There are five people that Connecticut's All-America
forward-center, Rebecca Lobo, would invite to her perfect dinner
party. First: Thomas Jefferson. ``He was a Renaissance man,''
explains Lobo, herself a budding Renaissance woman. Second: David
Robinson. ``My basketball hero,'' she says. Third: Bruce
Springsteen. ``I love him. He would sing.'' Fourth: Robin
Williams. ``Jokes. He'll make fun of Jefferson's wig.'' And fifth:
Julia Child. Oh? Lobo smiles. ``I'm not cooking for this
shindig,'' she says.
Fair enough, because the 6'4", 180-pound Lobo is doing more than
enough cooking for the Husky women's basketball team, which is
29-0, ranked first in the nation and poised for a run at its first
national title as the NCAA tournament gets under way this week.
Lobo is probably the favorite to win women's player of the year
honors. She averaged 17.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and
3.8 assists this season for a team that blew out opponents so
badly -- by a nation-leading average of 35.1 points -- that she
played only about 28 minutes a game. ``What is she great at?''
asks Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. ``I can't say any one
thing. But the sum of all the parts is unreal.''
Against North Carolina State this season Lobo had 24 points, nine
rebounds and six assists. Against Seton Hall she had nine blocks.
Against California she had 16 rebounds. Against Georgetown she had
33 points, six blocks and 14 rebounds. And in the Huskies' two
biggest wins -- against then No. 1-ranked Tennessee and then No.
17-ranked Kansas -- Lobo had a combined total of 38 points, 20
rebounds, 10 assists and seven blocks.
``She makes everybody else on her team better,'' said weary St.
John's forward Lynn Lattanzio after Lobo and her mates had
fricasseed the Red Storm 103-56 on Feb. 22. ``I've worked
basketball camps with her, and she's very modest and friendly. You
think she's quiet, but when you're guarding her, she's not so
Nor is she a shrinking violet in the classroom or in social
settings. A political science major, she has made the dean's list
every semester she has been at Connecticut, currently has a 3.7
cumulative average and is a first team Academic All-America.
During her perfect 4.0 semester last fall, Lobo took an English
literature course taught at the dreadful hour of 8 a.m. The class
was taught by Samuel F. Pickering, the real-life model for the
eccentric prep school teacher played by Robin Williams (one of
Lobo's dream-party guests, you'll recall) in the movie Dead Poets
``That class was so enjoyable,'' says Lobo. ``It showed me how
easy something can be if you like it, even at that hour. In a way
it's like our team -- we're doing well because we enjoy it so
much.'' Pickering dug it too. ``I look around the classroom,'' he
told a reporter last fall, ``and pick out the people who have
sunlight shining from their eyes. Rebecca is one of them.''
Lobo and her teammates have brightened the UConn basketball scene,
too, by giving the Huskies a women's team with a record even more
sterling than that of their 25-4 men's team. Most women's games
at 8,241-seat Gampel Pavilion are screaming, banner-waving
sellouts. While other Big East women's teams often play home games
in front of Mom, Dad and a janitor or two, UConn sold 6,541 season
tickets this season, generating nearly $700,000 in revenue.
Lobo adds a touch of glamour to these happy proceedings. Earlier
this year she came out of the locker room after a game wearing a
miniskirt, and one of the assistant coaches noted that she was
showing a lot of leg. ``I've got a lot of leg to show,'' Lobo
fired back. She wears her hair long and has guard Pam Webber, her
roomie, spend 10 minutes before each game pleating it into a
French braid. That's in part so the hair won't get in her eyes
while she's playing, and in part to prove, as she says, that
``femininity and sport can go together.''
All is sweetness and light for Lobo as she takes a seat for her 11
a.m. Thursday class in a course called Toxic Chemicals and Health.
Needing just eight credits to graduate and having already
completed all her required courses, she is taking a couple of
courses this semester that are not exactly advanced physics.
Today, says the instructor, the lecture will be on carcinogens and
mutagens and will look at ``why, if your grandmother or parent
had cancer, it might affect you.''
Oh, dear. Last season Lobo had no sooner put together two of her
best games ever, leading the Huskies to back-to-back upset wins
over Auburn and Virginia, than her mother, RuthAnn, informed her
that she had breast cancer. Rebecca went from the peak to the
abyss in a heartbeat, and she and RuthAnn, a 5 11" former high
school basketball star, cried and cried. Rebecca felt helpless,
but RuthAnn bucked her up by saying, ``You do your job, and I'll
RuthAnn and Rebecca's father, Dennis, a pair of educators who live
in Southwick, Mass., never miss a UConn home game, and when
RuthAnn first showed up in the stands in a wig, to cover the hair
loss caused by chemotherapy, Rebecca cried again. But she played
on. The Lobos are so tight as a family that you almost want to add
a little WD-40 now and then so they don't squeak. ``We're like the
Waltons,'' RuthAnn says. ``You know: `Good night, Dad'; `Good
night, Jason'; `Good night, Mom'; `Good night, Rebecca'; `Good
night, Rachel.' '' But their closeness enabled them to deal with
the cancer and grow from it.
``Petty things don't bother me as much as they used to,'' says
Rebecca. ``I won't trivialize the situation and say that in a
game, when I'm tired, I can look over at Mom and get energy. But
it does feel good just to see her there.'' For her part RuthAnn is
also feeling good; her cancer has been in remission for nearly a
When class is over, Rebecca tries to find a little time to catch
up on answering her avalanche of fan mail. There are sacks of
letters from all over the country for her in the athletic
department. Lobo will write back to each correspondent, but when?
