From Spain to Storrs: Top recruit Sarah Strong's personal path to UConn

SARAH STRONG’S PARENTS tell a story about when she was young and the family was on the way home from a professional game that her mother, Allison Feaster, had just played for Spanish EuroLeague team CB Alcobendas.

Late in the game, with her team down by three and little time on the clock, Feaster decided to take an open 3 in transition instead of going for what looked like an uncontested layup. She missed and Alcobendas went on to lose.

“You should have just taken the layup,” the young Sarah said defiantly.

Her father, Danny Strong, and mother gave each other that look — both astonished but slightly impressed. Sarah remembers her mom saying something to the effect of, “It’s time to be quiet,” but she proudly smiles retelling the memory.

I always remind her that three is more than two,” Allison said while laughing as she shared memories of Sarah’s childhood and development far from their current home in North Carolina.

That young basketball mind grew up to be the No. 1 player in the class of 2024 and the last recruit in the 2024 ESPN Top 100 to commit. Most know her as the two-time 3X3 U18 World Cup gold medalist, the McDonald’s All American Game co-MVP, Naismith High School Player of the Year, adidas Eurocamp MVP, Jordan Brand All-American, Nike Hoop Summit participant, two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in North Carolina and two-time North Carolina Miss Basketball.

As of Saturday, more will know her as the most recent top recruit to sign with UConn and coach Geno Auriemma — a commitment made at the Chipotle Nationals.

The accolades and commitment are just the most recent steps in a basketball story that has spanned multiple continents and a familial path on the high school circuit. Her rise as the top recruit in the country is uniquely her own — a distinction well-earned after understanding who she is and where she comes from.

SARAH WAS BORN in Spain as her parents were both playing professional basketball after memorable college careers in the States.

Feaster was a high school All-American and valedictorian and played at Harvard where she was named Ivy League Player of the Year three times and is regarded by many as the best women’s player in the history of the conference. She was the fifth pick in the 1998 WNBA draft and played nine seasons in the league before transitioning to Europe.

Meanwhile, Danny played at NC State where he averaged 12.5 points and 4.9 rebounds and shot 75.6% from the free throw line and 38.8% from 3 before pursuing a European career that saw his most significant success in France. He was named a four-time French National Basketball League All-Star and won a 2005 French Cup championship.

With the basketball pedigree in her family, it isn’t surprising one of Sarah’s earliest memories is in the gym with her mom and the CB Alcobendas.

“We would play in the morning and they would have a game at night and [I remember] just being there the whole day and watching them practice and trying to do the drills they were doing,” she said.

Her first experience with the game was watching and using her imagination through imitation as she was influenced by the professional women’s players in Europe. Soon enough she joined the familiar European club model of organized basketball.

“That’s when we really noticed that she had some unique talent,” Feaster said. “We’d watch her … for me it was a little special, she’d get the ball and would start making passes the length of the court. … You could tell that she understood and had vision and could think the game at an early age.”

When her parents decided to return to the United States, her transition from Europe into schools in the States at 10 years old was smooth. She attended a Spanish-American private school while in Spain with a bilingual curriculum but comprehending some of the more colloquial slang was an adjustment.

“I watched a lot of Disney movies and I expected it to be like that, but it really wasn’t. Like, I expected there to be one bully and all that,” Sarah said with a laugh. “[Sports] made it a lot easier. I was able to make friends through the Strong Center because most of the kids went to the same school as me.”

The Strong Center is a foundation and community based around sports created by her father in 2016 that has programs in basketball, football and wrestling, with a focus on community outreach.

“Community service — dealing with families who are less fortunate. Feeding families or helping them with clothes or different things like that,” Danny said. “Just mentoring students having difficulty adjusting to school or sports or whatever. Any way to help families or build the community where we are needed.”

The center remained a constant influence and a place of support for Sarah as she navigated her new life in the States

She played her freshman year at Fuquay-Varina High School in North Carolina before she and her family decided she would choose a private school to attend for her sophomore year. They visited several but something about Grace Christian Sanford made her feel at home while on campus.

“When I went there, they were really welcoming. And it was during COVID and I wanted in-person classes. It felt normal,” Sarah said.

This decision proved to be right as she developed close-knit relationships with her teammates over three years. During her time there, the basketball team won three straight state championships and got invited to the Chipotle Nationals.

