When hoops legend Lisa Leslie showed up at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., on Thursday afternoon, the girls' basketball team thought she was surprising them with a little pep talk before Saturday's regional final. They soon found out that the 1989-90 Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year was there to give one of their own the same honor.
After chatting with the girls for a few minutes, Leslie asked them to name the team's best offensive player and who they'd give the ball to if they needed a last-second 3-pointer. The girls yelled out "Kaleena" to both questions, and Leslie called over senior guard Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to show off her shooting form.
"I hear you just won an award recently," Leslie offered. "She's like, 'Yeah, I was the California Player of the Year' and I said, 'Well, I'm here to tell you you're the 2010-11 Gatorade National Player of the Year."
After a few minutes of jumping and screaming, Mosqueda-Lewis, the first player from the Golden State to win since Leslie earned the honor 21 years ago, accepted her trophy.
"Kaleena joked, thanking her dad for waking her up at 5 a.m. to go to the gym," Leslie told me. "It's those moments that you sort of ask yourself, 'Why am I doing this?' but it's these moments where you win these awards, that it's so rewarding."
Leslie told me the 6'1" senior guard was as interested in talking about a career in broadcasting as she was about basketball. Leslie, who has worked as a studio analyst for KABC's "Sports Zone" and a color commentator on WNBA games for Fox Sports Net, knows a heck of a lot about both. She says the key to her success on and off the court is as simple as putting things down on paper.
"The thing that I did was write down my goals," she told me. "I write down my short term goals and goals I wanna reach within one year. Then I always write down long term goals that I want to reach within five years. That really helped me to stay focused whether it was what I wanted to do in the classroom, ... what I wanted to do on the basketball court, or other goals."
Mosqueda-Lewis, who's averaging 21.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists a game, is headed to perennial powerhouse UConn next year, so no doubt she'll be watching this Saturday when the Huskies start their run for a their third straight NCAA title. Leslie will be, too. She said she doesn't pay a lot of attention to the men's games, but she can't wait for the women to get started.
"I'm really leaning toward Stanford this year," Leslie told me. "I'm hopeful, anyways. As far as what I think will happen and what I want to happen -- they may be two different things."
"UConn is such a powerhouse, Maya Moore is just phenomenal and Geno [Auriemma] has them prepared -- as prepared as a team can be, they are. So it really has to be all the stars aligned in the right place for Stanford to win the national championship. I think it would be a great thing for the West Coast."