Wednesday, May 27

Freshman women’s basketball players transition to UCLA experience

The five Bruin freshmen that make up the No. 1-ranked recruiting class (left to right) Jordin Canada, Kelli Hayes, Monique Billings, Lajahna Drummer and Recee' Caldwell, officially moved in to UCLA on June 22. (Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Individually, each player has a long list of accolades attached to her name. Collectively, they’re known as the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. As of June 22, they’ve added another label to their names: UCLA freshmen.

The women’s basketball season officially begins late in fall quarter, but the team’s five freshmen – guards Recee’ Caldwell and Jordin Canada as well as forwards Monique Billings, Lajahna Drummer and Kelli Hayes – have already begun the process of acclimating to life as UCLA student-athletes.

It’s only been a week, but the freshmen have already started to feel the pinch of a faster-paced college life.

“We haven’t slept,” Caldwell said, jokingly, before she listed the things that have kept the freshmen busy.

On the administrative side, there’s learning about food spots on campus, meeting with officials for physical evaluations, meeting with nutritionists and athletic trainers to learn about injury prevention and getting to know other students in the athletic community.

The freshman players are also all involved in a six-weeklong “summer bridge” orientation program for student-athletes, which takes place each Monday from June to July.

At each session, the new Bruins are introduced to resources, such as nutritionists, academic advisers and doctors, that they will have access to throughout their collegiate athletic careers.

The freshmen have already had a head start on their classes by enrolling in the same Session A world arts and cultures class together that focuses on sports culture. It’s a class that they said allows them to look at sports beyond “just the ball and the net” through learning about the history of sport and debating pertinent issues faced by the sporting world.

Mandatory workouts with the coaching staff are not scheduled to begin for two weeks, but the freshmen have managed to keep themselves busy both by working with a strength and conditioning coach while also attending voluntary workouts led by former NBA and WNBA players. Although these workouts are not official, the freshmen have said they’re still a “great” albeit “tiring” experience.

“(The former players who lead the workouts) just volunteer because they know we’re on the brink of great things, and they want to be a part of it,” Caldwell said.

Perhaps the most obvious change when it comes to the freshmen’s new status as college students is the different role they played last weekend at the UCLA Girls’ Basketball Elite Overnight Camp, which offers high school basketball players a chance for hands-on development with UCLA women’s basketball coaches and players.

One year ago, all five freshmen were participants in the same camp. Last week, they were camp counselors helping run the program.

“I just think it’s not only a good way to give back to campers, (but also) to get more mentally tough together, because it is hard. It’s exhausting,” said coach Cori Close. “On top of that, they get a chance to reiterate (instructions) as they teach skills, and you tend to internalize that for your own game.”

With the exception of odd, unscheduled events that pop up from time to time, like a learning aptitude test sanctioned by the school for new athletes to determine tutoring placements, the new Bruins said they feel it’s been a successful first week.

“I think we’ve been adjusting pretty well so far. We’ve just been thrown so many curveballs,” Hayes said. “We’re just trying to work with it and go with the flow for now.”

According to Close, one major curveball still awaits to spring a surprise on the team’s newest additions in the upcoming days. But being able to handle that situation will mold them into a lot more than just well-adjusted freshmen.

“These guys were all the best in their states, let alone the best in their country. Now, for the first time in their lives, they won’t be the best in every drill. They’re going to have to deal with their own failures,” Close said. “That process is not going to be comfortable or easy, but if you want to win a national championship, if you want to be the best you can be both on and off the court, that’s the place you have to get to.”

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