She chose to stay with her independent club — the Strong Center’s club team, Lady Strong — in the summers. It’s a challenge in today’s environment for an independent team outside of the major circuits to find consistent high-level competition, but Lady Strong curated the schedule to accommodate what she needed in her recruitment while also focusing on what the other team members needed.

“The team always wins over individuals. It started early [for me]. And it’s how we keep our family and our circles tight,” said Danny, who coaches Lady Strong.

Once again carving out her own path, Sarah is not as active on social media as many of her fellow recruits; often she is resharing teammates’ and friends’ successes as much as she reshares her own.

“I’ve never had a post, only shared or retweeted my teammates and my stuff. I’ve only had Instagram for about a year and I said my first post was going to be my commitment, so I just stuck to that,” Strong said.

There are no workout videos or self-promoting highlight reels on her timeline. For the social media age, her game is not necessarily one that catches the eyes of the casual scroller — at least not yet. She has an all-around game and the magic is in the little details — the depth of which is understood more while examining how she got here.

Strong has a quiet and unassuming demeanor. She is not usually the first person in a room to speak and does not look to be the center of attention in new social settings but is self-described as “caring, loving, funny and competitive.”

Her personality is reflected on the basketball court, as she takes her time to get comfortable, read the other team and proceed accordingly to much success. Her goals go far beyond the court, though, as she feels a significant pull to community outreach and philanthropic efforts.

“I really like what my dad has built with the Strong Center and what my mom has done. I’m pretty sure I want to do something like they both have done — like a mix of both of them in a way,” she said. “The Strong Center is a big family — they’ll do anything for each other and support each other. I’m definitely proud of my mom. It’s weird to see her post all the stuff on Instagram, but I’m genuinely proud of her. Everyone in my family is.”

Before she can get to those future goals, her next stop is Storrs, Connecticut, and a role with one of the country’s most prestigious programs.

THROUGHOUT HIGH SCHOOL Strong’s vision board had “Go to UConn” stamped on it as a future goal but when it came time to check out schools she kept her options open with official visits to Oregon, LSU, Louisville, North Carolina, UCLA and a few unofficial visits to Duke. She did not envision going on several official visits when she first started, but this was a new world in recruitment.

She first went to UConn to see a practice and visit the campus during her sophomore year when she and her friends took a trip to Boston. She then visited the campus a handful of times for practices or games after that and her official visit was during UConn’s annual First Night weekend, the only weekend the UConn program hosts official visits in the fall. Fellow future classmates Allie Ziebell and Morgan Cheli attended as well and Strong has since studied their games.

“They are both really good players — they have different styles, but they both have strong games. Allie can really shoot and Morgan is a little bit of everything — her footwork is really good when I’ve watched her play,” she said.

She characteristically took her time and observed, looking for that feel and spirit that first led her to Grace Christian. When she talks about UConn, it is in a reverent manner similar to her high school decision.

“Just watching them play … watching and realizing I can help them and be there. I’m just ready to be there and practice and play,” Strong said. “I like the style and feel like I fill a need there. I’m drawn to the championship culture.”

She vividly remembers discussing her development needs with the UConn staff during recruiting to ultimately help reach her potential.

“I can remember Geno [and assistant coaches Jamelle Elliott and Morgan Valley] coming to this little gym in 10th grade,” she said. “UConn kept it real. They would tell me what I need to work on — they would just tell me I need to get in better shape and now they’ve noticed a difference. Some coaches would be like, ‘You’re so good,’ and obviously I know I’m not ready to be at the college level [currently]. I just like that they kept it honest.”

In spite of the comfortable fit, there are still small adjustments to be made.

“[Geno] kind of scares me sometimes. He’s really serious, but I also know that he cares about his players,” Strong said, smiling. “Early on I thought it was going to just be basketball, but as we talked more and got to know each other better, I feel like he genuinely cares about his players. His sense of humor is different. Sometimes he’s mad serious when he texts, no emojis or anything. And then sometimes he’ll send a text ‘heyyyyy’ with a bunch of Y’s and a smiley face.”

Despite their dominance over the sport this century, Auriemma and UConn have not won a national championship since 2016. They have knocked on the door by returning to Final Fours, but have not brought home the title — a standard that they created for themselves over the past 20-plus years.

Now, with star Paige Bueckers returning and Strong entering the program as a likely difference-maker, expectations are high for the world-traveled, soon-to-be freshman and her new program.

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