Ten Schools in Ten Days: UCLA Women's Basketball Preview
Oct. 31, 2005
Guard Lisa Willis is the sharp-shooter and hard-nosed defender of UCLA's renowned 'Triple Threat'. Last season, the senior from Long Beach, Calif. averaged 16.3 points and 6.9 rebounds and ranked sixth in the nation in steals with a 3.70 average and 25th nationally in three-point field goals made per game (2.52). UCLA's all-time leader in three-pointers made, Willis enters her senior season on a high after winning a gold medal with Team USA at the World University Games.
Bruin Blue caught up with Willis after her summer travels that took her to Australia with her UCLA teammates and then to Turkey with Team USA.
Bruin Blue: You spent most of your summer overseas, either in Australia with your Bruin teammates or in Turkey with the USA Team. Was this your first time out of the country?
Lisa Willis: Yes, unless Tijuana counts. It was definitely cool. In Australia, I felt like we were touring because we went to Sydney and Cairns, which are more tourist spots. We didn't really get to see how the Australians lived. But in Turkey, I was right there with the Turkish people. It seemed like they built the athletes' village right in the heart of their city, so I actually got to interact with the Turkish people. In Australia, I was around a lot of tourists just like myself.
BB: What did you find to be the most interesting thing about the locals in Turkey?
Willis: We could have lost every single game, but just because we're from America, they basically worshipped the ground we walked on. It was sad also because you see really young kids out there trying to hustle and make money for their family. Our interpreter was telling us that one of the boys trying to hustle money from us, his dad didn't have a job, and his mom was sick and couldn't work. They were selling these little pins, which were not even worth more than a penny, for a dollar, and whatever he took home, that was his family's income. It's definitely sad. But there were other parts of Turkey that looked like it might be Beverly Hills.
BB: Let's talk about your trip to Australia. What were you able to take away from that experience? What was the value of that trip for you ?
Willis: Australia was like a confidence booster for me. During our first game, our opponent was not very strong. I wasn't going through the motions, but I wasn't really working on anything. In the second game we played, against the Junior National Team, I started off a little slow, and then I said, hold on, I have to get ready to go overseas (with Team USA). I need to work on some stuff. So for that game, I stepped it up and continued to step it up for rest of trip. I was just trying to not be one-dimensional. That was my main focus. I'm known as being shooter, but I also feel like I can put ball on the ground, create a shot, rebound, defend. I feel like I can do all of it. Because it wasn't certain at that point that I made the team, I didn't want to go back as just a shooter. I wanted to go back showing everything.
BB: Did playing those four games in Australia help you get a feel of the international game more?
Willis: Yes. Before Australia, all I had to go off was (UCLA teammate) Ortal (Oren), but after playing there, I could see where she was coming from, and now I can better deal with her style of play. It's very different playing over there. Everything that I think is right is definitely wrong, especially the traveling calls and all the contact. It was a hard adjustment, but Australia definitely helped me at least try to get used to it.
BB: Do you have a most memorable moment from that trip?
Willis: The Harbour Bridge climb. That was super cool because it's something that I would only do with the UCLA basketball team. We were a team about the situation. We were all hooked together by the railings, and that showed how we are one big team. If one person isn't in it, then we can't move forward. If one person stops, the rest of us can't move forward. That was really cool to see that we need every last person on the team.
BB: Soon after coming back from Australia, you went to the final camp for the World University Games team selection and made the squad. Can you describe your emotions the first time you played in a USA jersey?
Willis: It didn't really hit me that I was representing our country until we played South Africa in our second game. When comparing us to South Africa, unfortunately there were drastic differences. South Africa's team seemed more like it was put together by 'Whoever wants to play, let's go.' It made me think about what I had to do to get on the (USA) team. It wasn't that easy. We went through two different trials that were definitely emotional. The first time, I felt like I was on America's Next Top Model. They were going to call your name, and if they did not call your name, pack your bags and go home. And they did it in alphabetical order. So that was emotional.
BB: Now that you have this experience with the USA team, what does that do for you coming into your senior season at UCLA?
