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Ayana Walker
Louisiana Tech

Loree Moore

Mary Perrizo
North Dakota

Angie Welle
Iowa State

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Adrienne Johnson
Orlando Miracle

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Utah Starzz

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Last season's College Q&A's:

Kristen "Ace" Clement

Caity Matter
Ohio State

Melissa and Sarah Johnson

Aida Sarajlija

Schuye LaRue

Emily Bloss
Emporia State

Kelly Komara

Brandi McCain

Krista Warren

Max Nhassengo
Central Florida C.C.

Amy Ewert

Allison Coleman
Eastern Connecticut

Jamie Frey

Shaunzinski Gortman One on One with
Shaunzinski Gortman
University of South Carolina

This senior is helping South Carolina (now at 17-3) to its best season in a decade.

One of this season's biggest turnarounds in women's college basketball has been South Carolina. After finishing 11-17 in 2000-01, the Lady Gamecocks rose to No. 7 in the nation and second in the Southeastern Conference behind only perennial national power Tennessee before a disappointing, flu-bedraggled, loss Jan. 27 to Southeastern Conference foe Arkansas.

As shooting guard, Shaunzinski Gortman has been part of that. The 6-1 senior is second on the team in scoring, averaging better than 14 points per game, and her defensive play is a key part of the Gamecocks' transition to their fast-break offense.

In this interview, Gortman talks about this year's turnaround, the international dynamics of the team, what she learned about herself after a serious sophomore-year injury, and what it's like to play in her hometown.

GBall: What's the difference in the team this year?
Gortman: First of all, we are a lot closer on the court and off, and that makes our communication better on the court. We also had a lot of injuries last year and we have Jocelyn Penn back this year. She was out due to some personal reasons, and she's a big asset to our team. She's very small for a forward but she posts big, and she runs the floor well for us. Kelly Morrone, she's our vocal leader on the court. She keeps everything intact as far as being the coach on the floor and helping us to stay with our offense and then controlling our defense, too.

Did the coaches do anything to help you communicate better?
I think our trip to Europe [a 10-day August trip playing national and other top teams] was a big part in that. We learned the different cultures of our teammates. That kind of brought us closer together because we saw how it felt like to be so far from home, and it kind of helped us to welcome them more and to open up to them more and treat them as if they're our own relatives.

Where did you go?
Our first stop was in Hungary. That's where Petra [Ujhely, a junior forward-center] is from. But she was playing on her national team at the time and we were supposed to play against her, but when we played her national team she didn't play due to an injury. Our second stop was to Sopron, Hungary. Our third stop was to Slovakia, and our last stop was in Austria.

What's been the biggest game this year?
I think I would say the Duke game [an 87-81 victory in overtime Nov. 25 over the then-seventh ranked team]. I think it helped us to realize that we are a good team, that we can be a very competitive team, and that we can compete for a national championship if we continue to get the little things done and just focus. I would also say our first game in our conference, the Vanderbilt game [a 71-52 victory], because that meant knowing that you won your first SEC game against a good team. That motivates you to continue to work hard and continue to put in an effort to try to be in the top of your conference.

Do you really talk and think about a national championship?
Our team talks and thinks about it a lot. But it's more thinking of putting the effort in every day and thinking about the small things we need to do to get better.

What do you personally need to work on?
I think I need to be a defensive threat. Defense is my main focus right now: just stop my next opponent. I also think I need to continue to shoot the ball, just continue to do things my teammates need me to do.

How would you describe your role now?
I would say my role continues to be to lead by example, and to get us started on defense, because most of the time I am guarding the point guard and it starts right there. If I can continue to do my job at that spot, playing the point guard, then I can get our team going defensively.

Another role would be for me to shoot the ball, to be a threat on offense for my team. If I'm a threat on the outside, it opens up the inside and our post players can get the ball inside more.

Can you describe the Tennessee game? It was a sell-out crowd and it must have been exciting, even though the result obviously wasn't what you wanted (an 80-61 loss to the nation's No. 2 team).
That was a very exciting game. I think we were all excited. But at the same time we were looking at it as just another game, and whether we won or loss‹of course, we were looking to win--but if we lost, we wouldn't put our heads down. We would recover for the next game. And we went into that game, all the week before it, working our hardest, to do the small things in order to win the game.

Do you think about getting another chance at them, say in the Southeastern Conference tournament?
It's possible. Right now our focus is from day-to-day. We're just focusing on our next moment, and as coach [Susan Walvius] always tells us, we're only as good as we play our next opponent.

How important is it to you to be playing in your home town?
That was very important because I wanted my family to be close and for them to be able to see me play. I'm very close to my family, so that means a lot to me. And to be in a community where everyone knows you, that's the most exciting thing about playing these games. You know that you're going to have support there, you know that everyone knows you. I really like having my family here every game and just being able to see people I know in the stands.

How did you recover from tearing your anterior cruciate ligament in your sophomore year?
In the beginning it wasn't easy because I suddenly could no longer do the things I wanted to do as far as playing basketball and playing sports. It was a difficult process because you never really realize how important something is until it's gone and you can't do it anymore. It made me realize I really do love basketball, and that I really want to play.

Sometimes in college you go through a phase where everything's difficult, with school and basketball, and I thought, 'Do I really want to do this?' But the injury made me realize that basketball is my life, that this is what I want to do. The rehab process was the worst thing that I had to go through because it takes so long and you're out for so long--the process is slow and your results don't happen as quickly as you want them to.

Did you work harder on basketball after that?
Yes. I played in the summertime, when I could play. In the beginning it was kind of a nervous thing, just getting back out there. And of course, the injury keeps replaying in your head, but after a while you have to block it out. I just forgot it over time and it became easier for me to play the game again.

Did you work particularly hard this past summer, knowing your senior year was coming up?
Yes. I lifted weights over the summer. I worked on my jump shot and I shot free throws and things like that. Of course, we came back early because we were getting ready to go to Europe. We worked hard during that time, everyone as a team. I worked hard during that time because I wanted to be better than I had been in the past.

It says in the media guide that you hope to visit every amusement park in the United States. Is that for real?
It's for real. I really like amusement parks. I'm not sure I'll be able to do it. I think that would be a very exciting thing to do. I like roller coasters, and different rides, the thrill of the rides. But I also like to eat, too. I know I'm so small, but I eat a lot.

And you want to dunk one day? Have you done that?
Not actually playing in a game. But in a gym I have. At first my goal was to dunk before I left high school, but it became less important over time, and then when I got to college I wanted to be able to dunk by the time I left here. But when I tore my ACL--that kind of set everything back. I just think about it sometimes. Maybe I'll do it someday.

What's in your future after this season?
Well, of course, this season I want to have a long basketball season. I want to have my senior year be the best season I've had here and of course as of right now it has been. Then, I want to make it to the WNBA and to play there.

Interview conducted by Gball Editor David Hill.

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