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Lobo, Rebecca Rose

LOBO, Rebecca Rose

(b. 6 October 1973 in Hartford, Connecticut), collegiate basketball player who led the University of Connecticut to a perfect season and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) title in 1995; professional basketball player and member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic gold medal team.

Lobo is the youngest of the three children of Dennis Lobo, a high school history teacher, and RuthAnn Hardy Lobo, a middle school guidance counselor. Lobo and her family moved from Connecticut to Southwick, Massachusetts, when she was two, but the children attended elementary school in Granby, Connecticut. Lobo inherited her height, six feet, four inches, from her parents. RuthAnn, who played basketball in college, is five feet, eleven inches tall, and Dennis is six feet, five inches tall.

In her early years Lobo showed her talent in sports and a love for basketball, which she began playing in the driveway of her home at age five. In the third grade when Lobo learned that her grandmother was going to a Boston Celtics game, she wrote a note and asked Granny Hardy to give it to Celtics president and general manager Red Auerbach. The note said, "I really like watching the Celtics play. You do a really good job. I want you to know that I am going to be the first girl to play for the Boston Celtics." Basketball meant more than sport to Lobo, as she described in The Home Team (1996), the mother-daughter autobiography written by Rebecca and RuthAnn Lobo. Most people need a way to handle pain or anxiety, and as Lobo wrote, "basketball became my way." At age ten, with no girls' basketball team available, Lobo joined a community boys' squad and earned a starting position on the traveling team.

Lobo became a star in basketball, track, softball, and field hockey at Southwick-Tolland Regional High School. She scored thirty-two points in her basketball debut as a freshman. Lobo's final average in her high school career was 29.8 points per game, and she eventually became the top scorer, male or female, in Massachusetts high school basketball history with a total of 2,710 points. Her single-game high was 62 points, which she described as an "embarrassment. I mean, it's a team game." Lobo was an excellent student. She was salutatorian of her graduating class in 1991, named a Parade high school All-American and Player of the Year in Massachusetts, and received offers from more than 100 colleges. Lobo decided to attend the University of Connecticut at Storrs, a decision based not only on the school's closeness to her home (Storrs is about forty miles from Southwick) but also because of the rising status of the UConn women's basketball team. The Lady Huskies, under the direction of coach Geno Auriemma, had reached the final four of the NCAA tournament in 1991, the year Lobo entered.

However, Lobo's debut with UConn was not impressive. She scored ten points on three of twelve attempts and fouled out after twenty-six minutes. Coach Auriemma was not satisfied by Lobo's early performances, but he believed in her potential. Lobo improved her skills season after season. She had game averages of 14.3 points and 7.9 rebounds in her freshman year, and by her junior year those figures jumped to 19.2 points and 11.2 rebounds. By the end of the 1993–1994 season Lobo improved her shooting statistics to career highs of 54.6 percent of field goals and 73.8 percent of free throws. Lobo was named Player of the Year in the Big East Conference and was selected as a Kodak All-American in 1994. The road had not been smooth. In December 1993 Lobo learned that her mother had breast cancer. "The best thing you can do for me is to continue to work hard," RuthAnn said to her daughter. "I don't want to have to worry about you too. You do what you have to do, and I'll do what I have to do." Inspired by her mother's fighting spirit, Lobo did her best and so did her mother. When Lobo was named Big East Player of the Year for 1993–1994 she dedicated the award to her mother, whose cancer has been in remission since then.

Lobo and the Lady Huskies enjoyed a dream season in 1994–1995. They earned number-one ranking by beating then top-seeded University of Tennessee in the regular season. They continued winning through the NCAA tournament, and defeated Tennessee again in the title game. UConn's record of 35–0 was the most victories ever posted by an undefeated NCAA Division I basketball team, men's or women's. Lobo was named Final Four Most Valuable Player. Lobo was a two-time basketball and academic All-American (1994 and 1995), only the second player, after Lynette Woodard of Kansas, to achieve this rare double honor. She finished her college career as UConn's all-time rebounder (1,286) and shot blocker (396) and second in scoring (2,133 points). Although it was not the Celtics, one men's professional basketball team (Jersey Turnpikes) did draft Lobo at the end of her senior year. Even though she regarded it as "just a publicity stunt," she was flattered.

