Ranked as the nation’s 30th-best point guard in her class by ESPN.com, Sammy Fatkin had options.
Coaches of the Pac-12, the Mountain West, the West Coast and the Big Sky all knew of her, as they would any six-footer with a point guard’s handle, the shooting stroke of a two-guard and the size to play the three.
Montana made her short list and received an official visit, but ultimately it was Arizona coach Adia Barnes, who was completing her first season with the Wildcats when Fatkin was a senior at Glacier Peak High in Snohomish, Wash., who got Fatkin’s commitment.
“The appeal was to have a chance to be part of a rebuilding process and culture change,” said Fatkin.
Arizona would win its first two games last year in Fatkin’s freshman season but would lose 24 of its last 28 to finish 6-24, 2-16 in the Pac-12. Fatkin played in all but two games, averaging nearly 12 minutes.
It wasn’t the losing that had Fatkin seeking a fresh start at season’s end. It was the role she was being asked to fill, one of limited scope she’d never played before. She was a point guard in her mind, a spot-up shooter in someone else’s.
“I want to be more involved on the floor instead of just a guard who only contributes by shooting from the corner,” said Fatkin, who had 11 points in a home loss to San Diego State and seven points and six rebounds in a road loss at Oregon State, a team that would advance to the Elite Eight.
“My favorite part of the game is distributing the ball and getting everyone involved. I want to offer a team more than I was doing.”
Fatkin made another visit to Missoula in April, 16 months after her first, and accepted coach Shannon Schweyen‘s scholarship offer shortly thereafter. She’ll have to sit a season but will have three years of eligibility remaining.
Fatkin will arrive in Missoula on Saturday, begin summer school on Monday and join her future teammates for workouts every chance she gets.
“Everything was great the first time around. I fell in love the first time I visited,” said Fatkin. “I’m glad I had this year of experience, but I’m thankful to have the opportunity to go to Montana. I’m happy they took my phone call.
“I was looking for different things in a program the second time around. Team chemistry was very important to me, as was being surrounded by good people and being part of a team that has the same goal, with everyone working hard to get there.”
“She stood out as a big guard who had the ball in her hands a lot. Another thing that stood out was that she always looked like she enjoyed playing so much,” said Schweyen.
“It was disappointing to lose her, but she is a great kid and was very honest with us in the recruiting process, so there weren’t any bad feelings. We ended on great terms and wished her well. It was great to get her text message and get the clearance to talk to her again.”
Schweyen sees the ongoing trend in the college game, which she describes as a movement toward “position-less basketball.” Instead of five structured assignments, a team might have broader groupings. The handlers, the wing players, the posts.
It’s why versatile players like Fatkin become even more valuable. Instead of a one-position platoon situation, the lineup can be more fluid.
It’s two seasons away, but Schweyen already can picture then fifth-year senior McKenzie Johnston, junior Sophia Stiles and redshirt sophomore Sammy Fatkin, any of them capable of playing the traditional point guard position, on the court at the same time. Good luck defending that.
“It would be a huge luxury, though we’ve always said at Montana that we’re going to try to get the best players on the floor,” said Schweyen.
“Sammy will practice every day next season, which will be great. She’ll make us better with her intensity, her competitiveness and her versatility.”
Fatkin will be one of five newcomers on next year’s team, joining incoming freshmen Jordyn Schweyen and Kylie Frohlich of Missoula, Katie Mayhue of Albany, Ore., and Carmen Gfeller of Colfax, Wash.
“I’m really excited,” said Fatkin. “There is great talent on the team already. With everybody who’s coming in, it’s going to be really fun. It’s going to be fun to be a Griz.”