Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis: Making A Difference On And Off The Court
July 15, 2011 • Colorado Springs, Colo.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is a world-class athlete, but she takes pride in being a world-class individual. The incoming Connecticut freshman has continued to pad her basketball resume this summer—she finished training with USA Basketball on Friday, and departs Saturday for the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship in Puerto Montt, Chile.
The 6-0 forward from Anaheim Hills, Calif., has achieved all there is to accomplish at her age, already winning a pair of gold medals, state championships and signing with a team that advanced to the 2011 NCAA Final Four. She was the unanimous 2011 National High School Player of the Year, in addition to winning the Naismith Award and being selected as Player of the Year by WBCA/State Farm, Gatorade, Parade Magazine, USA Today and ESPN HoopGurlz.
On USA Basketball rosters, she has won gold with the 2010 USA U17 World Championship Team and the 2009 FIBA Americas U16 Championship Team, going a combined 13-0. She started in all eight games last summer, averaging 11.6 ppg. and 4.0 rpg.
In her four years at Mater Dei High School, Mosqueda-Lewis set the all-time record in points scored (2,744), rebounds (876) and 3-pointers made (337). She averaged 22.0 ppg., 6.0 rpg. and 2.5 apg. as a senior, setting a career high with 33 points in the state championship game, and finishing the season No. 1 in the final USA Today national ranking.
But what Mosqueda-Lewis is most proud of, and ultimately wants to be remembered for, comes off the court. She has a desire to help others, specifically developing the character of young female athletes. Her free time is devoted to volunteer work, where she has spent countless hours with numerous organizations, including assisting physically and intellectually challenged athletes with Orange County Head Start. She also has given herself to the Blind Children’s Learning Center, the Urban Compass Christmas Outreach initiative and local homeless shelters, and has served as a season-long afterschool youth coach with Upward Christian Basketball Program. Aside from volunteer work, Mosqueda-Lewis was her school’s student government commissioner and was a member of her Mater Dei’s student council and campus ministry programs.
The well-rounded difference-maker talked with USA Basketball about her life on and off the court, and how she wants to be remembered.
You’ve won two gold medals with USA Basketball. Can you compare a gold medal with anything else?
Winning a gold medal for your country can’t be compared to anything else. I’ve yet to play in a national championship in college, but even winning state in high school doesn’t compare. Playing for your country is an honor. There are only 12 people on a team, and to be chosen for that team, to represent the United States, I don’t think anything in the world can compare to that.
You just finished training camp. What do you think the strength of this team will be?
We have a lot of versatility on this team. We have some great post players, we have some great guards with penetration and we have a lot of great shooters. I think we’ll be tough to defend because we have so many threats.
What part of traveling to Chile are you most excited about?
Just being somewhere new in the world. Not everyone gets to travel across the globe like this.
You’re going to Connecticut next year. What part of playing college ball are you most excited about?
I’m just excited to contend for a national championship and to play with all the great players who have been at Connecticut for the last couple of years now.
A couple of your USA Basketball teammates will be your teammates at UConn. Has that been nice to get to know them and the program before getting to campus?
It’s exciting to be able to play with them. We’re getting our team chemistry built up before the season starts. I think we’re really lucky to play together on the USA team.
You were named national player of the year by numerous publications. What is it like hearing you were awarded such a high honor?
The first thing that I thought about when they told me I had won was I thought about all of the amazing people who have won before, people like Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker, Maya Moore. You look at those people and see what they’re doing with their lives and are like, ‘Oh my gosh. This is an honor’. The people that have won this before are people that have made an impact in young girls’ lives. It’s a really big accomplishment, and I was really excited when I found out I had won those awards.
Does one accolade stand out above the rest?
I really wanted to win the Gatorade National Player of the Year. I got it, and I was ecstatic. Lisa Leslie gave me the award at school; she surprised me. It was really fun.
You were ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today this past season. You also won back-to-back state championships. How do those high school memories compare?
They were all equally great to me. Our coach, all season, kept telling us, ‘Don’t worry about the rankings, don’t worry about all that. Worry about getting better each and every day’. That’s what we did; that’s the mindset we took on. We were able to win and stay on top.
You were commissioner of your school’s student government. What were your responsibilities with that?
I was responsible for welcoming incoming students, and I was responsible for all of the activities that went on on campus. I helped out with various things, decorated, stuff like that.
You also volunteer with numerous organizations. Why do you volunteer?
One of my favorite things to do while volunteering is coaching younger girls. I just like to see young kids trying to better themselves. Basketball teaches you a lot on and off the court, so being able to help little girls who want to do what I’m doing right now—playing for USA Basketball, going to Connecticut—to be a part of that is special. I want to be an inspiration.
Do you take more pride in the difference you make on the court or off the court?
Just being a good person. That’s the main thing about basketball: There will be a lot of girls that are talented, but mentally and personality-wise they’re held back. Being a good person is what you have to look for, and what I strive for. I know that I can make a difference. I want to be remembered as a good player who worked hard and gave her all, but also someone who helped others.
What superstitions do you have?
I feel like if I miss my first shot I’ll make the rest of them, so I try and miss my first shot sometimes. That keeps me going.
What’s something that not many people know about you?
I love to cook and scrapbook. I’m obsessed with it. I love cooking breakfast; it’s my favorite.