Bridget Carleton’s run through the 6

Trey Alessio

The ISU women’s basketball team has had international players before under head coach Bill Fennelly—some from Australia, another from Antigua and one from Lithuania. But never before has Iowa State had an international player with such hype.

Bridget Carleton is a freshman from Chatham, Ontario, Canada. She’s the first Canadian under Fennelly, and she is the first women’s basketball player to come directly from her country and attend Iowa State.

“Alison Lacey is on the short list of one of the best players to ever play here [at Iowa State,]” Fennelly said about the former player from Australia. “She didn’t have the hype that Bridget has.”

Carleton has been an athlete her entire life. She played hockey and basketball in the winter and soccer and basketball in the summer growing up in Canada. It wasn’t until eighth grade when she realized her true passion.

“I knew [basketball] was what I was best at and what I loved to do,” Carleton said.

Carleton took that passion and honed her skills. She competed for several Canadian national basketball teams, including the U16/U17 Cadette National Team where she was named team captain in 2013 and 2014. She also started on the U18 Junior National Team and became a captain for the U19 Women’s National Team. During her senior year of high school at John McGregor Secondary, Carleton was also named the high school athlete of the year. All of the accolades got her a top spot on the 2015 prospect list in Canada.

It’s safe to say the hype is there. The hype got the attention of Iowa State fairly early on in Carleton’s recruiting process.

ISU assistant coach Jodi Steyer found Carleton. Iowa State offered Carleton a scholarship early on. Fennelly said Steyer and Carleton’s mom/basketball coach, Carrie, had an instant connection because they were both coaches as well as moms.

Carleton said Iowa State sent her a 20-minute-long women’s basketball video. She watched it in her mom’s office alongside her mom and said she was immediately interested in Iowa State.

Another big reason why Iowa State intrigued Carleton was the fact that it was so supportive of helping her fulfill a dream.


Carleton stood in the arena with the crowd to her back. The Canadian flag hung in front of her as she stood next to her teammates.

Carleton made the U16 Cadette National Team for the first time and she was feeling all sorts of mixed emotions—excitement, nervousness, anxiety. The Venezuelan national team stood across from Carleton and her Canadian team.

The anthem singer stood up with microphone in hand and belted out, “Oh Canada…”

Chills rose up Carleton’s spine and she felt something for the first time as the anthem was sung. She finally came to the realization that she wanted to play basketball and represent her country for as long as she could.

In that moment, Carleton formed her dream of making the Canadian Olympic basketball team. Her sights were set on the 2020 Olympics.


The recruiting process went on with Iowa State being one of Carleton’s front runners, simply based on the connection between her and the coaching staff and the fact that it was willing to help her reach her Olympic goals.

“We were very committed to helping her with her dream of the Canadian Olympic team,” Fennelly said.

On December 28, 2013, No. 14 Iowa State took on Holy Cross in the Cyclone Challenge tournament. Carleton and her family decided to make an unofficial visit to Ames, Iowa.

Carleton walked into Hilton Coliseum and immediately felt the magic. She saw the countless amount of screaming fans, she saw Fennelly and the rest of the coaching staff lead an undefeated Cyclone team and she saw Nikki Moody put up 14 points and 10 assists.

“I was just blown away,” Carleton said. “That was the moment I knew I wanted to come here.”

After the game, Naz Long, a Canadian standout for the ISU men’s basketball team, came over to sit and talk with Carleton and her family.

“[Naz] was really awesome to us,” Carleton said. “It was comforting, knowing that there was another Canadian in the basketball program and he was doing really well.”

She also said Long emphasized how everyone in the ISU basketball program is like a family, which, Fennelly said is a big deal to Carleton because she’s a “very family-oriented person.”

Fennelly said from the beginning of the recruiting process there was a small group of people who knew about Carleton—Iowa State, Michigan, Michigan State and Villanova to name a few.

Iowa State was one of the schools that discovered and stuck with Carleton from the beginning, so Fennelly wanted to show his and Iowa State’s commitment toward Carleton. He traveled to Canada and attended one of Carleton’s high school practices. He said she was so much better than everybody else.

“I watched her mom challenge her a lot to be better, to not accept things, to be a leader,” Fennelly said.

After Carleton’s practice was over, Fennelly called Carleton when he got back to his hotel room.

“Look, you’ve got a chance to do something and we can help you move on,” Fennelly told Carleton.

Carleton replied, “Coach, I just want to be special. I want to be special in college, but I really want to be special beyond.”

Fennelly said Carleton is really committed to Canadian basketball.

“You could tell in her voice. She was damn serious. She wants to be a great college player, but she wants to be special for the Canadian national team. She doesn’t talk a lot but when she speaks, people listen. I think in Canada she’s kind of got that mindset. I hung up the phone and called my wife and said, ‘This kid, we’ve got to get. She’s got something that a lot of kids don’t have.’ I could tell when I talked to her, she’s got it. There’s not many of them that have it.”

Carleton sparked something within Fennelly, and Fennelly with Carleton.

“We weren’t the best high school team, but him just showing his commitment to me and how much he wanted me to be part of the family here was big,” Carleton said.

Carleton burst onto the recruiting scene in 2013 after a big spring event where she had a dominating performance.

It was late April of her junior year. ISU assistant coach Jodi Steyer was in attendance along with representatives from many other schools. Carleton had what she called “one of her better games of the whole year,” and, at that point, she exploded and every college wanted her.

Carleton had conversations with Fennelly, reaffirming her status with Iowa State. “Hey Coach, I really like you guys. You’re my number one choice,” she told Fennelly. “Coach, don’t worry about it.”

“Bridget, I’m going to worry about it until you tell me you’re coming,” Fennelly replied.

A couple of days after her big spring event, Carleton committed to Iowa State.

“She called one day and said, ‘if you’ll take me, I want to come,’” Fennelly said. “She didn’t want it to be a big deal.”

The success of former ISU men’s basketball player Melvin Ejim and current ISU men’s basketball player Naz Long, both of whom are from Canada, has set the stage and opened up the doors for future international recruiting for Iowa State, as a whole. Carleton’s recruitment opens the door on the women’s side for Canadian and other international recruitment.

“[Canadian basketball] is definitely on the rise,” Carleton said. “I think we started out kind of mid-pack but now our senior team won the Pan-Am Games. Our Cadette women’s team was seventh or eighth in the world championships. Our development team won their tournament, so I think we’re all getting better.”

Fennelly said sometimes it’s easier to recruit international kids because they’re not tainted by what they’ve read on the Internet or by AAU coaches or other people with their own agendas.

“[International kids] are like, ‘Hey, where can I go play? Where can I get a good education? Are the people nice?’ They just want to go somewhere they’re happy, comfortable, and it’s a good fit for them and their families,” Fennelly said. “Sometimes it seems like it’d be harder but it’s almost easier. Every kid now that we’ll ever call in Canada, the first thing we’ll say is, ‘do you know we have Bridget?’ And everyone knows Bridget in Canada. Everyone. The ability to say every kid on this team is not from Iowa does make a difference and it does open it up.”

Fennelly said it’s safe to say that Carleton will start—he doesn’t know where yet but she’s going to start for the Cyclones this upcoming season.

“I think the stage will not be as big to [Carleton] as it is for a normal freshman because of her life experiences and what she’s already done,” Fennelly said. “The kid has been all over the world, so I think leaving home to go to college wasn’t a huge thing. She’s got a chance to be very, very good.”