Esko's Savanna Trapp is a towering talent

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 13, 2013 - 6:53 AM

 At 6-9, Esko center Savanna Trapp is quite an obstacle for opponents daring to shoot near the basket. UCLA expects her to eventually do big things for the Bruins.

ESKO, MINN.

Gliding through the crowded school hallway in a UCLA hoodie, big-and-tall teenage jeans and men's size 15 neon green Nikes, Savanna Trapp could not be missed as she headed to her final class of the day.

At 6-9 and believed to be the tallest girls' basketball player in state history, Trapp is used to the "Oh my gosh, she's so tall!" comments that pepper her daily interactions. Whether she's low-fiving kindergarteners half her size in Esko Public School, 16 miles southwest of Duluth, or ducking under a door frame and into a gymnasium, her height attracts attention.

"I've been dealing with it my whole life," Trapp said. "I suppose if I saw another person as tall as me, I'd run over and talk to them. I'm a minority. It's kind of special."

Nowhere is Trapp more special than on the basketball court. Trapp has blocked more shots -- 650 and counting -- than anyone in state history. She has scored 1,743 career points. Eleven colleges have offered her scholarships.

Trapp talked to the Gophers early on, but they mutually decided it wasn't a good fit.

When Trapp said yes to UCLA's offer, she not only became the first Esko girls' basketball player to earn a Division I scholarship, but she will be the tallest player in UCLA women's basketball history.

With her basketball skills still developing, she won't be the most refined player when she leaves Esko (pop. 1,869) and heads 2,081 miles west to Los Angeles this summer. But Bruins coach Cori Close sees her inherent talent.

"She has great feet and great hands and the rest is teachable," Close said. "She has a long way to go, but her growth potential is so high."

Trapp's tall parents, 6-9 Scott and 6-3 Kristine, aren't concerned about their daughter flinching at this challenge. Dealing with such pressure has become a normal part of her life since she reached 6 feet at age 12.

"A lot is expected of Savanna, and there is a lot of pressure," Scott said. "And she's held up to the demands everyone has put on her shoulders."

'Hard to run around her'

Moose Lake/Willow River guard Hayley Johnson thought she finally had a clear shot at the basket in a recent game. A moment after she released the ball, it came back in her face.

Out of Johnson's sight but still within blocking reach, Trapp rejected the ball from behind. She collected four more blocked shots to go with 18 points, seven rebounds, and one assist in limited minutes of Esko's 19th victory last Thursday.

In the first three possessions of the game, the center scored, blocked a shot, dished out an assist and collected a rebound.

"It's kinda scary. I'm not going to lie. Everywhere you go, she can reach out," Johnson said. "A lot of plays are hard to run around her. It's heartbreaking."

With Trapp anchoring the middle, the Eskomos have risen to No. 3 in the Class 2A rankings and have only lost two games this season. Esko coach Scott Antonutti knows Trapp's looming presence gives his team a huge advantage.

"Most teams are aware it's tough to get shots off," he said. "You hear them say 'I should have known that was coming.'"

Trapp's height and reach has led teammates to call her the Eskomos' "get out of jail free card." Esko guards Marisa Shady and Brooke Schramm have perfected a lob pass that only their center's outstretched hands can reach for an easy layup. On defense, Trapp swats most of her blocks without jumping.

Trapp is the first to admit that despite her dominance, her talent remains raw and her game needs improvement to make the jump to big-time college ball. But she says she's eager to trade in her unpolished skills for what lies ahead at UCLA.

Esko snow to California sun

At home, Trapp produced fifty pounds of mail -- recruiting letters stuffed in an oversized mail bin -- and dropped it onto the floor before digging through it. Most of it hadn't been read, she said. At one point she received a peak of 60 letters from college coaches, many of them hand-written, in a single day.

Savanna's tall frame, athletic potential, quick feet and hands impressed the UCLA staff. Bruins assistant coach Shannon Perry called Close in the summer of 2011 and asked if she wanted another Lindsay Taylor, a 6-8 center Close coached at University of California Santa Barbara. Taylor grew into one of the NCAA's top players and now plays professionally overseas. Such potential convinced Close to take a chance on the small-town girl from northern Minnesota.

Close, however, was worried she would never get the chance. After visiting Esko, where locals ride their snowmobiles through the town, the coach thought the Southern California lifestyle wouldn't fit Savanna's background.

Trapp grew up ice skating on a pond, building campfires and extreme golf-carting in the backyard of her family's 10 acres. The beauty of UCLA's Westwood campus, however, felt just as homey to Savanna. Her height was less conspicuous in its massive student body. She plans to pursue her passions of marine biology and environmenal science.

The nationally ranked Bruins are eager to welcome the new tallest woman in program history. Close said she told NBA Hall of Famer and UCLA alum Bill Walton about the incoming freshman, and she contacted Taylor for a refresher on how to coach unique height.

"Part of the appeal is we can teach her," Close said. "It's a risk as to when she'll make a big impact. ... But I actually see [her being] a changing force in the NCAA. It's just a matter of time."

Going beyond the height

Though Trapp has learned to be proud of being tall, she's not above some mischief to cut down on the attention. Before a flight to Los Angeles, she once wrote "6-9 NO ENGLISH" on the back of her boarding pass.

Stares and requests for pictures from strangers normally don't affect the teenager, thanks to her parents' teaching.

"To whom much is given, much is expected," Kristine often tells her children. Tall like their older sister, Molly and Adam are already receiving stacks of letters from college recruiters.

Recently Trapp stood in line with her senior classmates to be measured for cap and gown sizes. The measuring tape on the wall topped out at 6-4 -- unable to keep up with Trapp, just like her basketball opponents.

"Off the charts," she proclaimed before watching her friend measure in at 5-5.

"Even though she's tall, she works super hard," Schramm said. "She doesn't only rely on her height."

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