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Getting to Know... Emily Bessoir

Oct 22, 2020

The 10th installment of "Getting to Know..." features Emily Bessoir, a freshman for UCLA Women's Basketball. Emily has arrived in Westwood from her native Germany and discusses the transition to college life and how her teammates and coaches have helped her in the opening stages of the 2020-21 season.

Q: Growing up, when did you pick up basketball and when did you know the sport would take you to that next level?
A: My whole family plays basketball, so I would actually say that I've always played basketball. But [I started playing] for club and going to practices I would say once I was six years old, so that's about 12 years now. I realized that this sport provided an opportunity to get to the next level probably around the age of 13 or 14. That was the time when I was selected for the [German] youth national team for the first time, and that's when I sort of knew I wanted to pursue basketball.
Q: How much back and forth did you do between Germany and the U.S. growing up? And with your dad as a three-time All-American at Scranton, what was your relationship like with your dad growing up with basketball being such an important aspect of your family?
A: I was born and raised in Munich, Germany. With my mom being German, we lived there. We only visited the United States when we visited family there. I've been here before, more so in Pennsylvania and on the East Coast because of family visits and vacation. I had been to Los Angeles twice before I started recruiting and signed my letter [of intent].

My relationship with my dad is really good. If we had the chance, he would always just practice with me and my brother, so he would always try and get into a gym. When he was a coach, he got the gym more frequently and went into the gym to do individual practice with me and my brother. He was my individual trainer, my individual coach. Of course, he was my number one critic, but he also supported me throughout my basketball career. He always says he's my number one fan but also my number one critic.

Q: After averaging a double-double in the tournament and putting a team-high 10 points in the championship game against Spain, what was it like winning the European Championship with the U-18 German National Team in 2018?
A: Two years prior to that championship, we actually played Spain in the final in the U-16 championship and they won. So, it was like a rivalry between the two of us. We went into the game and we had our game plan, and everyone was super focused. I remember that really stuck out to me because we had that feeling of, 'We're going out there to win'. The readiness was there and throughout the game, everything went really well. We started off pretty well and had a lead of I think 15 points in the first quarter. That was probably one of the coolest games I've ever played because we knew we were going to win and that we wouldn't lose to them [again]. One player on my team, she had the game of her life. She made every shot she took and she made a half-court shot before halftime and everything just went right. Unfortunately, Nyara [Sabally], tore her ACL in that game and she was the star player of our team. But we so ready to still just play and win that game. So, it's hard to describe because everything just felt right that day and everything went so well. It was a great game. Spain is such a hard opponent, but we were really in a good place and ready to fight.
Q: What was your recruitment process like, and did you always know that you wanted to attend college and play in the U.S.?
A: First off, I didn't know if I wanted to go to college up until I was like I think 15 years old or so. But it ended up seeming so right for me because I wanted to play basketball, but I also wanted to get an education, which was really important to me. So, I feel like in the United States, that's really well-combined compared to Europe or even Germany. My recruiting process was actually pretty good. I really enjoyed it because it was something that I was excited about. My dad really helped me with the process because he just knew a lot of schools. I didn't know all of the schools that contacted me, just because growing up in Germany, it's not like you know a lot of universities in the United States. So, it was a pretty good process. We cut down my list pretty quickly to focus on the schools that I considered. I think I had a list of 10 or 12 after three or four months of recruiting. Of course, more schools came after that time, but I had my list. We had markers and colored the schools based on my preferences for now and how it changed, so yeah, it was overall a good process.
Q: What about UCLA's program ultimately made you choose to become a Bruin?
A: I feel like at UCLA I had the best of both worlds. Basketball wise, their program was amazing for me. They play very versatilely. I love the philosophies of the coaches. The coaches on the coaching staff are all so different in their own way. The players are really good, and I think it will be easy to adapt to their playing style. On the education side, UCLA is known for their great education. For me, it was important that I could do something with a degree from UCLA even overseas. People know UCLA and if I have a degree from there, I feel like that has a high importance in my career outside of basketball. I was raised that school and education were very important, so for me it was important that I was picking a school with a good education.
Q: As part of an all international class, although you're the only one here as of now, what kind of impact do you hope you and your class bring to this Bruin roster?
A: I think for the three of us, since we all have experience playing internationally, I feel, or at least I hope, we can impact our team with a broader spectrum of the game because we're more versatile. For me, I played with people that were a lot older than I was, and I think Gemma [Potter] and Izzy [Anstey] did as well, so hopefully we can bring that experience with us and impact the team. Also, just that people don't know us here. Of course, teams will scout and know us, but they haven't seen us play in high school, so we hope to surprise everybody positively. For me, I'm really tall. I'm the tallest on the team right now, but people don't expect me to be versatile, so I hope that I can embrace that and take advantage of that. I want to focus on my strengths and help the team in that way, that I can get the rebound but also shoot the ball so that I can help [my teammates] on either end of the court.
Q: Now that you've been in Westwood for a few weeks and with official practices beginning, how has your transition been so far? Being the only freshman, what are some challenges that you've faced so far playing at this next level of basketball, and how have your teammates and coaches helped with your transition?
A: It's been difficult with some parts, of course. The transition from home and going to college now, living by yourself. I live with a teammate, but it's not the same as living with your parents. The whole transition of being the only freshman was challenging because I feel like if they were all here, we would at least go through the same things together and we'd have each other's backs. But the team has really helped me with that. My roommate [Camryn Brown], she's such a big help and the coaches are always there for me. In practice, they just lead me through it, so if I'm lost because of the language barrier or whatever, they'll just pick me up and show me where to go and what to do. So, my team has been a really big help with that – the coaching and the players. And I'm really grateful for how the players are because that makes it a lot easier.
Q: Where were you when everything shut down in March? How have you been able to stay in shape during the quarantine? What was your journey like moving out here to LA?
A: The coronavirus hit Germany a little earlier than the United States, so my school was actually one of the first ones to get shut down because we had a positive case. We went into lockdown around the middle of March and throughout April and the middle of May. Because it got a little warmer in Germany around that time, I was able to go on runs and do home workouts. We still couldn't go to a gym, so I couldn't lift anything. I noticed my strength decreased because my muscles got slimmer. But I tried to stay fit by running and everything. Once things loosened more in Germany, we were able to practice again. So, I went to the gym a lot with my dad because we had practice times. And once we were able to practice with the team, I still practiced with my old club team, and another team that we scrimmaged. That's how I kept in shape. It was really uncertain as to when I was able to go to Westwood. I was originally coming on June 28, which was two days after my graduation. Then it got pushed back to middle or end of July, and then it was mid-August. It was always being pushed back, so it was really uncertain and everything was up in the air. That was difficult because you didn't really know how to prepare mentally and physically. At some point it was hard to be motivated because I thought okay, 'Why am I training now and trying to get in shape if I might not be able to go there in the next couple of months?'. But then we got the notice that we were able to come within the next two weeks, so I was really happy to hear that. Luckily, I didn't have to go through all of the paperwork for a visa because I have dual citizenship, so that made it a lot easier. I just had to book my flights. I moved here on September 16 and I've been here for a month now.

