Kingsford’s Roberts signs NLI to play hoops at Florida college

Kingsford High School senior Renee Roberts signed a college basketball national letter of intent Wednesday to attend Ave Maria (Fla.) University. The daughter of Tracy and Doug Roberts (front) was joined at the signing by athletic director Al Unger (from left), girls basketball coach Mike Cross and principal Lyle Smithson. (Burt Angeli/The Daily News)

KINGSFORD — The girl who started her basketball career by doing cartwheels and backflips in practice signed a national letter of intent Wednesday to start a collegiate career.

Kingsford High School senior Renee Roberts will play basketball next year at Ave Maria University, located near Naples, Fla.

“I just fell in love with the school,” Roberts said Wednesday afternoon following the official signing ceremony in the Kingsford High School gym.

Roberts joined classmates Kendra Nora and Carli Otto and Kingsford High School guidance counselor Lisa Harry on an AVA-sponsored trip to the Florida school with an average temperature of 74 degrees.

“Mrs. Harry let me know about it and I went down there to see Ave Maria,” Roberts said. “The teachers there really want you to succeed. I just felt like they all cared so much about where you’re going and your future, and more about who you are as a person.”

Roberts also considered St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis.

“They’re kind of along the same lines,” Roberts said of SNC and AVU. “I wanted a Catholic school but I really like the atmosphere of Ava Maria and the people there.”

While in Florida, the All-Great Northern Conference performer worked out for veteran coach Bob Batson.

“I went through drills and got to meet the team,” said Roberts, who plans to major in elementary education.

Batson, in his 10th year with AVU women’s basketball, has the team off to a 10-0 start this season.

“Coach Batson is the first and only women’s basketball coach in the young history of athletics at AMU,” according to the AVU website. “One of the most respected and admired coaches in the local area on and off the court, Bob Batson is in his 41st year of coaching.”

Roberts also got to meet Tom Monaghan, AVU founder and former owner of Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers.

AVU is affiliated with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

Roberts has been under the coaching wing of Mike Cross for 12 years — third-grade travel team through eighth and four years of varsity basketball.

“I absolutely love this kid,” said Cross, Kingsford’s longtime varsity girls basketball coach. “I am very happy for Renee. It’s hard to put into words how proud I am of her.

“She has spent many hours in the gym and this just reinforces that hard work pays off. Ave Maria is getting a great basketball player but more importantly a fantastic person.”

Cross said he has “loved every minute of coaching her.”

“When we started she wanted to do cartwheels and backflips at practice and so we incorporated a cartwheel into a play in which she scored in a game,” said Cross, adding that not much has changed. “She’s still cartwheeling and scoring, just not together. But who knows what the season has in store.”