Alissa Pili found her ‘joy’ of basketball again, and what a change has meant to her game
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SALT LAKE CITY — Alissa Pili was not happy with her situation. And for someone who dreamed of always playing in the WNBA, it was hard to understand the feelings she had about basketball.
There wasn’t much love for the game anymore. The joy that regularly came from practices and games turned instead to fear and frustration with his situation at USC. The former Pac-12 freshman of the year who exploded onto the scene from Anchorage, Alaska, had his doubts.
Pili averaged 16.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game for the Trojans in his first season and was a force to be reckoned with for opposing teams; but the following two seasons there was a noticeable drop in his output, especially in rating.
There’s a common saying among professional (and sometimes collegiate) athletes that when playing the sport feels like a job or a chore, it’s time to hang up and move on.
Pili was not there yet, but his situation was close.
“The situations and environments I was in in the past just made me lose the love of the game, and just the joy of getting up and trying to improve myself and get back to my game,” said Pili said. “I just felt like I wasn’t happy with the way I was playing and the environment I was in.”
It was time to change.
Pili put his name up on the transfer portal in March 2022 in hopes of a fresh start – a refreshment from a once-promising career that had fallen on tougher times. Five weeks later, the Alaskan native tried his luck with head coach Lynne Roberts and an upstart program from Utah that earned its first second-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2009 last year.
“Honestly, it’s crazy how much Coach Roberts and the rest of the staff that’s here have pretty much built this program from the ground up,” Pili said. “At USC, my freshman year, I remember Utah was always bottom of the pack and all that.”
Pili saw the chance to be part of something bigger. And more importantly, it was a place where Pili felt the culture and fit with a young core of talent could bring back the love of the game that he lacked.
That love for the game — and her immediate impact on the court as a dominant player who can stretch the floor while providing a consistent threat in the post — was instantly on display in Utah’s season opener. against Idaho when Pili scored 27 points to lead the Utes to a dominating victory at home.
It had only been one match – admittedly against a far inferior opponent – but Pili said that night she had “found my groove back”. It was a game where she “felt like the old me” and didn’t want to stop playing once she found that groove.
While a game against Idaho might have been a fluke, Pili has since backed up his performance time and time again this season to help Utah to a 16-2 start to the season. She’s not just enjoying basketball again, she’s “thriving,” as Roberts recently described it.
“Anytime you get a transfer, you never know how quickly they’ll acclimate or if they’ll acclimate to your culture in your program,” Roberts said. “I was so impressed with his willingness to come in and adapt to the way we do things and what we expect – and not just adapt, but thrive.
“I think she’s in an environment where she’s pushed and challenged and held to a higher level, but also loved and nurtured and supported — not that she didn’t understand that (at USC ) – but I know that’s what we provide. And, I think she’s thriving.”
Utah Utes forward Alissa Pili (35) reacts to a foul call during an NCAA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo: Tyler Tate, Associated Press)
This was most evident by Pili’s rebound stats. A year after a career low of 7.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, Pili is now averaging 20.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, and has recorded 20 or more points scored in 10 games this season.
She now ranks in the top 20 in women’s basketball in average points scored per game and has a field goal percentage of 61.9%, which ranks No. 11 nationally, and field goal percentage. the effective pitch of 64.8%.
Pili has become one of the main reasons Utah is now ranked No. 9 on the Associated Press Top 25, where she compliments last season’s team led by first-year scorers Gianna Kneepkens and Jenna Johnson.
“I mean, his inside presence is so good,” Johnson said. “We have great shooters – we had some last year – but now they have to focus on her on the inside; they have to respect that, so it opens things up on the perimeter. She scores, obviously, a ton, then she’s just such a threat.”
It is not a coincidence; Pili is back. She loves basketball again and her new team loves that she found it in Salt Lake City.
“I think the biggest difference here is just the environment, like the people, the team, the whole culture of this whole university is right – everyone, like even our extended staff and everything, everyone just wants see you well and they will do anything to help you get there and achieve your goals,” Pili said. “I think that kind of environment helped me grow and brought back my joy for the game. and love what I do.”
Pili will get his first look at his old team on Friday (7:00 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Networks) at the Huntsman Center.
Southern California forward Alissa Pili, left, shoots as Washington forward Alexis Whitfield, center, and forward Haley Van Dyke defend during the second half of a college basketball game in the NCAA on Sunday January 16, 2022 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press)×The latest stories about the Utah Utes
Josh is the athletic director of KSL.com and editor of athletics at the University of Utah – primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press top 25 voter for college football.
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