Joe Auletta
@Lobo2x53

With so many new players on the WBB roster this season it was a challenge to figure out who to interview in what order. The last interview with Ahlise was an easy option: she was the only one in Albuquerque at the time. This interview with Nike was also easy—as I was watching workouts she came up, introduced herself, and started talking. I immediately thought, “This will be someone interesting (and easy) to interview!”, and I was right.
As with Bill Ferrara, I could have put the mic in front of Nike and wandered off—she would have done a fine job even if I was not there.

Her smile and personality grabs your attention, and you don’t notice how big she is until you see here rise a half inch taller than Jaisa. Or how fast she moves until you see her run sprints up and down the court—she is not Bryce Owens, but for a post she moves well. She will be a big part of the transformation of the 2017-18 Lobos into what they eventually become in 2018-19.

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Joe: Good afternoon. As a graduate transfer after three years at Washington State, UNM and New Mexico has to be a bit of an adjustment.

Nike: Yes, it is. You get so used to the schedules over there and what they do that coming over here is a complete shock in terms of how they do things. I’m liking it thought.

Joe: What’s been the biggest adjustment for you?

Nike: The biggest adjustment so far would probably be the training table. We only get one meal a day here where we used to get three meals at Washington State. So that probably has been the biggest adjustment. Having to cook my own food. Luckily my Mom taught me how to cook so I can throw it down in the kitchen!

Joe: I understand there are five of you this year sharing a kitchen.

Nike: Yes. They have some cooking skills, too. Shai usually does dessert and Naj does the frying of things. I don’t know what Jayla cooks yet. We’ll see. Q recently moved in so I don’t know how she cooks. Her Mom made us some macaroni one time and it was delicious. If she learned from her Mom…

Joe: If her Mom can cook then some of it probably rubs off. Our daughter didn’t want anything to do with cooking until she went off to college when it was “learn to cook or starve”.

So when you decided to transfer and were looking, why UNM?

Nike: I had a bunch of schools looking at me and I was considering a couple. Then Coach Mike called me out of the blue one day. He talked to me about the program and why he thought I should be here. What he said to me that really resonated with me was, “We’re going to win championships with or without you.” I thought, “I want to be a part of that so I’m coming there”. I want to win a ring before I graduate. That was my main goal. Come to college and win rings before I graduate. I haven’t gotten one yet. So he says they are going to win one with or without me, I want to be a part of it.

Joe: It’s obviously a change of style. Last year Washington State averaged in the upper 60s. Last year UNM averaged in the low to mid-80s and I don’t see any expectation that they are going to run any less here this year. So how do you fit into that style?

Nike: I can run the floor very well. I’ve been compared with a gazelle. I’m one of those posts that is athletic enough to get down the court at a faster pace so this felt like it was a good fit for me. Because they do run a faster paced basketball, more possessions, more times they can lob the ball into me for lay-ins. I am looking forward to run the court more.

Joe: Last season you had 63 blocks which is a lot for somebody playing about 22 minutes a game. You also had 10 rebounds per 40 minutes. Are those the strengths of your game?

Nike: Yes, absolutely. I would say defense is the strength of my game. Jaisa and I are going to be the Yin and the Yang of basketball when we are on the court together. She’s an incredibly strong offensive player and I bring more of a defensive style. Definitely blocking and rebounding are the number one & two things I like to do.

Joe: Watching you at workouts, you have a number of moves down low but I noticed you didn’t shoot any 3-pointers last year. I don’t think anyone is allowed on this team without taking a 3-point shot.

Nike: I wasn’t allowed to shoot 3-point shots last year because they said we had enough guards to do that so there was no point of me going outside. So I spent most of my time in the paint unless it was the end of a shot clock and I had to take a 3.

Joe: I think the school record is 100% on one for one, so that record is within your range.

Nike: I can do that!

Joe: Speaking of Jaisa, my understanding you played against her while growing up?

Nike: We didn’t play against each other, but we did practice against each other–we played on the same summer team AAU, the Oregon Trail Blazers. She was on the younger team than I was so she would come over and help us. I remember getting so frustrated playing against her because she was a lot stronger than I was. She has always been a bigger built than I have been so she would throw me around every now and then. I would get so upset because I would say she’s too young to be throwing me around. On the other hand I could run the court better than she could so we would get into each other’s heads every now and then.

Joe: With Jaisa, Erica, Bride, and Shai, you have quite a diverse set of people you go up against in practice. How does that stretch your ability out there?

Nike: It prepares me to play against a multitude of different players. Erica, for example, she’s strong, a big body post. You have to be strong against her. Shai is more of a quick player that I have to move my feet more against her. Jaisa is a solid player that you need to know the positions and angles of her shot to try to defend against that. So all those different styles in one practice really prepares you for what you are going to see in conference with all those different players. It’s really a blessing to have that many different skill types in one practice. I really enjoyed it.

Joe: At a few of the earliest workouts Shai looked somewhat overwhelmed with terminology, etc., and a little frustrated. I noticed that you and Jaisa would take her aside and calm her down, and explain what was going on. Almost like a translator between Coach-speak and Freshman-speak. It has to be an odd situation–you’re a senior, but it’s your first year here. In one sense you should be one of the leaders, but in the other sense, you’ve new here too. Just watching you, you seem to lean towards the “I’m going to be a leader” side. How has it been being one of the older people on the team with so many folks that didn’t see the court last year? 60% of the team didn’t play last year.