``She'll sit in the lounge for hours and write back,'' says UConn
women's sports publicity director Barb Kowal. ``She does not blow
it off. Last year she didn't finish until two weeks after the
season.'' This year Lobo persuaded Hartford Courant sportswriter
Bruce Berlet to print a message from her in his column. ``I try to
answer every letter I get,'' she said in the paper. ``I kept up
with it for a while, but I'm so backed up, it'll take months to
catch up. I hope everyone understands.''
Lobo does everything asked of her in the public relations realm.
She talks to kids or adults or anyone who says hi to her. She
smiles at all. At Villanova in late February, two security
guards had to protect her so she could do postgame interviews
without being trampled by admirers. After a game at Syracuse on
Feb. 25, she signed autographs for 45 minutes. ``It was Girl
Scout Day, and there were over a thousand Brownies and Girl
Scouts in our stands,'' Syracuse coach Marianna Freeman says.
``For her to do what she did - - those little girls will
remember it for a long time.''
Lobo's surname means ``wolf'' in Spanish, but off the court she
is about as unferocious as she could be. Back at Southwick High
where Rebecca was also a star in field hockey, track and
softball, she once had 62 points in a basketball game while en
route to breaking the Massachusetts career scoring record. Her
response to that transcendent performance? ``Embarrassment,''
she says, almost trembling. ``I mean, it's a team game.''
Auriemma laughs and scratches his head when confronted with his
star's humility. He wants her to be mean, nasty, selfish. Score
50, 60 points. Decimate foes. Yet when Lobo was a sophomore,
Auriemma felt she was underachieving. He told her, ``We're at a
crossroads. I can't reach you. If you want to leave, fine. Or you
stay here, and I'll leave.'' He said she had to get tougher if she
wanted to be a champion. She told him not to yell at her about
effort, that she always gave effort. The other things she would
work on. But the effort was always there.
``She was right,'' says Auriemma. But just last week he took her
aside and said, ``You're like a recovering alcoholic.''
Lobo's eyes grew wide. ``What?'' she said.
``Except you're a recovering wussy suburban girl,'' the coach
continued. ``And you need to take the steps every day to overcome
They both laughed. But Lobo knew what he meant. ``My nature isn't
to be the son of a bitch he wants me to be on the floor,'' she
Lobo's temperament is a product of the idyllic, loving and playful
family environment she grew up in. Her brother, Jason, who is 6'
11", and her sister, Rachel, a shrimp at 5'10", both were gung ho
about sports (Jason played hoops at Dartmouth, Rachel at Salem
[Mass.] State) and the three siblings did everything together.
Stickball, volleyball, Wiffle ball, soccer -- you name it, they
played it, in the street, the backyard, the house, the garage.
``One of my favorite images of Rebecca is her in the homemade
catcher's outfit she put together out of paper, with a football
helmet on her head, with me pitching and Rachel swinging,'' says
Jason, who is four years older than Rachel and six years older
than Rebecca, even organized boxing matches between his sisters.
``I'd put mittens on them, get on my knees and referee,'' he says.
``If I got them mad enough, they'd box till one of them cried,
then I'd spend the next 20 minutes telling them why they couldn't
Even at play there was a determined side to Rebecca. When the
Lobos would take trips in the family station wagon, Rebecca would
lie in the rear section and roll paper into little balls and shoot
baskets into the wheel-well. And then there was the day in fourth
grade when she heard that her grandmother was going to a Boston
Celtic game. Rebecca wrote a note and made Granny Hardy promise to
give it to Celtic president Red Auerbach. The note said, ``I'm a
really big fan. I want you to know I'm going to be the first girl
to play for the Celtics.''
``Young and dumb,'' says Lobo, laughing. But that determination
still burns in her. Broken noses (she has had two at UConn), a
damaged knee, a broken finger (she is nursing a fractured pinkie
right now) -- none of it stops her. ``This past summer she was
working so hard at conditioning, she was in the best shape she's
ever been in,'' says Rachel, now an assistant women's coach at
Salem. ``She told me then, `I'm doing this because we're going to
be playing at the end of March.' She wants a championship very
Rachel thinks about her kid sister, and as so many people do when
they ponder the tall young woman with the soft touch around the
bucket, she smiles. ``Rebecca cares about other people first,''
she says. ``She's a beautiful person.''
Sounds like the perfect host for the perfect dinner party.
COLOR PHOTO:THE HARTFORD COURANT [Rebecca Lobo with her arms raised after game]COLOR PHOTO:JEFFREY LOWEThe obliging Lobo tries to answer all of her fan mail. [Rebecca Lobo sitting amid bags of mail writing letter]
COLOR PHOTO:BOB STOWELLAs her twice-broken nose attests, Lobo is a marked woman who endures endless on-court muggings by frustrated foes.[Rebecca Lobo playing while wearing nose guard] COLOR PHOTO:AL TIELEMANS [see caption above--Rebecca Lobo being fouled during game]
COLOR PHOTO:THE HARTFORD COURANT[see caption above--Rebecca Lobo in pile-up on the court trying to pass ball] COLOR PHOTO:RICK STEWART Husky Seniors Night helped RuthAnn, Rebecca and Dennis forget more tearful moments.[RuthAnn, Rebecca, and Dennis Lobo walking on to court]