Koko Lahanas begins the Big West Conference women's basketball tournament and the final stage of her college career this week as the nation's leading scorer.
If the Cal State Fullerton center wins the scoring championship, it will be a nice reward for a player who didn't give up. And the trophy will be an interesting conversation piece on the mantel a dozen years down the road. And the recognition always will be a source of pride.
But it won't be worth what a similar honor might be to an NBA-bound player.
"Yeah, I think about the fact that if I were a guy in the same position, I probably wouldn't have to worry about money the rest of my life," Lahanas said. "And, yeah, it makes me a little angry."
Lahanas normally is easy-going and quick to smile, and she grudgingly accepts a fact of life: There is no NBA for women.
Regardless, she hopes her success this season will enable her to continue playing basketball as a professional, even if she has to go to another country to do it.
"I don't know where it's going to be, but I want to keep playing," she said. "There are women's leagues in Europe, and I heard there are some in Australia now too. But it's a long, long way from the money in the NBA. From what I've heard you can make as much as $50,000 for a season there, and the really top player can get as much as $100,000. But even if I only get $20,000, then that's what it will be.
"I think it would be fun playing in a lot of those places--France, Switzerland--and I've heard a lot about the Italian leagues."
Lahanas hadn't given much thought to playing after college until the last few weeks. Before this season, Lahanas was only concerned about working her way into the starting lineup.
After playing two seasons for Los Medanos College near her Bay Area hometown of Concord, Lahanas started only twice in 27 games and finished last season with an average of six points.
But things changed quickly early this season. In the second game of the season, Lahanas scored 32 points in the Titans' victory over Loyola Marymount, and she's been on a scoring tear since. Her high games include a 48-point performance against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and 37 against Nevada.
She's averaging 27.1 points and slightly less than 11 rebounds. That should keep her in the national scoring lead this week, although the official statistics are not announced until today.
"There were times last season when it was really tough to stick with it," Lahanas said. "My mother and other members of my family helped me through those times.
"Another thing that's helped is that I've really enjoyed going to school here. I'm an English major and the people in that department have really been great to me. They've really supported me by coming to our games too."
Lahanas says even she has been amazed about what she's been able to do this season.
"Sometimes it's hard for me to comprehend," she said. "Sometimes I'm in my apartment watching a women's game on television and I see those players from Tennessee and Stanford and places like that, and they're so big."
Lahanas, who is 6 feet, has played against players 6-2 and taller all season while frequently being double-teamed.
"I feel I've been able to do well because I'm pretty sound fundamentally," she said. "I know where to be on the court all the time, and I feel I have good body control. And I really worked hard this summer to get in good shape and I think that's made a big difference."
Fullerton Coach Deborah Ayres has been pleased with the way Lahanas has continued to improve this season.
"The other teams have really focused on her in the last half of the season, but she's remained very consistent," Ayres said. "That says a lot about her as a player. So does being able to do all she's been able to do at her size. It shows you what type of competitor she is.
"One thing I never have to worry about is her being prepared for every game when she goes on the floor."
Lahanas plans to graduate in the fall and eventually wants to teach English at a community college. "I'll probably go into a master's program when I'm finished playing," she said. "I enjoy playing basketball, but I don't want to coach it."
But that, along with thoughts about playing professionally, is back-burner stuff at the moment. Her focus is on the conference tournament. The Titans (12-14), who finished seventh in the conference in the regular season with an 8-10 record, meet 10th-seeded San Jose State at 6 p.m. tonight in the opening game.
"That's what I really care about now," she said. "Leading the nation in scoring is not that big a deal to me compared to how we do in the tournament. I just want us to do well there."