Waves Insider: Why two women’s basketball recruits chose Pepperdine

Lauren Craig and Barbara Sitanggan just graduated high school last week. They both excelled on their respective teams and naturally had plenty of interest from some top college programs. 

The girls had plenty of choices. Sitanggan received letters from UCLA, Denver University, Hawaii University and LMU, she said. She even went on an unofficial visit to Cal State Long beach. She also had interest from Louisiana State and Texas Tech University, Waves head coach Ryan Weisenberg said.

Craig, meanwhile, had interest from one of the Cal Poly schools and Virginia Tech. She was slated to go on an official visit to Seattle University, but the coach resigned, Craig said.

But the two girls landed on Pepperdine, a relatively small school within a small Malibu community.

When they talked about their decision, both mentioned the university’s size and proximity to the beach as positive factors they considered. But they also spoke to an aspect of recruiting that Weisenberg said is “a little different.”

“We try to do all the gimmick stuff that some of the big schools are able to do,” Weisenberg said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve been the most successful when we’ve just kind of let them into our world.”

When Sitanggan — a high school junior at the time — went on her unofficial visit, she arrived with high school teammate Rebecca Lazuka. The two sat in a room with Sitanggan’s father, Lazuka’s mother and Weisenberg. The visit lasted a total of five hours, Weisenberg said.

The group toured the school and had a “really, really good conversation,” Weisenberg said. Later, at a nearby Chipotle restaurant, Sitanggan told her father she was ready to commit right then and there.

Sitanggan said one of the biggest factors in her decision to attend Pepperdine was when Weisenberg told her the team would have team dinners in his home to help players — particularly those coming from out of state — feel at home and comfortable.

“It was really huge because other schools, they didn’t seem to have that,” Sitanggan said. “You were just on your own. You didn’t really have anybody there to talk to and if you were missing home, they wouldn’t really have that support.” 

One week later, Sitanggan and Lazuka signed with Pepperdine.

Craig’s recruitment was much more expedited. The team was actually almost done recruiting for the upcoming season, coach Josh Pace said, but the decision in April of Erica and Olivia Ogwumike to leave Pepperdine and return home to Texas opened up roster spots for the Waves.

Weisenberg said Craig’s AAU coach contacted him and advised him not to overlook her. So Weisenberg got in contact with Craig and familiarized himself and his staff with her as much as possible.

On her official visit at the end of April, Craig said Weisenberg told her he had seen her play over a dozen times, which surprised her. He also told her he’d known about her for quite some time, but the school did not have scholarships available previously.

Upon hearing Weisenberg’s words, Craig immediately felt comfortable, she said.

“Pepperdine wasn’t on my radar then, so I was just kind of shocked to hear that,” Craig said. “But it made me feel better because it wasn’t just some sort of random thing that he was picking me.”

The rest of her official visit went well, Craig said. While she only got to meet two of her future teammates that day — along with the coaching staff and several department heads — she came away with a sense that she was a good fit for the program.

“When I was on campus, I could just see myself going there,” Craig said. “I just got a feeling that it was the place for me.”

Waves Insider is a monthly column offering an in-depth look at Pepperdine sports. Assistant Editor Alex Vejar covers high school sports, education and anything in between for the Malibu Surfside News. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexVReporting.