TUCSON – Confronted by a whirlwind of options and the relentless storm of informational emails, brochures and pamphlets, high school students and parents often descend into uncertainty and confusion when confronting the life-changing decision on which college to choose.
Add to that scenario the hopes, expectations, fears and promises that come with being an athlete rated as a four-star recruit who has amassed more than two dozen offers and who ranks 33rd in the ESPN 2025 HoopGurlz Super 60, and the process can be overwhelming for some.
One year out from the anticipated announcement regarding where she’ll play next, Taliyah Henderson, a 6-foot-1 wing for Salpointe Catholic High girls basketball team in Tucson, embodies the best approach to navigating the journey as a highly touted recruit with numerous offers from Power Five programs.
She’s organized, family-driven, internally motivated, analyzes every option on and off the court, ignores outside noise and isn’t distracted from what she’s doing in the present.
Both of Henderson’s parents played Division I basketball at Idaho State, and growing up in such a basketball-oriented family, her future appeared predestined in the sport. Thanks to their support and experience, Taliyah had already grasped the intricacies of the recruitment process when her initial college scholarship offer rolled in at a basketball camp she attended at Utah Valley University the summer before ninth grade.
“What her parents do a really good job of is staying well informed,” said Joseph Luevano, girls basketball coach at Salpointe. “They stay well informed of not only the changes that may be happening in the recruiting process, but changes that may be happening at the universities that are recruiting her.”
Taliyah’s affinity for the game may have been cultivated by her parents, but her internal drive is what propels her toward achieving remarkable feats in the basketball world.
“I want to go play in the WNBA, I want to go play overseas and I want to play for Team Canada,” said Henderson, whose mom is Canadian.
Her determination to achieve greatness sets a positive example for her teammates, motivating them to push themselves even further.
“I just try to keep up with her,” fellow class of 2025 teammate Allison Even said. “Her pushing herself pushes me because our practices are very competitive, but in a good way. She pushes everyone to do their absolute best, so everyone wants to do better and make each other better.”
While her aspirations are ambitious, there is no question about her ability to achieve them, as her commitment and thorough investigation into identifying the ideal institution, one that caters to her athletic and academic needs, leave no doubt.
Many coaches can put together a basketball workout that looks good on paper, but her goal is to discover a coach who customizes workouts that align with her specific game and individual strengths and areas for improvement.
“Player development has to be pretty serious,” Henderson said. “Anybody can just create a workout and give it to everybody. I would like it to be detailed towards me, how I could better my game and increase my bag. I love constructive criticism. I’ll take it, I’ll listen, I’ll note it, I’ll change it.”
With aspirations of potentially majoring in sports journalism, the prospect of becoming an alumna of the school she chooses should undoubtedly bring a sense of fulfillment.
“I love to write and be involved in sports,” Henderson said. “I would love to be able to kind of pick people’s brains, and continue to learn from the game, whether I’m still playing basketball or not. I love to talk about the game.
“The college that I chose doesn’t necessarily need to have that program, but they do have to have some meaning behind their school. High academics is what I’m looking for. After I graduate from the college, that feeling of being an alum from that college should give me satisfaction.”
It’s often overlooked that these young athletes are required to relocate thousands of miles away from their families. Given this, a family-centered program also holds great importance. While the University of Arizona and Arizona State are right down the road, her offer list includes numerous out-of-state options.
“I would like the team to feel like family and community,” Henderson said. “I grew up and I’m in a community right now where everybody’s involved, everybody supports, everybody is doing their 100% best to support and help you. I have to feel it. The feeling of being secure, the feeling that I know I’m going to be safe and protected away from home.”
A substantial portion of these firm community and family values has notably been molded by the memories she’s created with her Salpointe teammates.
“We have created so many memories playing summer ball in June because it’s such a grind,” Even said. “Being in the hotels together while dealing with the whole month-long grind of summer ball has been so memorable just because of the many funny memories and work we’ve put in together. It really has brought us closer over the years.”
Taliyah makes the recruitment process appear effortless. Still, there are many facets that remain concealed from public view.
When a high school junior is bombarded by “five or six shoe boxes full of mail” from just college coaches, the challenge of making a life-altering decision at 17 years old becomes apparent.
