Women’s basketball welcomes pair of walk-ons

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An anxious atmosphere blankets a basketball court in the Richards Building. The sound of squeaking shoes and basketballs dribbling echoes off the walls as 13 athletes warm up for day one of BYU women’s basketball open tryouts.

Assistant coaches Chris Boettcher and Ray Stewart stand casually in the middle of the court and, one by one, head coach Jeff Judkins, assistant coach Melinda Bendall and director of women’s basketball operations Wendy Anae show up.

Thus began the two-day tryout process, during which the women participated in drills to test their skills in dribbling, jump shooting, layups and three-pointers, as well as running the bleacher steps and scrimmaging against each other and members of the team. For two girls, Kari Riser and Valerie Nawahine, this hard work paid off, and two days later they received congratulatory emails confirming their acceptance to the team as walk-ons.

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Two of BYU's hopefuls run drills for coach Jeff Judkins of the women's basketball team.

Riser, a sophomore, and Nawahine, a freshman, were ecstatic when they found out. During the last day of tryouts, Riser said Judkins told the girls they all had the same skill level, that no one really stood out or lagged behind, so she’d known it would be a tough decision.

“When I found out I’d made it,” Riser said, “I knew my life was going to be so different.”

Riser has Judkins to thank for her love of basketball. Best friends with her dad during high school, Judkins introduced the sport to Riser. After devoting most of her life to it, though, Riser decided to have a normal life when she came to college — one that included socializing.

“Then I really missed it,” Riser said. “I wanted the team back — just that experience, and also to work out and play, even if it meant sitting on the bench, it didn’t matter. … And it’s worth it. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s good to be a part of the team.”

Nawahine began playing basketball around the age of eight. Her unwavering dedication enabled her to start as a freshman on her high school varsity basketball team, and eventually gave her the captain title senior year.

Riser and Nawahine officially began practicing with the team on Monday and have gained only positive experiences because of it.

“I know how hard it is to welcome new people onto a team where everyone already knows each other,” Nawahine said. “But they’re so nice and helpful with all the plays. I’m so happy that I get to play with such an awesome team.”

Despite the long road ahead, Riser most looks forward to the learning experience.

“[I’m excited to] grow in my own abilities as a player,” Riser said. “I know as a walk-on, it’s all about getting through the fact that you won’t really be playing. But I want to stick through the hard times … and be able to say in the end that it was worth it.”

For Nawahine, it’s playing under Judkins that’s most enticing.

“It’s not every day that you come across a coach as great as [Judkins],” Nawahine said. “For me, in basketball, a great coach makes all the difference. He knows the game so well and holds us all to higher standards.”

At the end of the tryouts, before the names were announced, Judkins gathered the hopefuls.

“Are you willing to push yourself in everything you’re doing, knowing that you might not get an opportunity [to play]?” Judkins asked. “This is a classroom to me. I expect you to know [things]. I can’t wait for you.”

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