Chris Kielsmeier and Cleveland State have finally added the first member of their 2023 recruiting class and she, quite literally, is a big one. Paulina Hernandez, a center from Oak Creek, Wisconsin, announced her commitment to the Vikings on Saturday.
Hernandez, the 21st-ranked 2023 graduate in Wisconsin by Prep Girls Hoops, is set to begin her senior season at Oak Creek High School in November. Last year, she was listed as an honorable mention on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel‘s all-area team (alongside future teammate Jordana Reisma) as the Knights won their conference title for a tenth straight season and advanced deep into the playoffs, before being downed by a juggernaut Kettle Moraine team in the sectional final.
In a lot of ways, Hernandez projects as a prototypical Cleveland State player – according to most scouting reports she uses her size well, she’s athletic, and also extremely effective at both ends of the floor.
Okay maybe the Twitter account of Hernandez’s AAU team isn’t the most unbiased of observers, but that view is a pretty commonly-held one among those who have seen her play. PGH’s Lena Wells says that she is an “extremely versatile and athletic prospect that is perfect in the modern game. She gets up and down the court with ease and puts up big minutes for Oak Creek. She is a force on the offensive glass because she has great instincts and ability to keep the ball high and be above the defense.” Hernandez’s high school coach, Steve Hluchnik, offers that “she’s going to be a phenomenal player. “She’s got the body. She’s got the work ethic.”
At the risk of playing the comparison game, she almost gives off a Grayson Rose vibe with the way she blocks a ton of shots (and alters even more than that) while cleaning up more than her fair share of garbage and being skilled enough to play on the higher levels and even hit an occasional three. Rose, according to most listings, has an inch on Hernandez (6-3 vs. 6-2) and had plenty of time in a college weight room by the end of her career, but it’s clear that the basic foundation is there.
Speaking of AAU ball, it’s worth noting that the Wisconsin Lakers won the Select 40 17U title in Cincinnati back in late July – and the Vikings pretty much sent the house to that event including Kielsmeier, along with assistant coaches Desma Thomas Bateast and Bob Dunn. The Lakers also competed at Run 4 Roses in Louisville, one of the massive events on the summer recruiting calendar, so it’s safe to say that she received her fair share of eyeballs from Cleveland and beyond.
CSU has made no secret of the fact that they want to be a destination program for post players, and given the makeup of the Horizon League’s top contenders both in the present and the future, that sentiment is as much about survival as anything else – size was decidedly an Achilles heel for the Vikings last year, particularly when facing off with the likes of Macee Williams and Lilly Ritz. However, between the return of 6-4 redshirt junior Aminata Ly from injury, the arrival of 6-3 Reisma this season, followed by Hernandez next season, it’s clear that the green and white intend to own the paint for the foreseeable future.