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Jocelyn Willoughby’s legacy at UVa extends far beyond the court

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Jocelyn Willoughby takes the court prior to a game at John Paul Jones Arena.

When looking at Jocelyn Willoughby’s player bio on Virginia’s women’s basketball page, it takes until the ninth bullet point to reach one of Willoughby’s on-court accolades. Prior to listing Willoughby’s 2019-20 All-American status, her bio shares seven off-the-court achievements.

Willoughby led the ACC in scoring this season at just under 20 points per contest, making her one of the top players in all of Division I college basketball. Off the court, Willoughby’s list of honors might be even more impressive.

She graduated last spring, earning an undergraduate degree in global development studies in just three years. She was appointed a non-voting, student-athlete member of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee. She won the 2019 student Raven Award, which is given to a student who excels within the UVa community.

“I still don’t know if I’ve completely come to appreciate all that I’ve been able to do,” Willoughby said. “It’s funny, like now in the end, I read my bio the other day and I’m like, ‘Wow, I’ve done a lot here.’ It’s definitely something I’ve proud of. I came in with the mindset I wanted to take full advantage of the college experience.”

By all accounts, Willoughby achieved that goal.

On the court, Willoughby contributed in all four seasons in Charlottesville. She averaged at least 9.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in every season of her career, and she finished her senior season scoring 19.2 points per game to go with 7.7 rebounds per contest.

Willoughby credits much of her improvement on the court due to an increased belief in her ability. Coming into UVa, she doubted her talent and wasn’t sure if she was a WNBA-caliber player. Entering her senior season, those doubts subsided.

“A lot of that came from my growth in confidence and just me deciding what I wanted the season to look like and being like, I’m the only one in my way,” Willoughby said. “I’m grateful for the growth, but also kind of frustrated, like why didn’t I do this earlier? Why didn’t I have this conversation with myself earlier or just this realization?”

While the improvement may have come later than Willoughby hoped, she blossomed in her senior season. Her scoring took a jump forward as she flashed the ability to shoot jumpers and finish near the rim. Her rebounding numbers remained high.

The work Willoughby put in gave UVa head coach Tina Thompson a reliable scorer. It also gave a team relying on multiple freshmen a role model to follow.

“When you have a team like that where there’s kind of no connection in between the classes, it’s very important to have a clear and present example and Jocelyn was definitely one of our examples every single day,” Thompson said. “Our young kids were able to see what it looks like to be successful on this level but also what it takes.”

With an impressive senior season and good size as a wing player, Willoughby finds herself among the top prospects entering Friday’s WNBA Draft. The former UVa star is expected to be selected in one of the first two rounds, with most mock drafts having her come off the board early in the second round.

Willoughby’s time at UVa is drawing to a close as she’ll join a professional roster shortly. While her collegiate playing career is over, Willoughby’s UVa legacy goes beyond the basketball court.

In her time at Virginia, Willoughby went from a talented freshman working on building her confidence to the ACC’s leading scorer and an All-American in her senior season. She also won numerous academic awards and became the first UVa women’s basketball player to ever win the Kay Yow Award, which is given to the ACC Women’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She earned an undergraduate degree in three years.

Whether it was on the court or off it, Willoughby thrived at Virginia.

“I often don’t see myself as other people see me, and I think that’s become clearer over the past few months toward the end of my senior year,” Willoughby said. “When we have Senior Day or just different features and fans coming up to me and saying certain things like, ‘Wow, we’re really going to miss you here and not just because of how you play but because of who you are and just the effort that you give, the example that you set.’ I guess just being remembered by those things will be important to me.”

For UVa fans who follow Willoughby, they know she’s a talent on the court and in the classroom. As Willoughby prepares to turn professional, she’s started to gain confidence in her own talent, too.

She distinctly remembers professors who she bonded with in class and then came out to watch her play in games. Some went on to become women’s basketball season-ticket holders. In Willoughby’s mind, creating that connection might be her lasting legacy at UVa.

“I think I’ve also come to realize, in some ways I’ve kind of redefined or re-imagined what it can be to be a student-athlete,” Willoughby said, “and I think that’s been really exciting and important for me.”


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