “mayor of Penn State” because she’s so sociable and outgoing, is likely the only player on the team more outspoken than Agee.
“Vice mayor? Secretary? Treasurer? Something like that,” is what Agee then calls herself.
As the only freshman on the team, Agee’s player-mentor is senior guard Gizelle Studevent, but for a more personal reason than educating her on the game. Studevent also hails from the golden coast — La Jolla, Calif., a few hours from Agee’s home of Victorville.
Being that far from home on top of balancing schoolwork with athletics is no easy task, but Agee learns how to deal from someone who’s been doing it for years.
“I told her it’s hard for every freshman, but especially being that far away from home,” Studevent said. “But I tell her it gets better, and you just have to hang in there.”
Agee was able to go home in August after she competed with the U-18 team, but she said it’s a struggle not being able to see her parents.
The good news for her is she’s in a place that Washington calls her “nirvana.” Washington said Agee frequently attends other Penn State teams’ games because she loves the sports environment.
Agee has wasted little time getting acclimated in her own games, too. Though she’ll very likely have to wait at least until next year to compete for starting time, she’s averaged 10.4 minutes per game in her first season.
At the end of the day, it could be the personality of the California star that’s helping the Lady Lions most this year.
“She’s always upbeat, always happy and I honestly think that’s encouragement to us whenever we get down,” Studevent said. “She’s the only freshman, and she’s been handling it well.”