As good as Lisa Leslie is, on many nights she is not even the best player in Los Angeles. For two years running, Rehema Stephens, a 5'11" senior guard for UCLA, has led the Pac-10 in scoring. Last season, when she also was the fifth-leading scorer in the nation, with a 25.3-point average, Stephens became the first Bruin to get 30 or more points in four straight games. And last January, 44 games into her UCLA career, she reached the 1,000-point mark, with a 34-point performance against Cal. Only one Bruin has achieved that mark in fewer games—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who did it in 36 games.
"We started three freshmen and a sophomore alongside her last year, and part of our problem was that we would get caught up just watching her," says UCLA coach Billie Moore. "She is one of the most explosive and talented players in the game."
But Stephens, who transferred to UCLA after a year at Colorado, is also one of the most disliked players in the Pac-10, because she is a showboat. She taunts opponents with wild talk and gestures, like pumping her fists after making a tough shot. "One of my kids asked me, 'How can her coach stand it?' " says one Pac-10 coach. "She's not a team player. Team players make everyone around them better. She's a great talent, I just wish she was a better role model for women's basketball."
Stephens hears the criticism and nods. Her actions and reactions on the court are not parts of herself that she particularly likes, but she thinks people read too much into her antics. "I've always played with an attitude," she says. "It's how I learned the game. I've gotten better at channeling that energy into playing, but people still scream at me. Now I'm able to smile back at them, which really makes them crazy."
Raised in Oakland, Stephens learned the game by playing in the toughest parks with the toughest boys. "My mom would come out and sit on the benches, like the other moms, and watch me play," she says. "I hated to be embarrassed, so I learned quickly."
Despite her success against Pac-10 competition, Stephens has missed the cuts for national teams in the last two years, once because of a knee injury and once because she didn't play well. That doesn't mean she has given up trying—she hopes to make the '92 Olympic team—and she is trying to keep her emotions in check.
This past summer she was named to the Pac-10 All-Star team that played in a tournament in Taiwan. In the middle of a game against a rough-and-tumble Yugoslavian All-Star team, Stephens finally understood that her attitude was a part of her personality best kept under control. "I've never played against women so physical," she says. "I realized I had to keep my composure because I wasn't just representing my school, but our conference and the country, too. I learned a lot."
Stephens, who is engaged to be married in June to Dallas Cowboy linebacker Mickey Pruitt, hopes to make her last collegiate year her best. She would like to raise her scoring average and lead the Bruins to the NCAA tournament, something they fell one victory short of last season. "This will be a special year," says Stephens. "I'll play every game like it's my last, because it might be."
KEN LEVINE/ALLSPORT USA