Louella Tomlinson takes pride in blocks
Basketball is in the blood for Australian native, who leads D-I in career blocks
Louella Tomlinson came into her senior season at St. Mary's (Calif.) having blocked more shots (512) than any previous Division I women's basketball player. She now has 44 so far this season, meaning at 556 she's just padding the record that is, until Baylor's Brittney Griner breaks it.
Griner has 275 blocks for her career just 10 games into her sophomore season. Tomlinson, an excellent student, can deduce that her record isn't going to stand up too long if Griner stays healthy.
But, hey, it will be nice while it lasts. That's the kind of upbeat attitude that Tomlinson takes about everything. A native of Melbourne, Australia, she's the baby of a basketball-playing family and has truly relished her time playing and living in the United States.
"California reminded me a little of home, and I'm kind of a city girl, so San Francisco is a nice place for me," Tomlinson said. "It's probably the most like Melbourne of all the U.S. cities I've been to.
"I came over here wanting to better my basketball, and I've definitely done that. I'm so happy to have the teammates that I do, and that I've learned what I have."
But she really didn't have to learn too much about shot blocking. It comes pretty naturally to the 6-foot-4 forward. It's instinctual, and she usually doesn't even leave her feet to do it.
"I think about the age of 14, I got a lot more confident with it," she said. "But even when I was younger than that, I remember I couldn't wait for the point guard to drive to the basket. My mom was good at it; one of my sisters was, too. I think it runs in the blood."
St. Mary's coach Paul Thomas says her physical traits are part of what have helped make Tomlinson so good at rejection.
"She's long, her hands are big," he said. "But she also has the brains and the timing. She understands what to do and how to do it. And it's a confidence thing."
Tomlinson points out that many of her blocks come on help defense.
"I don't often get a lot of blocks on my own player," she said. "It's the girls driving to the basket, and I'm helping out."
Basketball came genetically
"Both my parents played; my father was a triple-Olympian and my mom played in two world championships," Tomlinson said of parents Ray and Sandra. "I have three sisters, and the two oldest ones played college basketball over here. So I knew since I was about 6 years old that I was going to play basketball here in the United States -- whether I was good or not."
She smiles as she says that, but she has certainly been good. Tomlinson jokes that she really had no choice but to embrace basketball, since it consumed the family.
"My parents ran a basketball club for a long time, so if I didn't go to practice I was going to just stay home alone," she said. "Seriously, I've loved playing basketball, and I've made great friends through it and had just unreal opportunities. I've played in Europe with the junior national team and been able to come to college because of it."
Tomlinson is the youngest of four daughters, but ended up the tallest of them. Her sister, Samantha, 36, played at Troy State, while sister Clarissa, 32, went to Samford, both schools in Alabama. Tomlinson, 22, considered Samford, but St. Mary's was a better fit.
"We all had really good experiences," she said. "I never got to play against my sisters much, because they were older. Samantha actually went to AIS -- the sports academy in Australia -- the year after I was born, so we never really even lived much together, though everyone says we're the most alike.
"I always tried to challenge myself growing up to be as good as them, to practice with girls who were older than me and better than me."
The most prominent Australian women's player, of course, is three-time MVP Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm.
"She is an icon in Australia, and everybody knows who she is," Tomlinson said. "Without a doubt, she's helped kids get into the game. She's a great role model because she came over here as a teenager [to the WNBA] and made such a name for herself."
But Jackson and another WNBA champion, the Phoenix Mercury's Penny Taylor, are among those Australians who did not play collegiately in the United States. There are various reasons why, but Tomlinson did feel some push-back about her decision.
"There seems to be a stigma about coming to college here. I know when I left, it was looked down upon," Tomlinson said. "Because they want girls to stay over there and play in the professional league in Australia and build that.
"But I felt that competition will be there later for me. I'm not always going to have the chance to play in college and have this experience. And that's something I told [sophomore Gael teammate from Australia] Kate Gaze. I said, 'If you don't like it, you can always go back. But you won't know if you don't try it.' And she's been really glad she came.
"I think the more girls that make the decision to come here, the better off they'll be. And basketball in Australia also will be better, because we'll go back as more experienced players."
Tomlinson is averaging 11.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 4.9 blocks. One of her biggest challenges is that she's so slightly built; she's one of those players who can eat and eat but still struggles to put on weight.
"I really can't force-feed myself anymore than I do, so I've just learned to work with what I have," she says, chuckling.
St. Mary's is 5-4 with a schedule that has included the likes of Cal, Nebraska and Northwestern (which the Gaels lost to) and Wisconsin (which they beat). Two more Pac-10 teams are on their schedule: UCLA on Saturday and Oregon on Dec. 19. Tomlinson's hope is that the Gaels can win the West Coast Conference title, which would be a great finish for her college career.
But even if they do, she won't brag about it. Because that's one thing she simply doesn't do: talk smack. It's just not her personality, which is a bit ironic. She has become the NCAA career leader in blocked shots without even once uttering, "Get that stuff outta here!"
"It's funny, because Kate and I talk about this all the time: Basketball in America is very different that way," Tomlinson said. "There's so much rah-rah and hype. So all the time through a game, my teammates may say, 'Block it, Lou! Block it!' Or they'll say [to an opponent], 'Watch out, she's gonna block you!' So they do all the trash-talking for me, and I just play."
Inside, though, has she ever celebrated after a big block?
"Sometimes maybe I'm a little excited, " she said, laughing. "But I don't show it."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
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