BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON

Not all Christmas presents come in December.

Arkansas women’s basketball head Mike Neighbors got a pair of unexpected gifts in mid-November when Spain’s Crisitina  Sanchez (6-1)and Jones (Miss.) College freshman guard Carly Keats (5-8) signed with the Razorbacks.

That duo gave the Arkansas staff five signees along with Orange Park (Fla.) St John’s Country Day 5-star point guard prospect Taliah Scott (5-9), Farmington four-star Jenna Lawrence (6-2) and Derby (Kan.) star Maryn Archer (5-8), who has announced plans to enroll at Arkansas in January, greyshirt and practice with the Razorbacks.

Sanchez was originally headed to Columbus, Ohio, but will instead end up in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

“Cristina Sanchez was initially recruited to go to Ohio State and made a verbal commitment,” Neighbors said. “That’s my buddy Kevin McGuff, a friend of mine and we were talking about her and I was a little jealous that he was able to get her. 

“First of all, he went to Spain like four times to see them (her family), but there were some issues with the transcripts and stuff. He called and said ‘I don’t think we are going to be able to get this kid in at Ohio State. You should really recruit her. She is your type of kid.’ And boy the second you see her, you knew that.”

That got assistant coaches Todd Schaefer, Lacey Goldwire and Pauline Love into action.

“Coach Todd did us some leg work and got us on some zooms, got us connected to the family and Lacy and Pauline worked their magic, got her on an official visit,” Neighbors said. “(Had)  to deal with a language barrier with a mother and father, who both were players. Her mother still plays actively in Spain. There is a language barrier. They don’t speak any English. But they understand English way better than I understand their language.”

That led to the Sanchez, who lives in Granada, taking an official visit with her mom Pique and dad Felix on Nov. 14 when Arkansas was playing Tulsa.

“Had an unbelievable visit and we were able to get Cristiana to come,” Neighbors said. “She is a dynamic six-foot defensive rebounding, slashing type kid that we love to have in our program. An SEC athlete.”

Neighbors also gives thanks to Rachel Galligan, the owner of GoGlobal recruiting, who talked with Schaefer.

“Cris has only begun to scratch the surface of how good she can become, and the player she can be developed into,” Galligan said. “I know Coach Neighbors and his elite staff will help her reach her maximum potential. She has high-level international experience combined with length, work ethic, athleticism and motor to fit well with Arkansas’ system and their established culture.”

Keats averaged 14.2 points and four assists her senior season at Neoshoba (Miss.) Central while leading her team to a 33-0 campaign capped by a Class 5A championship.

Keats is averaging 10.1 points and 3 assists while starting 10 of 11 games this season for Jones.

“And then another, because of our relationships, Pauline gets inducted to the Jones College Hall of Fame,” Neighbors said. “This is where Alexis Tolfree played and the conversation turns to ‘hey, we’ve got this kid and she’s y’all’s type of kid.’ 

“When I hear that, I love it because it means that everybody knows our kind of kid. Recruiters out there, evaluators, coaches – they know who to call us about and who not to. They are like, ‘this is your type of kid.

“Pauline calls and says ‘hey, coach I can stay down here and watch her, get an extra day and meet y’all in Pine Bluff coming back.’ So we did that, she loved her and we got her on a visit  and we all loved her as a fit in our locker room.”

Neighbors brought up former Razorback stars Destiny Slocum and Amber Ramirez when describing Keats.

“She is combination between Slocum and Ramirez,” Neighbors said.  “So that will give our fans a guess at what her game is like and just a kind of kid that is going to give us another dynamic player on the perimeter to go in that class.”

Neighbors said the five members of the recruiting class all bring something different to court and all visited Fayetteville around the same time.

“Everybody in that class is different,” Neighbors said. “They were all here. It was great because Taliah was on her official visit and they were coming in on the end of it. So we had all five kids here overlapped and you could literally put them together as a team. There’s a player for every position. None of them are going to be competing for playing time with each other. They are going to competing with upperclassmen.”

Arkansas was 17th in the last ESPN  women’s college basketball team recruiting rankings, but that did not include the additions of Sanchez, Keats or Archer, who is foregoing her senior season.

“I could care less what anybody ranks it,” Neighbors said. “I want that for Pauline and Lacey and their careers because that is a big thing in the recruiting world – to have a ranked recruiting class. Most people didn’t even know we signed them and that class was still ranked.

“I think you add them in there – and like I said I could care less whether we do or we don’t – but that class moves to a Top 10 class and I proud of our staff for achieving that. But I just like them as kids and can’t wait until I get them here and coach them.”