ATHENS — One of Joni Taylor’s biggest tools as a head coach comes from her own experiences as a recruit 20 years ago.
“The first thing I did when I decided to get into coaching was I went home and grabbed all the letters that people had written me that really stood out and impressed me,” Taylor said. “I talked to my mom and dad about the things that stood out to them from coaches and what was important to them.”
Taylor has put an emphasis on building the future since her introductory press conference in April. She honed her recruiting skills as an assistant at Troy, LSU Alabama and Georgia.
During her first stint at Alabama, Taylor was a student assistant when she “caught the bug for [coaching].” At the time, it was her job to assist in official visit prep and prepare recruiting materials. She recalls decking out hotel rooms in Alabama décor and getting a “behind the scenes look at what coaches actually do.”
Through all of her stops, Taylor learned the key to recruiting is keeping it real — genuineness.
“It’s got to be painful for you to pick up the phone and tell me ‘no,’” Taylor said. “And it happens. They do. But sometimes it’s tears, sometimes I’m crying, because you develop relationships with these student athletes for years.”
Taylor noted that fit is another important factor. While an athlete may be a top competitor, she must fit the idea of how the programs looks and feels and how the team plays.
Georgia’s record last season (19-12 overall, but 6-10 in SEC play) doesn’t have the prettiest look to prospective recruits. But, as sophomore Mackenzie Engram did two years ago, incoming players can see it as a chance to contribute quickly.
“We need to know [a prospect’s] strengths and weaknesses,” freshman forward Caliya Robinson said. “We need to know, when you are coming in, how you’re going to help us stay on the same level as we are now or succeed or be above where we are going or trying to get.”
Robinson was the No. 19 overall recruit in the class of 2015 according to espnW. Being only an hour away from her hometown of Powder Springs, Georgia was her dream school and she connected with Taylor early in her recruitment.
That made for an easy decision.
“I remember me playing (in high school) and me being able to look out and see Joni, that’s it,” Robinson said. “That’s the first person I saw before I saw anybody else.”
Winning over recruits won’t always be that easy. Taylor knows that as her experience and knack for recruiting is amplified by her newfound title of head coach. She has spent her first six months on the job working on in-game experience for fans and drawing attention to the program.
She’s not just trying to fill Stegeman, but also a recruiting class.
“I want to say (it was) eighth grade. I came to a Georgia game when they were playing Tennessee and it was like full and I was like, ‘oh my gosh I would love to play in front of such a big crowd,’ ” sophomore forward Mackenzie Engram said. “I think that’s very important to recruits. Who wants to play in front of 100 people?”
Engram remembers the daily mail, the calls to family members, the card with the women’s basketball staff photoshopped to be on homecoming court — all pieces of the puzzle that led her to Georgia.
“They were always on top of things,” Engram said. “They were the first call I got when coaches could start calling. My first call was from Andy (Landers).”
Georgia graduates four seniors next spring, leaving an opportunity for Taylor to prove her ability on the recruiting trail and bring in the next group of Lady Bulldogs.
“You have to believe in what it is you’re talking about, because people see through it otherwise,” Taylor said. “Especially for females, they’ve got to believe in you. And that’s across the board. If women and females believe in you, they’ll run across the board for you.”