A whole new ballgame
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
|Kim Willoughby says her new teammates made her feel welcomed. "I still feel like I'm with my volleyball teammates, except they're bigger," she says.
UPPER-RIGHT:Wahine coach Vince Goo, asks everyone to be patient while Kim Willoughby makes the transition. "We don't need to rush it," he says.
Bruce Asato photos The Honolulu Advertiser
Moments into her first University of Hawai'i basketball practice, Kim Willoughby took the ball down low and dunked over five teammates.
And not likely. But after what Willoughby accomplished on the volleyball court, who is not intrigued by the thought of her soaring through the air with the greatest of hoop ease?
Willoughby sandwiched her initial Wahine basketball practices this week around a trip to San Diego to collect All-America volleyball honors. She is expected to play in the 10th annual Ala Moana Hotel Paradise Classic Monday and Tuesday, and play more when the Wahine open their Western Athletic Conference season on the road the end of the month.
"I don't think it's going to take much time for her to be ready to go, I really don't," said assistant Jon Newlee. "She'll play some next week and by the time we go to Boise (Dec. 28), she should be able to give us more minutes. We're thin at the post, especially with Jade (Abele) out. We were thin as it was, we saw that against Baylor. We need help. It's a perfect time for Kim to come in and get an opportunity."
For her part, Willoughby is passionate. She was a two-time state Player of the Year in Louisiana, where she scored more than 2,000 points. She missed the game immeasurably as a freshman and, since the team's first practice in October, has convinced head coach Vince Goo she is dedicated to playing.
Goo finally got to see his new 6-foot forward up close and elevated this week. With her new teammates, coaches and support staff gently guiding her through the initial mass confusion, the Wahine saw what they hoped for, and expected.
Willoughby worked hard and glided downcourt. She looked awkward using her left hand. She concentrated intently before beginning basic drills.
She ran through the offense as she was learning it, sometimes so absorbed in her pattern she never noticed the ball had been shot. She often made posting up look simple, catching passes inside and then hanging in the air so long no one could block her shot. Other times, she was pinballed across the paint.
"She's thinking more than she's making her moves right now," teammate Christen Roper said.
Willoughby is taking a crash course in Wahine basketball 101, starting the class as preseason ends. Goo calls for patience.
"I'm trying to get people to be patient coaches, teammates, Kim and the fans," he said. "We don't need to rush it.
"Her athletic ability is her most obvious asset. She can accomplish a lot of things in the game of basketball with that. As she learns the system, she will play by instinct and that will make her better. We want to make sure the first time she gets in, she'll be comfortable and not be out there thinking. We need her to play as naturally as possible."
Willoughby's greatest fear is 6 a.m. practices. She "set every alarm in the house" and asked teammates for 4:45 a.m. wake-up calls the first day, then grew anxious when she didn't see anyone else walking to the arena.
Turns out, she was too early. From there, it got tougher, as everyone knew it would. Willoughby relied on her teammates to lead her through.
"All the girls have made me feel really comfortable out here," she said. "And it's cool that I'm actually a freshman again, it's so cool being the little kid. They helped me out so much I still feel like I'm with my volleyball teammates, except they're bigger."
They're also 5-2, and rated No. 14 in CollegeRPI.com's power rankings. Hawai'i's only losses have come against Stanford No. 1 in CollegeRPI.com and No. 15 Baylor. But losing freshman Abele for at least five weeks to a stress fracture has left them lean in the post. They could use points from Willoughby, and especially rebounds and defense in a position where they traditionally have been exploited.
"Kim is capable of giving us that defense, especially against the athletic posts in the WAC," Newlee said. "The athletic '4-player' has killed us in the past.
"And, I think she can really help on the offensive boards because her feet are so quick they 're going to go to box her out and she's going to be around them and be right there to finish."
It will take time. No one knows that more than Willoughby.
"They're not expecting me to be the best player or do anything spectacular," she said. "I have to show them I'm dedicated to what I'm doing. I have to be this basketball player I want to be. I have to show them I'm going to work hard and help them out in any way that I can."
Goo believes her.
"We're not trying to overwhelm her, but everybody is willing to help," he said. "And the best thing is, she's willing to listen."