Majoring in political science at UConn with a 3.63 grade-point average, Lobo earned Phi Beta Kappa honors. In 1995 Lobo's numerous awards included the Honda-Broderick Cup and the Wade Trophy; in the same year she was also the Naismith National Player of the Year, Associated Press Female Athlete, and Women's Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year.

Lobo and her teammates also helped sports fans develop an interest in and appreciation for women's basketball. When Lobo first saw the Lady Huskies play in 1990, only some of the bleachers were used. But the situation changed dramatically during Lobo's college years. Gampel Pavilion at UConn, with a capacity of 8,241, sold 6,541 season tickets for women's basketball in 1994–1995 and averaged crowds of about 7,900—up 485 percent from 1991—generating nearly $700,000 in revenue. In fact, the Lady Huskies championship game against Tennessee had a higher television rating in Connecticut than did the Super Bowl.

After graduating with a B.A. in political science, Lobo was selected by the U.S. Olympic team. She was the youngest player on the U.S. women's basketball team, which swept to the gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics and kept Lobo's personal winning streak uninterrupted.

In 1997 the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) was created in response to the increasing popularity of women's basketball. Being in the first generation of women's professional basketball players, Lobo became the focus of the marketing campaign for the new venture. She might not be the best player in the new league, "but if you want to talk across-the-board popularity and box office draw or a surefire familiar face for a commercial," wrote Sally Jenkins of Women's Sports and Fitness, "Lobo remains the most in-demand star in the league."

Lobo joined the WNBA's New York Liberty and had a good start again. The Liberty won their first seven games before losing to Phoenix Mercury on 7 July 1997. For Lobo the loss ended her personal winning streak of 102 games in more than 3 years, a combined college (35–0), pre-Olympic (52–0), Olympic (8–0), and professional (7–0). Lobo finished the WNBA's inaugural season as the Liberty's second-highest scorer and was named to the all-WNBA second team. In 1999 Lobo was honored, along with Sheryl Swoopes, with a locker at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

On 10 June 1999 Lobo suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee during the first minute of play against the Cleveland Rockers in the season opener. The injury benched her through the rest of the season and the following one. She played for the Liberty in 2001, but was injured again and only played sixteen games for the season.

Lobo has been active in numerous organizations that support breast cancer research and awareness. She also supported the Children's Miracle Network and Pediatric AIDS Foundation. In 1997 USA Today named Lobo one of its Most Caring Athletes.

Lobo has been credited for boosting interest in women's collegiate and professional sports. She was regarded as a complete player and a complete person who excelled in both sports and academics. "I try to live my life the right way, like my parents taught me," Lobo said. "If a kid wants to make you a role model, you're a role model."

The dual autobiography, Rebecca and RuthAnn Lobo, The Home Team: Of Mothers, Daughters, and American Champions (1996), is a fascinating and inspiring story. Important articles on Lobo include Malcolm Moran, "Lobo's Impact Resonates Far Beyond the Court," New York Times (6 Mar. 1995); Rick Telander, "The Post with the Most," Sports Illustrated (20 Mar. 1995); Andrew Abrahams, "The Enforcer," People Weekly (20 Mar. 1995); Mary Duffy, Heather Bernard, and Erin Kuniholm, "Center of Attention: Rebecca Lobo Has Become the Poster Girl for Women's Basketball and the Sport Couldn't Ask for a Better Role Model," Women's Sports and Fitness (1 Mar. 1996); and Sally Jenkins, "She's Got Fame," Women's Sports and Fitness (1 Jul. 1999).

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