Kim Willoughby has made a significant contribution for the Rainbow Wahine coming off the bench.

Willoughby makes
mark on hoops court

By Al Chase

When Kim Willoughby arrived in the 50th State to play volleyball for the Rainbow Wahine, she was equally qualified to play basketball.

The graduate of Assumption High in Napoleonville, La., was state player of the year in both sports twice. She was also an all-state performer in track and field in the 100 and 400 and also competed in relays and the long jump.

Will the UH women's track team be a third venue for Willoughby to show her talents?

"I've thought about it, maybe later after the Olympics are over and I'm done with volleyball," said the 6-foot sophomore forward for the Rainbow Wahine basketball team.

Recruited by colleges interested in her talents in all three sports -- including tonight's opponent, national power Louisiana Tech -- Willoughby says she never got too excited about schools that showed interest late in her high school career.

"I was a diehard LSU Tiger fan. I had offers from them and they were willing to let me do all sports," said Willoughby,

Yet, Hawaii women's volleyball coach Dave Shoji and his staff had an approach that won the recruiting battle.

"I had this huge box of letters. If they were typed, I didn't even bother looking," said Willoughby. "Hawaii had the most handwritten letters. It's real easy to get on a computer and delete one name and add another to the same letter, but it takes time to hand write a letter. That says someone is taking time to write something special to me."

When Shoji made his visit to the Willoughby household, the idea of her playing volleyball and basketball was discussed.

"I really liked both sports, enjoyed both and it was never 'You are going to just play volleyball,' " the two-time volleyball All-American said.

Yet, that is what she did her freshman year.

"The basketball team was doing really well and I didn't want to invade their space. I didn't know the girls and I would not have been comfortable," Willoughby said. "I used that time my freshman year to watch them and when I saw the girls around campus I got to talk to them. Then, in my sophomore year I saw them in the stands at the volleyball games."

The next step was sitting down with UH women's basketball coach Vince Goo and getting his input.

"He said, 'We have rules. You have to understand them and you have to adjust to the team. If you can't do that, it will be a problem.' It was easy for me to just walk in and be a part of the team," said Willoughby. "There was a wait-and-see period. They were probably thinking, 'She can play pickup, but can she play organized basketball?' "

Having been away from the court for more than a year, Willoughby first contributed as a rebounder and defender. She understood the role. The offense came a little slower. There were moments of hesitation, yet the moves, some of them instinctive, were there. Practice and playing time produced improvement. She wrapped up 2002 with a 12-point, 12-rebound effort in the Western Athletic Conference title game against Louisiana Tech.

This year Willoughby again joined the basketball team following the volleyball team's final-four appearance. Her confidence level is up. She works hard in practice to show the coaches she is becoming a complete player.

"I know I'm capable. The harder I work, the less they have to help me. Gavin (assistant coach Petersen) has been helping me with a lot of new ways to post up. Now it's up to me to use these things in games," says Willoughby, who played every position in high school except center.

One thing she has done a couple of times this year is receive a pass near the free-throw line, spin and drive the lane for a layup.

"I wouldn't have even thought about doing that last year. I've been doing a lot of things in practice to show what I can do and the coaches are allowing me to touch the ball more," said Willoughby.

"Kim shows you how to play determined basketball," said Goo.

Petersen, her position coach, said, "If you want to sum up Kim's strengths, it's her athletic ability. She is a very smart basketball player. We see that more and more this year in the questions she asks. She is not just a volleyball player playing basketball. We didn't have individual workouts with her in the fall because of volleyball, but I think she worked in the offseason. It shows."

Willoughby averages a modest 8.9 points per game and is the team's second-leading rebounder with 6.6 per outing. A starter who rarely sees the bench during volleyball season, Willoughby has no problem being a reserve and coming off the bench in basketball.

"I really appreciate not starting. I get all the glory in volleyball. I don't have to be the leading scorer or rebounder," said Willoughby. "I just like being that little spark, getting that one basket when we need it.

"People overlook all those digs and passes in volleyball that get me all those kills. It just shows you don't have to be the best player to be successful. I just want to be part of the team. That's the best thing."

No. 9 Louisiana Tech at Hawaii

When: Today, 7 p.m.

Where: Stan Sheriff Center

TV: KFVE, live

Radio: 1420-AM, live


Tickets: $7 adults, $6 seniors, $4 for children (age 4-17) and UH students

Probable starters

Louisiana TECH (17-2, 9-0)

Ht. Pts. Reb. Ast.
G Erica Smith (So.) 5-10 11.7 4.4 2.6
G Amber Obaze (Jr.) 5-9 12.7 4.1 3.1
G Tamaka Clay (Jr.) 5-6 3.2 1.1 2.5
F Trina Friersin (Jr.) 6-2 12.9 7.8 0.6
C Cheryl Ford (Sr.) 6-3 13.1 12.6 1.1

Hawaii (11-7, 5-4)

Ht. Pts. Reb. Ast.
G Michelle Gabriel (Sr.) 5-6 2.6 2.9 2.6
G April Atuaia (Jr.) 5-10 9.7 4.7 2.4
F Natasja Allen (Sr.) 6-2 10.7 5.9 0.9
F Jade Abele (So.) 5-11 10.9 3.4 4.4
C Christen Roper (Sr.) 6-5 11.3 8.1 0.8

Notes: The Lady Techsters have won all nine games played between the schools. ... Louisiana Tech edged visiting UH 60-52 on Jan. 11. ... Hawaii's shooting percentage leaders are: Natasja Allen, field goals, .468 (74-158), April Atuaia, 3-pointers, .378 (17-45) and Jade Abele, free throws, .789 (60-76).

UH Athletics

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