Husky Legend Rebecca Lobo on UConn, WNBA and Culture
Connecticut is where it all started for Rebecca Lobo. She was born in Hartford and would remain close to her roots to make a name for herself in women’s basketball. First, at the University of Connecticut, then with the Connecticut Sun where she ended her six-year WNBA career.
In September 2018, just 20 minutes from where she grew up in Southwick, Mass., Lobo was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The former Husky was entered as a “builder”. Whether as one of the original faces of the WNBA or with the 1996 USA Basketball team, Lobo came left the University of Connecticut as a bona fide star.
This March, she and fellow 2018 Naismith Hall of Fame inductee Ray Allen returned to Gampel Pavilion to be the first two Huskies to have their college jersey numbers retired. Lobo stood center court watching the number 50 raised into the rafters alongside 11 women’s basketball national championship banners.
It was apropos Lobo was the first woman to receive the honor. As a member of the 1994-95 Huskies team, she brought the first-ever NCAA National Championship to Storrs.
Today, Lobo continues to build the women’s game as an ESPN analyst for college basketball and the WNBA. Teams, players, and even league logos have come and gone. But there has always been Rebecca Lobo.
Just ahead of the start of the 2019 WNBA preseason, Lobo was kind enough to take time to answer a few questions. She talks former teammates, WNBA predictions, and the greatest Huskies team of all time.
Storrs Central: Teresa Weatherspoon will follow you into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Do you recall your first memory of Weatherspoon?
Rebecca Lobo: My first memory of Spoon was watching her play in the Final Four at LA Tech when I was a freshman in high school. Women's games were rarely on TV then but I remember Spoon and her short-sleeve blue jersey and her jeri curl. Her on-court personality was so exuberant that you remembered her even if you only saw her play once. Such a dynamic personality!
Storrs Central: I was looking forward to your conversation with Sue Bird & Diana Taurasi at Mohegan Sun [which was postponed]. Now, I'll have to ask each of you independently, what is your pick for the best UConn Women's Basketball Team of all-time?
Rebecca Lobo: The loyal side of me would say 1995 because I was in the weeds with that team, and love Jennifer Rizzotti, Jamele Elliot, and all the women I played with. But the broadcaster side of me would say the 2002 team with Sue, Dee, Swin, Tamika and Asjha Jones. Damn, they were good.
Storrs Central: Between the Naismith Hall of Fame and having your UConn jersey retired, I'd imagine you've reflected a lot about your playing career. If you could be known as one thing as a player, by your coaches, teammates, and fans, what would you hope that one thing would be?
Rebecca Lobo: Hmmm, that's an interesting question. I think the best thing you can be known as is: good teammate. Whether in sports, career or marriage, being a good teammate is invaluable to success and the quality of time with those around you. A good teammate works hard, helps other teammates along and cherishes the team goal over the individual goal. All of those things are so important in life. And the poison of one bad teammate can have huge effects.
Storrs Central: I'd like to ask you about three of your former teams. First, the Liberty and the Connecticut Sun: Did the Liberty do enough this off-season to provide adequate support for Tina Charles? What do you anticipate as strengths & challenges, given the training camp roster?
Rebecca Lobo: I think the Liberty can be much improved this year. Their pieces weren't terrible last year, they simply didn't seem to have winning chemistry. I think Katie Smith will get them back on track this season. Hopefully, they filled their glaring weakness (a reliable guard who can get her own shot) by drafting Asia Durr with the second pick. And Tanisha Wright is the kind of leader who can really improve chemistry. I'm eager to see what they can do this year.
Storrs Central: With Chiney Ogwumike leaving for Los Angeles, do the Connecticut Sun have enough pieces to secure a top-four finish again this season?
Rebecca Lobo: I think CT has enough pieces to win the whole thing. If Jonquel Jones returns to 2017 form, watch out. This Sun team is young and hungry and talented. If they stay healthy (Alyssa Thomas would have been an all-star last year if she hadn't gotten injured), they can contend. I'm eager to see where Courtney Williams game has improved and also want to see what Tuck and Rachel Banham can do this season.
Storrs Central: UConn could be considered the Yankees of women's college basketball when it comes to certain standards for player appearance (nail polish, social media, tattoos, etc.). Can this aspect of UConn WBB culture survive the current youth culture, especially if the national championship drought continues?
Rebecca Lobo: UConn's culture is the main reason they've won 11 championships so I don't think their standard will lower as long as Coach Auriemma and CD are leading the program. But the things you mention are a small part of their "culture". The main ingredients are being a good teammate, communicating, working hard ALL THE TIME, committing to something bigger than yourself. Those other things play a small part.
And their social media rules are not stifling. The players aren't on Twitter during the season, but they do have a presence on Instagram and other places that their generation cares more about anyway. Regarding tattoos, who knows. (Christyn Williams has a tattoo of a cross on her neck that is visible.) I would imagine that the hardest part of keeping the culture alive is breeding a team-first and we-first attitude in a world that is so self and me-centered. But I hold out hope that coaches -- at UConn and other schools --can still do that.