LaVonda Wagner, coach of the Oregon State University women's basketball program, thoroughly enjoyed having an Alaskan on her roster.
Talisa Rhea, a 2007 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate and three-time Alaska high school player of the year, recently finished her first season playing at Oregon State. She and fellow Class of 2007 grad Will Egolf are both playing NCAA Division I basketball.
Rhea enjoyed a standout first year as she set a school record for 3-pointers made during a game, was named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman team and started 12 games for the Beavers.
"Basketball is not a sport that you can just show up and play. You've got to prepare for battle," Wagner said. "For Talisa, I believe that when she puts the work in and understands what this is about, she could be one of the best players to ever wear an Oregon State uniform."
Wagner said obtaining a scholarship to an NCAA Division I school is easy in comparison to what it takes to compete at the college level.
"Your quest for greatness begins when you step on the floor of a major college institution," Wagner said.
Rhea, a 5-foot-11 guard, is in her off-season now but is training hard for next season.
She does strength training and conditioning four days per week along with basketball drills, shooting practice and playing in pick-up games.
Rhea averaged 10.3 points per game during her freshman season and averaged a team-high .374 (67-for-179) from 3-point distance.
"It's been a lot of fun," Rhea said. "It has been more that I thought it would ever be. I've learned so much moving away from home, going to classes. It has been a big change competing in one of the best conferences in the country.
"Most of my success has been due to my teammates and the coaching staff here. My team has really helped me out a lot. They've given me a ton of support."
When not training, she has college classes to attend and exams prepare for. Rhea is currently undeclared but considering majoring in education and possibly going into coaching.
"I've been having a really good time trying to make the most of every opportunity I've been given," Rhea said. "It has been an awesome first year."
Egolf, another former Juneau-Douglas basketball star, also is preparing himself for battle at the college level next season.
The 6-foot-9 forward recently finished his freshman season playing for NCAA Division I Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. Egolf spent most of his season as a reserve. He averaged 6.9 minutes of playing time and 1.5 points in 19 games last season.
Egolf also said he went up against the starting team in practice.
"I had a good year in terms of learning and making changes for next year and seeing where I need to be," Egolf said. "My first year has been a huge learning experience coming over from Alaska and getting acclimated to the Midwest and, on the top of that, figuring out what Division I basketball ... is like."
Egolf currently is in training for his sophomore season. He lifts weights and does conditioning drills four days per week. He also runs basketball drills with an individual trainer three days per week.
"Talent is never going to get you anywhere, it's your work ethic," Egolf said. "How good you are in high school has nothing to do with where you can go in college."
One of the things Egolf worked on is putting muscle on his frame. He added 25 pounds of muscle last season after arriving to Bradley weighing 200 pounds. He hopes to add 10 more pounds of muscle weight before the start of next season.
Academically, Egolf said it was challenging at times to maintain a college course load because of missing classes due to traveling with the team.
"We have mandatory study hours. We have a big study room that we have to be in," Egolf said.
Bradley also provides an academic coordinator who is available to help with assignments and keep the team on schedule to finish its school work on time.
"She is kind of like the mom of us all," Egolf said.
Keeping his players on track academically has been a focus of Bradley coach Jim Les. Since becoming head coach in 2002, he's graduated all 15 of his seniors.
"First and foremost, we have a tremendous track record of graduating our players," Les said. "Will has done a nice job in the classroom. He is well on his way to being a successful student athlete."
Les, a former NBA and college player, said Egolf maintained a good work ethic and attitude during his freshman season.
"We are expecting big things out of him next year," Les said. "We see him competing for a starting position. He is really focused with his weight training and strength training. He's done a great job in our individual workouts and has been one of our better front court players in our spring workouts. That bodes well for him taking a major role on this team next season."
For any aspiring college athlete, Les said success rides on setting and achieving goals.
"It's about setting a goal and then applying yourself to try and reach that goal," Les said. "Whatever it is, whether you want to be the best student, best musician, or the best athlete in a given sport. The jump from high school to college is a big jump. It takes a lot of work and a lot of effort. Those (who) are willing to put in that time and effort can realize their goals and dreams. It's not (going to) come easy and it's not always (going to) be a straight ascent up the mountain."
Both Rhea and Egolf will continue their ascent up the mountain next year as they compete against the nation's best players.