For 2007 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate Talisa Rhea, after a year away from college basketball conference play, she is finally back in the game at Seattle University.
“My highlight was our first game,” Rhea said of last week’s action. “We played well and got a win.”
Not that she was idle in her days away from the game.
“You have to make sure you are ready for when the season starts,” Rhea said. “I have been conditioning and lifting four times a week, running, playing in open gyms and seeking out coaches for extra individual workouts.”
The SU Redhawks schedule sometimes includes three games per week, a daunting physical task even for elite athletes.
“We do a lot in the off season to get in shape for it,” Rhea said Monday morning. “This has been a tough week.”
The Redhawks defeated the University of Puget Sound in a Wednesday exhibition game 87-39, defeated the University of Santa Barbara on Friday 60-55 and lost a tough game to the University of California Davis 66-62 on Sunday.
Rhea scored seven points in 23 minutes against Puget Sound, recorded the team’s first double-double with a team high 20 points, 12 rebounds and four assists against Santa Barbara in 39 minutes, and led with 16 points and nine assists in 39 minutes in the come-from-behind loss to Davis.
Tonight Rhea and the Redhawks go across town, literally, to play their division one rival the University of Washington. The Huskies lost to Davis 69-68 last Friday. On Saturday Seattle University will host San Diego.
“We make sure we recover after each game,” Rhea, a team captain, said. “A lot of stretching and ice baths to take care of ourselves.”
Helping the recovery was a large contingent of Juneau residents that attended the Friday and Sunday games.
“It was awesome,” Rhea said. “A ton of Juneau faces. It was a lot of fun to see them. I am glad that they could make it.”
A lot has changed since Rhea played against Ketchikan and Sitka in Southeast and Dimond and East in Anchorage, although she still wears number 11.
“The level of play is so high,” Rhea said. “Everyone is so much stronger, faster and more athletic. That was the biggest adjustment. The speed of the game was much quicker. There is more size; you might be guarding a guard who is 6-foot-2 as opposed to in high school where they are all below six feet. It was a bit of an adjustment.”
Former JDHS Crimson Bears coach Lesslie Knight, who won a state championship when Rhea was a sophomore, watched the weekend games.
“It was so fun to watch her play again,” Knight said. “It is really nice to see her in control. At Oregon State University her only job was to hit 3’s.”
Physically, Rhea made an impact immediately as a freshman at Oregon State where she would play for three years. That play and mental toughness showed as she led the Redhawks in rebounds two games ago.
“You just have to work harder to make up for someone being taller or stronger than you,” Rhea said. “If someone is quicker you have to be smarter, you have to know the angles you an use defensively. Offensively know how to use shot fakes and change speeds.”
Rhea said she often thinks back to playing on Parks & Rec teams at age six, intramurals at Auke Bay Elementary, being on a strong team at Dzantik’I Heeni Middle School and her time with teammates at JDHS.
“Coach Knight did a great job in teaching us the fundamentals,” Rhea said. “That is something you can carry with you to every level. She really focuses on that. It helped me and it carried over from Oregon State to my time here.”
Rhea said her highlight while at OSU was as a sophomore year, being tied for fourth in the Pac-10 and going to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament at season’s end.
Many were shocked when Rhea left the Pac-10 Conference and three record setting years to play at Seattle University, a college that wouldn’t be in automatic conference bids to the NCAA Championships until next season. The Redhawks can be selected as an independent if their record warrants it. SU is in their final season of being an NCAA DI Independent; On July 1, 2012 they will officially join the Western Athletic Conference.
“I just wanted a change,” Rhea said. “It felt like Seattle U would be a better option for me for my senior year. So I could really enjoy my senior year, play hard and be part of this program.”
Rhea said the year of sitting out because of NCAA transfer rules was tough.
“It did give me time to recover physically,” Rhea said. “I had a stress fracture in my lower back, so I took some time off and let it heal. And mentally I needed time to recover from my time at Oregon State and get ready for my senior year. Ever since I was little I knew I loved basketball and wanted to play in college. I didn’t know it would be a reality until my freshman year in high school, when I started traveling on an AAU team and heard from recruiters. That was when I actually realized I can play at the college level. Before it was always a dream or an idea out there. I know I want to play it as long as I can.”
Rhea’s AAU coach, Dorena Bingham, is an assistant coach at Seattle University.
“I was really happy when I heard she was joining the staff,” Rhea said. “It is a lot of fun having her around every day, being able to talk to her, just having that connection I had from playing for her. She’s a great resource and someone I respect a lot and go to a lot.”
A daily routine during season is a wake up at 7 a.m., morning classes, afternoon practice, weight training, and “finding time in there somewhere to eat and do homework.”
Education and healthy choices are provided but athletes are expected to be responsible and use good judgment and time management.
“We do the normal academic load a college student carries,” Rhea said. “But we are also practicing more than three hours a day. It is like having a part time job while going to school. It is physically and mentally demanding trying to balance that focus.”
On game days the team has a shoot around practice early and a pregame meal. Rhea then includes a nap and shower as a ritual. She goes over the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses by herself first, then as a team, and then loosens up as they hit the floor.
“I love Seattle, it is an awesome city and the university is in a fantastic location,” Rhea said. “Our campus is a 10-minute walk from down town and the heart of the city, so you kind of get that small campus feel.”
Teammates and fans alike, even in Seattle, have their misconceptions of Alaska; living in igloos, dogsleds to school, and polar bears in the parking lots have been questioned asked.
“And the darkness forever,” Rhea laughed. ““You try to educate people on what it is really like there.”
Rhea is majoring in Sport and Exercise Science and would like to be a coach. She offered this advice for younger kids wanting to play college ball.
“I think it is just developing fundamentals and putting a lot of time in,” Rhea said. “A lot of people don’t realize there are so many opportunities to go play, so many different levels at college and to take advantage of them. I would tell kids to work hard and develop the skills they have. Just really be passionate about what you do, it keeps you motivated and wanting to get better.”
Rhea has played against Pac-10 opponents who have gone on to play in the Women’s National Basketball Association or in professional leagues over seas; and she has done well.
“To continue on would be awesome if the opportunity was there,” Rhea said. “I just kind of have to see how this year goes. Right now I am just focused on this year and having a good year, we’ll see what happens after that. I just need to continue to develop, get stronger and quicker and improve in all areas.”
“I haven’t traveled overseas yet, but I have played pretty much every where in the United States. Our college’s have competed and toured in a lot of places. Basketball has taken me a lot of places. I never expected to get to this level and to be able to experience some of the things I have done.”
Rhea stated she missed the people of Juneau the most; the relationships with them and the amount of support Juneau has for its sports teams.
“This has been a dream come true,” Rhea said. “I really love being a part of something and having a team and a program that works hard. I love the competition and tactics involved. It has always been a passion of mine.”
The world, like a ball, is round and Rhea wants to continue on around it.