Nike: It’s been interesting to say the least. Getting to know them as people this year. It’s been incredible to see if they respected me enough to let me take on more of a leadership role. So all I can do for right now is see what I can do at practice to encourage them. Obviously, even if you didn’t play last year, you have the ability to play. So my job right now that I’m taking upon myself is to encourage people, to know their worth as basketball players. A lot of people like Shai do get frustrated because they’re freshman coming into a new program. They’re kind of worried that they might have to step back because they are no longer the best player on the team any more–so you get frustrated with yourself and you want to shut down. So what I want to do for my final year is make sure that I can bring out the best in all these players and people on and off the court, and just let them know that they do have the ability to play this well because the coaches saw something in them. Just continue to encourage them in practices on the court so that they can be the best as I know they can be. That’s what I want to do as a leader this year because I didn’t have seniors that did that for me when I was a freshman. I want to take my experiences and make them better for other people.

Joe: A lot of that is personality and you don’t come across as the shy retiring type.

Nike: Oh, no. (chuckle)

Joe: So where did that personality come from?

Nike: I’ve always been talkative and happy. I was raised in a really happy family who’s not afraid to talk to people. We’re not shy. I find that I get through life easier just by talking and being happy and friendly with people. It just opens up a lot more doors for me. So, I guess I’ll just keep doing it. People haven’t had any complaints about it. At least I don’t think they have–no one has told me.

Joe: Where did the basketball come from? What got you interested in playing?

Nike: I didn’t take basketball seriously until my freshman year of high school. My Grandpa told me that he really wanted to see me play basketball and when he passed away I started taking basketball a little more seriously. I was a track athlete because I wanted to be like my Mom when I was younger–she threw javelin at UNLV so I was into track and running. That’s why I am able to run up and down the court so fast because I have that training. Basketball was because of my grandfather.

Joe: Are there other siblings or other family members that play?

Nike: My Dad and my Mom used to play when they were in high school, but they didn’t take it any further. My Mom said she fouled a lot, so I probably get that from her. I get my ugly jumper from my Dad. My brother just does wrestling. He’s in the Army now so he doesn’t play sports any more.

Joe: Is he stationed somewhere that he’s going to have an opportunity to come see you?

Nike: Yes, he’s currently in Washington, but he’ll probably come down with my parents to come see me. Especially for my Senior Night which is exciting and crazy to think about. It went by so fast.

Joe: It does. Almost everybody–about half way through their senior year–says “wow, I only have a few games left”.

Nike: That’s how I was feeling because at the end of my last year I didn’t know if I was going to continue my college career or go overseas. Then colleges were contacting me. I thought, Sweet! I have more time.

Joe: So after this year, you want to continue playing?

Nike: Absolutely. I would love to play overseas or if I have the opportunity to play here in the states in the WNBA, I would totally take up that opportunity. Obviously, I have some areas I need to work on in terms of offense. So, we’ll see how it all works out, but I do plan on continuing my career.

Joe: What do you feel you need to work on?

Nike: It’s always been about defense, defense, defense. I do have the ability to score, but I just need to work on my confidence when scoring. I feel like as a player I was told so many times throughout my college career not to take certain shots. Now I’m on a team where my coaches will let me take whatever shots I want to take. So I’m working on that right now, “Yes, Nike, you can take that shot. You know you can take that shot.” There’s nobody to tell you, “you can’t take that shot anymore.”

Joe: Just watching Mike and the rest of the coaching staff, they do a lot more yelling at people for passing up good shots than for taking shots. That, and “DON’T FOUL!”

Nike: Every now and then, I foul. But besides that I’m pretty hands-off. That’s only because I like blocking shots. That’s where a lot of my fouls come from.

Joe: What are you studying this year?

Nike: I’m currently getting a graduate certificate in teaching English as a Second Language. I’m learning to work with kids from different backgrounds who are trying to learn a second language. Right now my classes are focused on learning the culture barriers and how culture affects the wanting to learn a new language. Next semester, I’ll be working in classrooms with children.

In the future when I’m done with basketball, I want to become a coach somewhere. I think this will be a great starting point for me to know how to work with different children from all different backgrounds. It’s been great. It’s only been a few days in class and it’s been really fun. My classes are all discussions based and they have been pretty cool.

Joe: Have you spoken with Emily about basketball teaching over in China?

Nike: That was awesome. I wish I had had that opportunity to go with her. I would love an opportunity to do that. I love children. Every other team calls me a big child because I’m so energetic all the time. I love kids and I just want to work with kids.

Joe: If you are playing overseas, that covers a lot of countries and a lot of languages.

Nike: That sounds like fun. I’m excited for my future.

Joe: What else would you like to tell people?

Nike: Just stick with us through the ups and downs. There might be points in the season where we might not be doing as well as we want to be. Hopefully, our whole season is rainbows and butterflies, but if not, stick with us and we’ll get through. We’re hoping to bring a championship back home to Albuquerque. Have faith in our team and come support us.

Joe: Thank you for taking time out of your week to come talk with us.

Nike: Thank you so much. Thank you.

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