September 8, 2015:
The day of my official visit at UCLA.
Coach Jenny picked me up from the airport. My 6’9” father sat crammed in the backseat smushed next to my mother, while I lived the lap of luxury at shotgun. He wanted me to see the city, and talk to coach.
I’ll never forget how the 405 looked that day. Christmas came early. Bumper to bumper, red taillights were lit up like Rockefeller Center. Still til this day I haven’t seen worse traffic coming out of LAX.
I sat in the front seat mesmerized. It took us an hour and a half to go the approximate 10 miles to campus.
I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time. I thought it was so cool.
“Look how many people live here.”
It was 11am on a Tuesday.
I hadn’t met any of the coaching staff yet. Coach Jenny was my first impression. And if anyone knows Coach Jenny, one knows that first impression left a lasting impression. I love that woman with all of my heart.
We met the rest of the coaches just past Venice Beach for lunch on the water.
I remember Coach Cori asking me on the phone earlier that week, “What would you prefer? Brunch on the beach, or a quick hike to Hollywood and a bite by the sign?”
It was comical, really.
“Did she really just ask me that?”
There I sat mulling over which beach I wanted to have brunch at. Was it going to be Malibu? Santa Monica? Or did I want to go inland and wine & dine in Beverly Hills or Hollywood?
NUTS, PEOPLE. NUTS.
This was their real-life. Their day-to-day. I was used to deciphering between Dairy Queen or Caine’s Chicken.
(Still fantastic options, don’t get me wrong).
From the outside looking in, I thought I had died and gone to Disney.
That was an option too. Disneyland.
Half of my visit I sat pondering the fact as to why anyone would ever go anywhere else. Had people just not seen this place?? Was it undercover? Was there something wrong? There had to be something wrong.
After brunch by the beach, Coach Cori took the Korn clan to campus.
I had never been. I think when I was little I drove past it once. But it’s so well hidden off of Sunset Blvd. that it’s so easy to whiz right past its beauty.
It really is undercover.
I think I was expecting a concrete jungle. A dilapidated, run-down, overcrowded prison in the middle of LA. That’s what was plaguing my mind due to the not-so-friendly stereotypes my Texas neighbors had given. Little do those Longhorn fans know.
Coach Cori was driving down Sunset and the sunshine was beaming. It was a picturesque day like any other, sunny & 75. We pulled into campus after passing the notorious white arch that read, “Bel-Air Estate.”
“That’s where Coach Tony & I live. He’s a little more up the mountain than me, but we’re so fortunate to be just a 5 minute commute from campus.”
Someone should have pinched me.
“Did she just say she lives in Bel-Air? THE Bel-Air? Does she know Will?”
Being a senior transfer, I really wasn’t planning on being swayed by the sights and sounds of the big city. I knew what the college basketball scene looked like. And that’s what I was there for. I knew what I wanted, and I knew what I didn’t want. My job was to find out if UCLA was just that.
We went straight to Pauley.
Pick-up with the girls.
I wanted to meet them. I wanted to get a feel for them. I wanted to play with them.
I will never forget Nirra Fields.
Jordin Canada or Monique Billings.
Kari Korver or Kennedy Burke.
Kacy Swain or Paulina Hersler.
Lajahna Drummer or Chrissy Baird.
The one and only, Kelli Hayes.
I had been playing college basketball for 3 years.
I knew what talent looked like, but the definition of talent transformed before my eyes once I saw Jordin dribble the ball, and Monique run the floor.
Believe it or not folks, I used to think I was athletic. And then I shared the same basketball court with the UCLA Women’s Basketball Team. It was like watching Shania Twain sing a ballad—absolutely beautiful.
I committed as soon as Cori offered.
I knew this place was where I wanted to be.
This school would challenge me not only physically, but mentally and spiritually, too.
It would encourage me to seek out relationships with girls who could not be any more different than me.
I would have to focus in the classroom at an entirely different level.
I would have to pass the looming conditioning test before I was even allowed to step foot on the court.
I was a senior, and I felt like a freshman again.
Extremely humbled, I knew I wouldn’t want to go out any other way. I wanted to work.
Just a few days ago, I watched Jordin & Mo take the reigns and lead the charge against the Baylor Bears.
A team I was very familiar with coming from the Big XII myself.
The seniors put on a show, and the freshman followed suit. They took down the #3 team in the nation, handedly.
The energy in Pauley Pavilion was special that night. I was lucky to be emcee’ing that game and I had never been more real with an audience. I wanted them to get on their feet with me, and they did.
As I stand back and watch games from a different point of view, I can’t describe to you the overwhelming sense of pride that overcomes me.
The pride that stems from being a Bruin.
I worked so hard for it. And these girls do too.
I used to be an outsider.
But then I met Cori Close. And now— now, I’m family.
Now and forever, I'm a Bruin.