The image of 6-foot girls playing high school basketball has been
cemented over the years: Uncoordinated. Clumsy. Slow. Shooting range of
about two feet. Female prep players have changed that perception to a degree by
continuing to hone their skills. And one Shaker Heights senior has done
as much to destroy that image as any in the area. That’s Karisma Penn.
The image of 6-foot girls playing high school basketball has been cemented over the years: Uncoordinated. Clumsy. Slow. Shooting range of about two feet.
Female prep players have changed that perception to a degree by continuing to hone their skills. And one Shaker Heights senior has done as much to destroy that image as any in the area.
That’s Karisma Penn.
The 6-foot-2 Red Raiders standout is headed to the University of Illinois on a basketball scholarship. She earned that free ride because of her post moves, passing ability and ability to play away from the basket. Penn has not only been known to consistency knock down 10-foot jumpers, but has swished a few from beyond the 3-point arc. Shaker coach Don Readance has even played her at small forward.
Penn entered this season as one of the premier players in Northeast Ohio after leading her team into the 2007 district finals by averaging 18 points and 13 rebounds a game. That success hasn’t surprised Readance, who first learned of her when he took over the Shaker job five years ago.
“She was a seventh grader at the time,” he recalls. “I found out about Karisma pretty quickly. In fact, the whole class that year was pretty talented and deep and I was excited about that.
“When I first saw her in open gym, she stood out. Even though she wasn’t physically mature yet, she was already pushing 6-feet and she had a lot of confidence. You could tell she was going to be pretty special. She ran the floor well. With that height at the middle school level, you think gawky, but she had definition and muscle tone. And she continues to run the floor well for that size.”
The confidence Readance spoke about doesn’t permeate from Penn, who is rather soft-spoken and humble. She began playing basketball in a local recreation league with her friends and also attempted to develop her talents with her father and brother around the backyard hoop.
It didn’t do any good, at least not immediately.
“I liked basketball, but I wasn’t any good at it,” she jokes. “It just went bad. In fact, when I first started playing organized basketball, I once shot at the wrong basket. What really got me going in the right direction was playing AAU basketball. The biggest thing was getting game experience.”
By the time Penn approached high school, she became aware of her potential. And that meant becoming serious about basketball, which translated into a change of priorities. She understood that she would be forced to bypass the social life others lead during their teenage years.
“When I got into eighth grade, my AAU coach told me that I was different than everyone else and that I had to go harder. I might want to do stuff with my friends, but I had to stay focused. It works out well, though, because I really don’t like to party that much anyway.”
And that puts a smile on Readance’s face. Penn works hard at her craft and has developed effectively enough to motivate him to play her often at small forward, which creates tremendous match-up problems for opponents. A 6-foot-2 player with such moves to the basket and shooting range is nearly unstoppable for most teams. She estimates that she scores at least 30 percent of her baskets outside the paint.
“She’s also a very capable passer,” Readance adds. “She sees the floor well and she understands about passing lanes and she makes pretty good decisions. She also has a real nice shooting touch from the floor.”
The depth to her game prompted a great deal of attention from college scouts, but Penn didn’t wait for all the offers to come in. One visit to the University of Illinois convinced her of her destiny.
“When I went there for my official visit, that’s where I felt most comfortable with the coaches and campus,” she explains. “It was the only place I pictured myself being for four years. I was ready to get the recruiting process over. I asked myself, “Why go anywhere else?’”
That self-determination and understanding of what’s best for her measures up to the impression Readance has gained about Penn over the years.
“She’s come such a long way,” he says. “She’s a very mature kid. She’s not about doing what the other kids are doing. She’s a pretty quiet kid with a great sense of humor, but she’s also very thoughtful and insightful. I don’t think a lot of people realize that.”
They also don’t realize that 6-foot high school girls can be mobile. Penn has certainly helped to change those perceptions.