Whitney Leman, the three-time Alaska girls basketball small schools player of the year, will trade the Ninilchik Wolverines' blue and gold for the green and gold of the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves.
Leman, a 5-foot-7 point guard who led the Wolverines to four consecutive state 2A championships, said she actually signed her national letter of intent to play at UAA a couple of months ago, but wanted to wait until a coach had been hired before finalizing the decision.
"It's nice to finally be going somewhere," said Leman, who also was considering Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
"I didn't want to just got to UAA without knowing who the coach was, how I would fit into the program and how I would fit into her plans. I like the coaches at Umpqua, so either way, it would have been a good decision. I really like (UAA coach Jody) Hensen. I got to go up and meet her, and I like what she expects from me and expects from the team."
Hensen's basketball roots aren't all that far from Leman's as the new UAA coach was a standout at Homer High School. Hensen was named player of the year in 1991 and was a member of three straight state 3A championship teams with the Mariners.
Leman said she wasn't aware of Hensen's exploits until her dad pointed them out when Hensen was named as one of the three finalists for the Seawolves job.
Leman said she's not sure if jumping into the starting lineup would be the best thing for her in her freshman season, but she is eager to help the squad that went 11-15 last year.
"I think it's up to me and how hard I'm going to work," Leman said. "(Hensen) said she doesn't look at freshmen any different than she looks at seniors."
Leman said she met most of the UAA players last season when she was invited to accompany the team for the Great Alaska Shootout. She's also had the opportunity to play against two of them, Kenai Central graduate Jessi Reilly and Homer grad Sara Brooks.
Leman said she's not sure how she'll stack up against college players UAA plays in one of the toughest NCAA Division II conferences in the country in addition to facing Division I teams in the Shootout but she does think she eventually will make an impact.
"They need a point guard," Leman said. "That position has been struggling for a few years. A good point guard can make the difference.
"I have no experience playing college basketball. I'm lacking experience right now, but I know what I'm capable of doing. I think I can help the team if I can fill that position for them."
Leman also is excited to be playing close to home. She said she gets homesick, and has been thrilled to hear friends and fans making plans to take in UAA games next season.
"The more people that find out I'm going to UAA, the more there are that say, 'I'm going to come watch you,'" Leman said.
With the Wolverines this past season, Leman averaged 20.1 points, seven assists, five rebounds and six steals per game.
She averaged 22.3 points during the state tournament, including scoring 28 in the Wolverines' championship game win over Unalakleet.
Leman was the top-ranked student in her graduating class, and recently was featured in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" feature.
"Whitney is a tremendous competitor who knows what it takes to succeed on the court and in the classroom," Hensen said in a press release. "Our coaching staff is extremely excited about her and the future that awaits her here at the University of Alaska Anchorage."
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