“The hardest thing I would say is planning and time management,” Henderson said. “I have to be a student athlete, which means being a student all while working on my recovery, strength training and practicing. And from there, I also have to plan and do things at home. I have to plan times to call schools, times to text coaches, times to schedule meetings with my parents, schedule unofficial visits and official visits.”
Choosing the right college at this stage is a challenging task for anyone, but Luevano commends her exceptional maturity and describes her as someone who “isn’t your typical kid.”
“A lot of it is self-driven by her,” Luevano said. “She does a really good job of navigating this process on her own. She takes notes, she’s staying on top of her schedule of when she needs to speak to a coach, and when she has meetings scheduled, whether they’re Zoom or phone.
“I’ll give you an example of something that she’s doing a really good job of. Once a school starts to recruit her, Taliyah researches them. She researches the coaches, the players, all while watching how they play and what they do.”
In light of the fact that her 2025 Salpointe class alone includes six or seven future girl’s college basketball players, Taliyah shares the guidance she’s received from others and the lessons she’s learned as a top-ranked player with her teammates.
“Just be open to everyone,” Even said. “I’ve seen her just not stress about it too much because I know a lot of athletes can get caught up in the stress of it, trying to make sure it’s the right fit. The best thing she does is continue to be herself through all of it.”
Despite Henderson’s self-driven nature, she has always been a dedicated student of the game. During the summer, she actively competes in AAU tournaments with a Gilbert-based club called AZ Supreme.
The club team operates with a track record of developing multiple Division I players, some of whom have gone on to represent schools like Illinois, Elon, Colorado State, and UNLV, among others.
“These girls are Division I athletes, locked into their sport and they have a great work ethic,” Henderson said. “I like to talk to them and ask what workouts are like, how is that adjustment from high school to college, and how are you balancing academics and sports.”
“It’s such a good feeling that I’m in that spot where I can pick their brain and add it to my game. I can see and learn from their mistakes so that I continue to grow and prosper off of their advice.”
On top of constantly seeking guidance and insight, Luevano noticed three particular characteristics that have made her a highly sought-after prospect: progressive growth, a continuous motor and toughness.
“You constantly see progressive growth. Every year she has shown not just some growth or a fair amount of growth, but a substantial amount of growth,” Luevano said. “Second, she has a continuous motor. She is just continuous in her pursuit of trying to compete and not a lot of kids have that kind of motor where she’s always on go. She’s always got her pedal to the floorboard going full speed.”
Lastly, Luevano underscores her willingness to push herself to excel in every aspect, both mentally and physically, and confront adversity in basketball and life.
Such unwavering devotion to her athletic ambitions fosters satisfaction, ultimately guiding her on the path toward achieving the personal goals she has cherished.
“It makes me feel good that there are people who notice the work I’ve put in, the hours, and the sacrifice enough where I get to go to college for free,” Henderson said.
“I’ve had a lot of amazing unofficial visits. I love every visit because they’re all unique and speak to me in special ways. My most memorable moment was getting the mail on June 1st.”
“June 1st was the first time these schools could contact me, so we actually were able to build a relationship instead of it being one-sided. It was a relief that they got my messages. It was one of the most amazing feelings.”
During her most recent official visits, she toured campuses at Michigan, Arizona and Arizona State.
Even with the plethora of offers, visits and external recognition, her personal happiness with her progress, both on and off the court, remains paramount.
“My advice to her is to not worry about rankings, don’t worry about news articles that are written about you, and don’t fall into the hype,” Luevano said. “Continue to set your own personal goals and focus on our team goals. Then, a lot of things will usually take care of themselves. Control what you can control.”
She firmly believes that by continually striving for self-improvement and not seeking validation from external sources, everything will align in one’s favor.
“Being patient and working hard will get you what you want,” Henderson said. “It’s going to end up leading to you having to sacrifice a lot. But if you truly want it, then you’ll be willing to make those sacrifices and in the end, it will pay.
“As long as you know that your hard work is paying off and you’re progressing, then that’s all that matters. If you’re happy with your progress, you’re happy with how you’re doing on the court, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.
“I stand and live by that today.”