A Dishin & Swishin Q&A Session: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is all about the titles and medals, not the individual honors
It takes a certain amount of ego to be a superstar. A player has to know that when a shot is missed, the next one is going to go in. If the pass is intercepted, the next one will go through. Perhaps most importantly, when the game is on the line, put the ball in my hands, and I will win the game for you.
So when you talk to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, or KML to most people so as to truncate her name, you may be surprised. There is not a trace of the arrogance that can often accompany the ego of a superstar. Calm, self-assured, but also polite and friendly, she looks you in the eye when talking to you, and gives you answers that you would expect from an adult, not a junior in college.
Mosqueda-Lewis arrived in Storrs, Connecticut a national high school player of the year with honors and reputation in tow, and immediately set out to earn her playing time by not only draining three-pointers at an alarming pace, but by listening to the upperclassmen and her coaches, and above all, by working hard at all facets of her game.
As a sophomore, on the national champion Huskies, she led the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game, hitting 53 percent of her shots, 49 percent from three-point range, and interestingly, finishing second on the team in rebounds. She followed that up by winning a gold medal over the summer on Sherri Coale’s USA World University Games team, playing a new position, the four (power forward) slot.
Mosqueda-Lewis is a preseason All-American now, and while teammate Breanna Stewart is getting a lot of preseason discussion for Player of the Year honors, Mosqueda-Lewis is content to continue to do what she does best: win.
Before I started this Dishin & Swishin Q&A Session with Mosqueda-Lewis, I went to her coach, Geno Auriemma, and asked him the question, “can you tell me what it is about Kaleena that makes her special, what makes her the type of player you can rely on among a team loaded with pre-season All-American candidates?”
Auriemma explained that Mosqueda-Lewis is just “different” from a lot of players:
“You know what I like about K? The easy way out for her would have been to say ‘well, I’m a great shooter so as long as I keep doing that, then all’s well with the world.’ But she’s taken the fact that she’s a great shooter, and allowed it to help her be so much better at so many other things, just because she wants to be.
Everyday we challenge her; everyday, I mean there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not all over her about doing something better that she doesn’t do well right now. And you know what? She responds like, I got this coach, I want it too coach, I don’t want to be known just as the best shooter in college basketball I want to be known as the best player.
Not every kid aspires to be that, and you can put her out on the wing, you can put her inside, you can put her in the middle. She’s strong, she’s smart on how to read things to get her shot open, she’s just really worked hard at becoming a better all-around player, so I’m really proud of her.”
I hope you enjoy our Q&A session with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
How did it feel, to play a regular season game, to open the defense of your championship?
“It feels good, it’s a lot different to play a regular season game instead of preseason or just against the practice guys. It’s a different atmosphere for sure.”
You’re a junior now, an upperclassman. What does that mean to you, what is different from prior years?
“I just know I have a bigger role this year. My approach has to be completely different, I have to be ready every single game, regardless of who we’re playing or how I feel. I’ve got to take it upon myself to make sure our team is also ready.”
You’ve been much more than just a scorer in the preseason games, and now against Hartford. Is this what you are striving for now, every game to play that complete all-around game?
“We need a lot of leadership, definitely something I’ve picked up more on, but yes, definitely I am trying to be more consistent in all the areas on the stat sheet. Even the things that you don’t see on the stat sheet like hustle plays, getting tips and deflections and stuff like that are my main focus for this year.”
Preseason first team All-American, what does that mean to you?
“It’s an honor to just have people think that ‘she’s probably going to be an All-American this year,’ and we haven’t really played any games yet. It’s an honor, like I said, and also to be on there with a couple of my teammates is incredible.”
This year UConn is coming out of the gate and playing three top ten teams in a row. How do you change your focus at the start of a season to reflect playing that type of team instead of exhibition games and then a mid-major like Hartford?
“That’s something we have kind of thought about before we played our first exhibition game; coming out with the same kind of intensity as if we were playing Stanford or Maryland or Penn State, when we played Gannon and Philadelphia and Hartford. So we don’t have to make that transition when we get to play them. I think we’re just trying to take the same mindset we take in practice; go hard every single possession and make sure we’re doing things right on offense and defense.”
Coming off the success you had with USA Basketball over the summer, how does that elevate your confidence and game to a higher level?
“I can say this year with USA Basketball is probably the best experience I’ve ever had. With the atmosphere, and playing with that team, coach Coale is awesome, and it was just a different kind of play for me. I played the four a lot, and I was supposed to rebound, and be that dirty work player; I wasn’t scoring a ton of points, but I was really proud of the work I was doing and proud of the new position I was trying to learn. It definitely got me a lot more confident about the things I was going to be able to do for Connecticut when I came back.”
When I had coach Coale on the podcast this summer, she just raved about your selflessness and the way you did whatever was necessary.
“I got really close with coach Coale over the summer, and she was just a great coach to have. We had a good relationship and I was willing to do whatever she needed me to do, and if the team needed me at the four and to do the dirty work, I was willing to do that for them. Obviously I was more concerned with winning the gold medal than scoring a ton of points.”
Finally, you got to spend time with the USA Senior national team with coach Auriemma; what kind of boost does that give you, knowing you could go out there and hold your own with some of the best professionals in the world?
“It was such an honor to be there, I was just trying to enjoy the experience of going to USA basketball’s camp. Those are people I’ve grown up watching, and you’re like “oh my gosh, I’m going to play against them?” Watching them play is awesome in itself, and getting a chance to go out there and play with them, and doing alright, not getting killed out there, it was pretty cool. They all were awesome, they took us under their wing, especially the former UConn players, and just getting to know them off the court was awesome.”