Q: Following the Pac-12's decision in allowing men's and women's basketball to compete in November, how has your mindset changed from when it was originally postponed, to now having clarity on a set start date?
A: Firstly, I'm excited that it's soon and not too far into the future. I think all of us are motivated to use the practices that we have because we know we only have a limited amount of time to prepare for the season and we had such a long break because of the pandemic. So, I think everybody, especially me I know I can talk for myself but I think a lot of the players feel the same way, I feel a lot more ready. I'm motivated to get in shape and get to know how other players are on the court, get to know how they play, how they move. So, I think I'm a lot more focused on using the time that we have effectively.

Q: What are you studying at UCLA and what are your career goals or plans post-basketball?
A: I undeclared right now. I'm interested in so many different things, so I don't know yet. I just want to explore different areas. But after college, I can imagine myself playing basketball overseas or if I get drafted, playing in the WNBA. I would love to continue to play basketball. Outside of basketball, I would love to start my own clothing line or brand. It's one of my goals that I want to accomplish with the platform that I fortunately get through basketball. But exactly what I want to do, I don't know yet. I would love to do anything that's good for the environment. For example, I would want to combine my clothing brand with something like all the clothes being made from recycled materials, or everything is environmentally friendly, something like that. But that could really shift in the next couple of months or years.

Favorite thing to do outside of basketball?  Arts and crafts
If you could live anywhere, where would it be? Canary Islands
Favorite music artist? Khalid
Favorite TV show? Grey's Anatomy
Go-to post-meet meal?  Mom's chicken and mashed potatoes
Athlete you modeled your game after?  Elena Delle Donne
Why UCLA?  The whole package

Previous "Getting to Know..." Publications
Obi Eboh -- Football
Carlie Dorostkar -- Cross Country/Track & Field
Sam Feit - Men's Tennis
Sam Baron - Swimming and Diving
Kengo Aoshima - Men's Golf
Aislynn Crowder - Women's Soccer
Kevin Diaz - Men's Soccer
Frida Esparza - Gymnastics
DJ Lawson -- Cross Country/Track & Field