Lehman looks to make difference for NIU women's hoops
DeKALB – Ally Lehman could have been playing basketball in the Big Ten.
It's possible the Northern Illinois freshman guard could have been taking the floor at Indiana, whose Bloomington campus is roughly an hour away from her hometown of Nineveh, Ind.
However, Lehman developed a strong relationship with Huskies coach Kathi Bennett throughout her prep career and felt welcomed when she came on her first visit to DeKalb. Lehman, who is NIU's fourth-leading scorer at 6.5 points a game in nine starts, took a few unofficial visits to NIU and saw the Huskies play at Ball State multiple times.
To her, Bennett's program seemed like the perfect fit.
"I loved the team, I had a connection with them from the get-go," Lehman said after Tuesday's practice. "... All I wanted was like a family away from home."
Lehman was a scoring machine in high school, averaging 24.2 points a game as a senior, using her ability to get to the basket. Now as a freshman, Lehman's working on developing her outside game for the Huskies (5-6, 1-0 Mid-American Conference).
She garnered interest from schools like Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin-Green Bay. Lehman said the Big Ten schools were planning on offering her but wanted her to wait until later in the recruiting process to make a commitment.
But she thought NIU was the right fit and committed to Bennett and the Huskies the summer before her senior year of high school.
"I want to be a part of something, I want to change a program," she said. "This was the biggest opportunity. I already loved the team, I saw the potential."
Lehman has already pushed the Huskies to the five wins this season. NIU only had seven total wins and one conference win last season.
Bennett first noticed Lehman during the 2009-10 high school season, when she was an assistant at Wisconsin. Bennett was the Hoosiers' head coach from 2001-2005, and carried over plenty of relationships with Indiana AAU coaches.
Lehman and her father started calling Bennett during her first year on the job at NIU in 2010-11, and the two immediately developed a good relationship.
"The relationship I had with her and how we talked, we just really got along," Bennett said. "She loves the game of basketball, I love the game of basketball. We're X and O junkies, we just connected. That helped a lot.
"She was a kid that just really caught my eye. Really just stayed on her and stayed on her," Bennett added.
Bennett's Indiana connections have helped bring a number of Hoosier State natives to DeKalb. The Huskies have four on their roster – Lehman, Danny Pulliam (Indianapolis), Amanda Corral (Hobart) and Lacia Gorman (Fort Wayne).
"There were already Indiana kids here that I knew were good, Lehman said. "They were already friendly, and I knew they could play ball."