January 30, 2006

Making It Real

Jan. 30, 2006

By Ron Wilmot
Anchorage Daily News

As a little girl, Chandice Cronk dreamed of becoming a college basketball player.

All those nights sleeping with a basketball in her hand and those cold mornings shooting hoops with her dad in Northway High's tiny gym finally paid off. Cronk has emerged as a star at Division I Santa Clara University.

The 2004 Wasilla High graduate is both a captain and a starter for the Broncos -- in just her sophomore season.

Entering this weekend, Cronk was averaging 10.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, helping the Broncos to second place in the West Coast Conference.

Just as she did in Wasilla, Cronk is using her sweet shooting touch. She's hitting 45 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

Cronk still likes to launch an NBA-range three-pointer now and then; she dropped in a half-court shot during a recent game.

"Her range is unbelievable," Santa Clara head coach Michelle Bento-Jackson said. "When a lot of people shoot from that far out, it almost becomes a throw and not a shot. She shoots it."

Bento-Jackson hadn't heard of Cronk coming out of high school, but the Wasilla athlete caught her eye at a summer tournament in Oregon playing for an Amateur Athletic Union team.

"I found out she was playing a tournament in Chicago, and I changed my travel plans," Bento-Jackson said. "I saw three or four games and I knew right then and there I wanted her to be a Bronco."

Cronk started 27 of 31 games and averaged 6.3 points as a freshman and was named to the WCC all-freshman team.

Bento-Jackson said Cronk's game was "college-ready" out of high school.

"She can score in different ways," Bento-Jackson said. "She shoots the three, she has a midrange game, which a lot of female players don't have, and she has a pull-up shot off the dribble. In addition, she has a feel for the game. I thought her game was very mature for a senior in high school."

That feel for basketball can be attributed not only to Cronk's talent (she scored 50 points as a high school freshman playing for Northway) but her passion and work ethic. Cronk is a true gym rat.

She spent early mornings in the Northway gym, launching shot after shot while her dad, Matt Cronk, shagged balls.

"I'd go and kill myself for two hours," said Cronk, who transferred to Wasilla as a sophomore. "But I loved every minute of it."

These days, Cronk often arrives early to shoot and stays after practice to shoot more. Cronk's work ethic, attitude and coachability made her a natural to be named one of Santa Clara's three captains.

Cronk has always relied on her shooting touch, but the footwork on her jump shot needed polishing, Bento-Jackson said.

Cronk said she used to shoot with sort of a "two-footed jump stop" that wasn't quick enough for Bento-Jackson. She's corrected that with rep after rep of catching and shooting.

"She didn't actually change my shot," Cronk said. "It was just getting quicker footwork. That's helped a lot. I get it off a lot quicker than in high school."

Bento-Jackson said she's also urged Cronk to be aggressive and take more shots.

"Sometimes she is too unselfish," Bento-Jackson said. "When the ball is in her hands, I'm very confident she is going to make a good decision. But I tell her that the first thing I want her doing is shooting the ball. She pretty much has the green light from me."

Cronk said she adjusted quickly to the rigors of life as a Division I student-athlete. She has, after all, long dreamed of it.

"It's so much fun," she said. "It's a lot different than high school, a lot more structure. It's your life. But that's what I've always wanted to do since I was a little kid."