There are five people that Connecticut's All-America forward-center, Rebecca Lobo, would invite to her perfect dinner party. First: Thomas Jefferson. "He was a Renaissance man," explains Lobo, herself a budding Renaissance woman. Second: David Robinson. "My basketball hero," she says. Third: Bruce Springsteen. "I love him. He would sing." Fourth: Robin Williams. "Jokes. He'll make fun of Jefferson's wig." And fifth: Julia Child. Oh? Lobo smiles. "I'm not cooking for this shindig," she says.
Fair enough, because the 6'4", 180-pound Lobo is doing more than enough cooking for the Husky women's basketball team, which is 29-0, ranked first in the nation and poised for a run at its first national title as the NCAA tournament gets under way this week. Lobo is probably the favorite to win women's player of the year honors. She averaged 17.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 3.8 assists this season for a team that blew out opponents so badly—by a nation-leading average of 35.1 points—that she played only about 28 minutes a game. "What is she great at?" asks Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. "I can't say any one thing. But the sum of all the parts is unreal."
Against North Carolina State this season Lobo had 24 points. nine rebounds and six assists. Against Seton Hall she had nine blocks. Against California she had 16 rebounds. Against Georgetown she had 33 points, six blocks and 14 rebounds. And in the Huskies' two biggest wins—against then No. 1-ranked Tennessee and then No. 17-ranked Kansas—Lobo had a combined total of 38 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and seven blocks.
"She makes everybody else on her team better," said weary St. John's forward Lynn Lattanzio after Lobo and her mates had fricasseed the Red Storm 103-56 on Feb. 22. "I've worked basketball camps with her, and she's very modest and friendly. You think she's quiet, but when you're guarding her, she's not so quiet."
Nor is she a shrinking violet in the classroom or in social settings. A political science major, she has made the dean's list every semester she has been at Connecticut, currently has a 3.7 cumulative average and is a first team Academic All-America. During her perfect 4.0 semester last fall, Lobo took an English literature course taught at the dreadful hour of 8 a.m. The class was taught by Samuel F. Pickering, the real-life model for the eccentric prep school teacher played by Robin Williams (one of Lobo's dream-party guests, you'll recall) in the movie Dead Poets Society.
"That class was so enjoyable," says Lobo. "'It showed me how easy something can be if you like it, even at that hour. In a way it's like our team—we're doing well because we enjoy it so much." Pickering dug it too. "I look around the classroom," he told a reporter last fall, "and pick out the people who have sunlight shining from their eyes. Rebecca is one of them."
Lobo and her teammates have brightened the UConn basketball scene, too, by giving the Huskies a women's team with a record even more sterling than that of their 25-4 men's team. Most women's games at 8,241-seat Gampel Pavilion are screaming, banner-waving sellouts. While other Big East women's teams often play home games in front of Mom, Dad and a janitor or two, UConn sold 6,541 season tickets this season, generating nearly $700,000 in revenue.
Lobo adds a touch of glamour to these happy proceedings. Earlier this year she came out of the locker room after a game wearing a miniskirt, and one of the assistant coaches noted that she was showing a lot of leg. "I've got a lot of leg to show," Lobo fired back. She wears her hair long and has guard Pam Webber, her roomie, spend 10 minutes before each game pleating it into a French braid. That's in part so the hair won't get in her eyes while she's playing, and in part to prove, as she says, that "femininity and sport can go together."
All is sweetness and light for Lobo as she takes a scat for her 11 a.m. Thursday class in a course called Toxic Chemicals and Health. Needing just eight credits to graduate and having already completed all her required courses, she is taking a couple of courses this semester that are not exactly advanced physics. Today, says the instructor, the lecture will be on carcinogens and mutagens and will look at "why, if your grandmother or parent had cancer, it might affect you."
Oh, dear. Last season Lobo had no sooner put together two of her best games ever, leading the Huskies to back-to-back upset wins over Auburn and Virginia, than her mother, RuthAnn, informed her that she had breast cancer. Rebecca went from the peak to the abyss in a heartbeat, and she and RuthAnn. a 5'11" former high school basketball star, cried and cried. Rebecca felt helpless, but RuthAnn bucked her up by saying, "You do your job, and I'll do mine."