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BYU women’s basketball: Purcell has found success, happiness and love in Provo

First Published      Last Updated Mar 09 2017 05:58 pm

Provo • Kalani Purcell wasn't sure she made the right decision at first.

Heavily recruited out of Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, Purcell chose to play Division I college basketball at BYU, turning down offers from some of the top women's programs in the country. Provo and BYU were initially "quite a bit of a culture shock" for the laid-back native of New Zealand even though she is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Adjusting to BYU's rigorous academic requirements also was difficult, she said.

Then basketball season started, and the 6-foot-2 forward quickly found her niche. She earned all-conference honors in what was her junior year of eligibility, set a school record with 18 double-doubles and was called "the best player you don't know" in the country by espnW.com.




"I spent more time on that kid than with any recruit in my life," BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. "It paid off."

The coach thought he had landed the youngest of Ingrid and Brian Purcell's seven athletic children when she graduated from John Paul College High School in New Zealand, but there were problems with some of her coursework transferring over, and she had to take the junior college route. So Judkins had to recruit her all over again, but this time against tougher competition.

Purcell has picked up where she left off last year and has helped the Cougars (16-9, 10-4) move into a tie for second place in the West Coast Conference with four games remaining in the regular season. She leads the WCC and is tied for 21st in the country in rebounding (10.5 rpg.).

She recently moved into 10th place on BYU's career rebounds list with 678, and she is a threat to post a triple-double every game. That hasn't happened yet — she's averaging 12.1 points and 5.2 assists in addition to the 10.5 rebounds — but she's flirted with a triple-double in almost every game lately as she closes in on the end of her eligibility.

"She is the best rebounder I have ever coached at BYU, and one of the most versatile players in the country," Judkins said. "I hope she gets it, but it is hard for her to get 10 assists because she doesn't always have the ball in her hands like a point guard does."

Purcell is on track to earn a degree in sociology, and she is loving life in Provo, where the winters aren't as bad as they were in Kansas and she's gotten used to people's kindness that was a bit overwhelming in the fall of 2015.

"I definitely had my doubts when I first got here," she said with a laugh last week. "But as the two seasons have gone on, there are definitely no regrets at all. … BYU has helped me so much, not with just basketball, but with school and my personal life and relationships, obviously. Having a lot of connections through the coaches and just meeting a lot of people here at BYU will help me a lot in my life after basketball."

That life might not happen for awhile.

Judkins said a few agents have spoken to him recently about Purcell's pro prospects, and at least three WNBA teams have inquired about one aspect of her game or another.

"She is definitely good enough to play at the next level," Judkins said. "She is not a great scorer, but she can defend, she can rebound and she can pass. If she gets on a team where she does those things, she can be very successful."

The knock against Purcell is her mediocre outside shooting, a skill she wishes she had spent more time on in the offseason. She also regrets not stepping up and being the "go-to player" for the Cougars until recently, having taken a back seat to all-time WCC leading scorer Lexi Eaton last year and partially to point guard Cassie Broadhead this season.

As for her future, Purcell said she won't think much about it until this season concludes, considering the Cougars will have to win the WCC Tournament to get to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year. She acknowledges that the prospect of playing for money is "frightening" and "makes me nervous," but has had that as a goal for quite some time.

Obviously, the lucrative WNBA would be her first choice, but playing close to home in nearby Australia, which has an outstanding professional league for women, would be fun and exciting as well.

She also plans to pay close attention to the upcoming BYU football season, and not just because the coach is also named Kalani. She's dating linebacker Butch Pau'u.

"In all honesty, I didn't want to date an athlete at all, but it just happened," she said, having met Pau'u at the career advisor's office in the Student Athlete Building. "He's sweet, and he just grew on me."

And so did BYU, and Provo.

 

AT A GLANCE

A closer look

» In just her second season at BYU, Kalani Purcell already is 10th on school’s career rebounding list with 678.

» She posted 18 double-doubles her junior season in 2015-16, most by any BYU player in a season, and is 16th nationally this season with 16 double-doubles.

» She led the WCC in rebounds (12.6) and assists (4.7) last season. She is first in rebounds (10.5), and second in assists (5.2) and steals (2.2) this season.


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