On the rebound
Each time she steps on the court, Oregon's Jillian Alleyne remembers the life lessons she's learned from a special 8-year-old boy.
The Pac-12 Conference's most prolific rebounder spent half of last year working with Harrison Kaiser, a Eugene boy with a cerebral palsy-like condition. Confined to a wheelchair, Harrison is also unable to communicate verbally.
Yet he's spoken to Alleyne in so many other ways.
"I'd go over after practice and he'd love to go on walks. We'd go on an hour walk and we'd go to the park and we'd kind of just stand there and watch other people play basketball. He just really enjoyed the simple things, like eating ice cream," she said. "It just taught me life is a gift, and people take it for granted sometimes in the way they live and the material things they have. He just taught me to enjoy everything."
Right now, Alleyne is enjoying the spotlight.
Last weekend, she became the Pac-12's all-time leading rebounder with 1,574 boards, passing former Stanford star Chiney Ogwumike (1,567).
Typical of Alleyne, she didn't know she'd set the record until she heard the PA announcer at Matthew Knight Arena point out the feat to fans.
"She was born to rebound, she really was," Oregon second-year coach Kelly Graves said afterward. "She's got an amazing nose for the ball and sometimes the rebounds don't mean as much, but (against Cal) every rebound meant something. I'm happy for her."
Although Oregon (12-5, 1-5) is still building under Graves, Alleyne is playing out a college career that has seen several other personal records fall, too.
She holds the league's record for rebounds in a single game with 27, and the record for most rebounds in a season with 519 as a sophomore. That's the sixth most in the NCAA record book.
She has 83 career double-doubles, which puts her at fifth on the NCAA all-time list. She needs two more to match Ogwumike's Pac-12 record.
This season, Alleyne leads the Ducks with an average of 17.8 points and 13.5 boards a game, ranking her third in the nation for rebounds. For her career, her average is 14.3 rebounds a game, which right now slots her at fourth on the NCAA's all-time career list.
While the records are nice, Alleyne would rather have wins. But the Pac-12 conference is particularly difficult this season, with four teams — Arizona State, Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA — ranked in the AP Top 25.
"It's an honor, but it's a reminder that I have to work harder for my team's success," she said.
Rebounds have always come easy to Alleyne, it was life that was hard. When she was growing up in Southern California, her mom struggled to make ends meet and the family moved from apartment to apartment, often just one step away from homelessness.
Pamela Williamson worked multiple jobs at times to keep food on the table for her daughters Jillian and Faith.
"It has definitely shaped my perspective and my outlook on life because I see so many opportunities that I just feel like anything is possible," Alleyne said. "After all I went through growing up, and having hit rock bottom, I feel like the only way is up."
Williamson still works with kids with autism and it's clear where Alleyne picked up her altruism.
Standing at 6-foot-3, Alleyne has long cascading braids that are tinted green for the Ducks. She'd like to continue working with kids like Harrison, and her major is in Communication Disorders and Sciences. She's fluent in sign language.
"He just adores her, and she was just wonderful with him," Harrison's mom, Jillyn Kaiser said. "He gets a huge smile on his face whenever he hears her name. They have a real mutual love for each other."
When she was with Harrison, Alleyne had to give her full attention to him. It's a skill that now she takes to every practice, every game.
"Being in the moment is my biggest thing, and staying focused. I have to remember that I can't worry about the end result in the game, or what's going to happen in the next possession," she said. "It's to stay present in the moment I'm in, whether it's offense or defense, and make sure I give everything I can for my teammates."
And enjoy every minute.