To this day, I would much rather be doing something than just sitting inside watching TV. As a kid, my friends and I would go to the park and hang out or play our neighborhood favorite “21”. Once it was dinner time, we would all run home, eat as fast as we could, and then meet back in the cul-de-sac. I was such a tomboy growing up, and it’s funny looking back now...don’t even get me started on the pictures. Every day, I would have a long pair of basketball shorts on with a sports related t-shirt, and hair that was cut to my chin. Looking back now, I can see that this was the start to my love of sports.
Growing up, I played every sport in the book: dance, gymnastics, soccer, basketball, softball, lacrosse and volleyball. I loved sports, I loved the competitiveness of each of them, and the different techniques you needed for each sport. I remember so vividly ending a soccer game running to the car, so my parents could drive me to my basketball game that was going to happen in less than an hour. I would frantically change in the car, and swap out cleats for low tops. Ahhh those were the days where your body could just go…and go…..and go for days. Eventually, I narrowed down the sports I played to soccer and basketball. Despite how everything ended up for me, for many years’ soccer was my favorite sport. I thought I would play in college, but since I’m from Chicago and found myself stuck playing in the snow for part of each season I changed my mind real quick. Basketball became the center of my sports focus.
I look back and I always had a strong love for the game of basketball. Basketball is such a special sport. Players need the athletic ability to be able to dribble and shoot, but it is so much more than that. Basketball IQ is a really important aspect of the sport. I love thinking ahead of each play and envisioning what the end result will be. One of my favorite things to do is when I grab a defensive rebound, take the fast break all while coming off a ball screen, and reading the defender to give out a perfect pass to my teammate. Knowing where the next defender will be and having to think in a fast manner in order to make that perfect play happen is exciting to me. I love the sport so much and I wouldn’t change anything.
There is a side of playing the sport that many do not realize from the outside looking in. Fully committing to play a sport year-round comes with many challenges. My weekends were full of basketball, and as a result I missed out on a lot of school activities, and not being able to hang out with my friends. I didn’t get to take as many vacations, or go on spring break with friends. Instead I was invested in basketball and becoming the best I could be. I don’t think people understand the time commitment basketball requires. But, this is what I loved. I loved playing the sport and the responsibility that it came with. As always, my teammates and I always made the best of it, we would hang out all the time going to tournaments and staying in hotels. And you already know my parents were always there in the stands supporting me, so it was always a good time.
The nickname “gym rat” started at a young age; I was always the first one in and last one out, never wanted to leave. Getting extra work was so fun to me. I practiced with my dad and brother all the time. When I think back to those memories it makes me so happy. You realize later on in life that those are the memories you will cherish for a lifetime.
I was really short too growing up, but that didn’t stop me from always being the best on the court. And, I’ll never forget the afternoons spent busting my butt playing my brother 1 on 1 where I would try so hard to keep the game close. How times, and outcomes of those 1 on 1’s have changed. But, I can’t lie, the beginning years were sooo annoying. I would cry, get hurt, perhaps call him not nice words. I just so badly wanted to beat him. I now realize all of those years losing only made me stronger. And, now just so we are clear, he is one of my biggest fans and advice givers. I mean can we just talk about the dedication?!
At my local park district sometimes there would be pickup games, and the guys would ask if I wanted to play. See, this was usually before they got to know me, and it was just to be nice since my dad and I were taking up a side of the court. So, as the game happened my dad would watch while I kicked all their butts. As a girl, I had to gain respect and after that first time they quickly realized my talents, and I went from being picked last to first.
Besides getting in the gym with my dad, I eventually met Jeff Pagliocca, my basketball trainer. I am not sure where to even begin with him. Without him I would not be the player I am today. I am in the gym with him every single day, working on things and getting better. Going to the gym and getting work in with him is one of my favorite things to do. It’s a place I go to knowing I will be pushed both mentally and physically.
Not only did our relationship grow throughout the years, but I can genuinely say that he is one of the most caring and kind people I have ever met. He is still one of my biggest critics and I love that about him. He knows that I can handle his feedback and wants me to be so good. It’s to the point where when he gives me a compliment I usually say, “wait really?” to make sure he isn’t being sarcastic. He helped me gain scholarships from schools so many players would dream about. Jeff made me go from good player too great; he added so much to my game AND we are still going. He challenged and pushed me and to this day still does. He has a love for the game like no other. He is able to see things in a different perspective that might not make sense to others. The moves and tricks that he adds to my game are things I would have never thought of by myself. Very grateful to have him in my life.
Those pick-up games and practices with my dad and brother were mainly for fun, and Jeff helped elevate my game, but I still needed to play. I started really competing and playing at the next level. I played on a couple basketball clubs. I played for Fremd Feeder from 4th grade until 8th. That program was part of the high school I was going to attend. I went to
good old William Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois. I played on varsity basketball since my freshman year and was coached by two of the best coaches I have had the opportunity to play for. Coach Yates and Coach Townsend taught me a lot while I was in high school. I will never forget the nickname I was given by coach Townsend, “plastic” named after Stacey Augmon. Just like Stacey, I was very skinny with arms that seemed to stretch out for dayssss. It’s always comical looking back at pictures because from my freshman year to senior year I had the biggest growth spurt. I came in being the shortest to one of the tallest in about two years. My senior year we made it down to state. My teammates and I had been with each other for so long and worked super hard, so being able to get to state with that group was truly amazing. My senior year was the same year I won Ms. Basketball of Illinois with my good friend Jalen Brunson winning Mr. Illinois. We had lots of success as a team, and I was also very proud of these personal accomplishments that were a result of countless hours in the gym.
Outside the high school, I played AAU travel basketball. Deciding to solely play basketball allowed me to play for some of the best travel teams in the state, because I had the time to commit to practices, tournaments and other games. I first played for Kessel Heat when I was in grade school and was coached by Dennis Kessel. I played for Illinois Elite from 7th grade to Junior year of high school and Tom Hohenadel coached.
Then, my last few years I played for Midwest Elite and was coached by Coach G, Ralph Gesualdo and Randy Weibel. AAU days were so much fun. I could play 3-4 games a day and my body wouldn’t feel a thing, THEN do the same thing the next day. I made some great friends over the years of playing so much basketball. With all of that hard work I put into the sport daily, I received my first college offer in 7th grade, it was such an honor. My parents were so proud of me and I was proud of myself. Little did I know that was only the beginning.
A lot of people ask which schools wanted me and offered me scholarships, so here’s the short story. I took many “unofficial” visits. This meant I would take a visit to see a school that offered me a scholarship or was interested in me. I would take a look at the academic and basketball side of the things with that certain University. I was very grateful growing up being able to take a lot of “unofficial” visits.
(On top of the Duke Chapel)
My dad works for American Airlines, so we would get to put our name on standby and fly out to see a school I was interested in. Eventually, I just took 2 “official” visits my junior year of high school to see which school I would want to go to. Official visits are when the school pays for an athlete to go visit their school and show the best of the best of what that school has to offer. The first visit I went on was to the University of Connecticut and obviously the last one I took was to Duke University. Let me tell you that was one of the hardest decisions I think a young girl at the age of 16-17 can make. My parents did help and were very supportive, but in the end, I was the only one who could make the final decision. So, after I took both of my very exciting visits I had to think for a few days and really lay out the pros and cons of each. I still remember to this day the conversation I had on the phone with Coach P, I was in my parent’s room calling, telling her I am committing to attend and play basketball for the Duke Blue devils. From that day on I was super excited to start that journey. And what a journey it was.