Willis: It makes me want to step my game up. I've considered myself to be a hard worker my whole life. Working hard to improve every day, every week, every year is just natural. But, these girls on the USA Team are good. I would watch Seimone Augustus' footwork or the way she sweeps the ball. We all would just look at each other and say, ok I'm going to take that back with me. I have a little shooting routine that I do that Cappie Pondexter said she was going to take back with her just to get her follow-through right. I just want to step my game up. I want to be, more than ever, an example for my team. I'm not really the most vocal person, but I would like to show them that this is how it should be done. If you're not sure, look at me; this is how you do it. I just want to step it up another level.
BB: Looking back on your freshman year, how have you changed as a person and as a player?
Willis: As a person, I'm more relaxed. I've always been a relaxed person, but my freshman year, everything was new, so everything was exciting, but now I'm looking at it like this my fourth go-round, my last time. I'm now striving for perfection. I've done it three times now, so let's get it right this time. As a person off the court I have five more classes and I'm finished. I would like to go out with a bang because this is why I came to UCLA - for the academics. With basketball, I'm blessed to say that I had a lot of choices, but I wouldn't change anything about my choices. Basketball has been great for me. You don't have to go to a UConn or a Tennessee to make the National Team. And that was a goal I never really thought about before. When I was little and I met the Olympic team, I thought hey, I want to do that, but I never really thought much about that. So for that to pop up for me, I feel blessed.
On the court, I used to dig the fact that I could shoot from wherever I want. If it doesn't go in, I'll get it next time. That's how I used to feel. But now, in the past two years, I've been striving to be unstoppable in a sense that I'm not a driver, so you can't play back. I'm not just a shooter, so you can't play in front of me. So you have to play in between. You don't know what i'm going to give to you. That's what I'm trying to go for on offense. And on defense, I've always taken pride in my defense. I'm still trying to hold people to below their average and taking it personal when they score on me. I definitely think that I raised the bar for myself. I never said, 'OK, Lisa, you are good now.' I never think that. My dad told me when I was younger that when you're not practicing, someone else is practicing. And I take that to heart. (UCLA assistant coach) Trisha (Stafford-Odom) wrote me a workout that I do daily because that's how bad I want it. I would love to win a national championship. I would love to be able to contribute to whatever success that we have on this team, but that can't happen if I don't feel that I work hard. If I have any kind of regrets, then I feel that's holding the team back.
BB: What are your future plans?
Willis: To graduate ASAP! I'm trying to go to law school, but I'm going to take off a year, provided I get drafted. That might be where I start looking at schools. I would like to get drafted and then take a year off to prepare for the LSAT. Then take the LSAT and do really well because I won't have anything in the way to stop me or hold me back from great preparation. So I'd take the LSAT, score as high as possible, then I'll be able to pick which law school I want to go to. From there, after I get to law school, I'll be working towards Attorney Lisa Willis. Years down the line, I would also like to open a non-profit group for inner-city kids, like a mentoring program, something like my mom has. Hers is geared towards foster kids, but I'm going to gear mine towards athletics. There are a lot of people out there who need some kind of guidance.
BB: What can we look forward to seeing out of this Bruin team this year?
Willis: Injury-free across the board. It's going to be amazing. Our chemistry is great. And as long as we get the freshmen on the same page as us, we'll be awesome. We are returning the same team from last year, minus Sissy Pickett, but with Rey Rey (Chinyere Ibekwe), who is just raw and physical. Everybody says UCLA is soft across the board. Rey Rey's here to say actually, we're not. Then we have Ashlee (Trebilcock), who is supposed to be one of the top point guards in the country. That will free it up for Nikki (Blue) to be more of a scorer, because Nikki is a scorer playing the point guard position. If Nikki doesn't have to worry about distribtuing the ball so much, I feel bad for all of our opponents. Tierra (Henderson) has pretty good defense. She's the Gennifer Arranaga of this team. It doesn't really matter about scoring, but if she goes for the loose ball before you did, she's happy. That's what we need. Last year wasn't a horrible season by any means; we did what we could under the circumstances. But this year, we all want it bad. The desire is there. If we match our work ethics with our desire, there's no stopping us.