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Jocelyn Willoughby embodies everything it means to be a student-athlete at Virginia

Virginia’s star guard eyes the future while reflecting on her storied playing career

<p>Willoughby leads the ACC in scoring with 19.6 points per game this season.</p>

Willoughby leads the ACC in scoring with 19.6 points per game this season.

As a swarm of orange Clemson jerseys hastily scramble to set up on defense, there’s a panicking look that overcomes them, as senior guard Jocelyn Willoughby slowly brings the ball up the court. Directing her teammates to their positions, she’s already determined exactly how she’s going to dissect Clemson’s zone defense.

She passes the ball off, immediately sets an off-ball screen and fades to the corner. Knowing her defender will fall for a pump-fake, Willoughby freezes her assigned matchup with her signature hesitation pump-fake and immediately attacks the rim. She side-steps her next defender before laying the ball effortlessly off the glass.

A roar erupts from the John Paul Jones Arena crowd as many of the Virginia faithful witnessed another vintage Willoughby performance. In one play, the icon of Virginia women’s basketball demonstrated why she’s one of the most celebrated and graceful basketball players the program has ever showcased.

Fast forward 12 hours after recording another 20-point performance, Willoughby sprints back into the gym anxiously.

The ACC’s leading scorer just finished up her weekly visit to a local middle school and is elated to tell the entire team’s staff about how much she loves the kids she gets to meet every week. She recounts each student she met and what they talked about, and her face lights up in anticipation of volunteering again.

This is who Willoughby is — not only a fearless competitor on the court and generational talent for a storied program, but also a dedicated young woman who’s passionate about being a leader and role model above all else.

“She's Superwoman,” sophomore forward Dani Lawson said. “Jocelyn does everything, whether it's from leading the team and helping us with anything we need or off the court, like helping with school work or personal life stuff. Jocelyn is a great teammate, and she's always been there for me especially. I feel like that's a sentiment the whole team shares.”

The well-known shooting guard has made the most of her time as an undergraduate student-athlete at Virginia. In competition, Willoughby has consistently led the team in scoring and rebounding. This season, she leads the ACC in scoring with 19.6 points per game, and she is currently the 12th all-time scorer in Virginia program history.

The fourth-year New Jersey native has been equally passionate and successful in her academic pursuits. Last May, Willoughby graduated early and received her degree in global development studies, and she is currently pursuing her Master’s degree at the Batten School of Public Policy and Leadership. Willoughby has yet to finish a season without earning All-ACC Academic honors. 

Off the court, the former Lawn resident is virtually unrecognizable from her on-the-court presence. When wearing her No. 13 jersey, Willoughby’s competitive spirit and commitment to the team lights a fire under her. She aggressively attacks the basket, defends tenaciously and asserts dominance wherever she is needed. Yet when she’s not playing basketball, Willoughby is almost an entirely different person with her easygoing, genuine and kind personality.

Remarkably, her current level of sophistication and maturity has been a defining characteristic ever since joining the Virginia community. During the transition to being a Division I athlete her first year, Willoughby entered fully focused. She largely avoided the plethora of distractions that generally sidetrack new college students. In terms of adjusting athletically, she only experienced a small learning curve and began contributing to the team almost immediately, averaging 29.9 minutes and 9.8 points per game in her first season with the Cavaliers.

While she was originally recruited by Coach Joanne Boyle, a coaching change for women’s basketball took place in her second year when Boyle was replaced by Coach Tina Thompson, who continues to lead the Cavaliers today. Without wasting any time, Willoughby embraced the new situation and got to work. 

“We definitely have a professional relationship where we’re about doing work and getting things done and trying to be better,” Willoughby said. “Our relationship is very centered around what we need to do to get this team and program better.”

Going the extra mile, Willoughby is always looking for ways to improve her game. Specifically, she is proud of the growth in her mid-range game development, and she has made significant strides in “reading the defense better and figuring out how to time [her] pull-up jumper instead of driving the lane and getting charges.”

Willoughby’s passion for public policy and her pursuit of intellectual hobbies like reading, cooking and journaling are emblematic of her unique personality. 

“I think policy is so broad and there’s so many levels and areas you can work in ” Willoughby said. “I’m trying to figure out what particular field and level I want to work in still.”

With all her experience and pedigree, Willoughby has always adopted a team-first mentality and knows what she and her teammates need to do to help the women’s basketball program.

“Being consistent in the little things and being disciplined is our biggest area of growth and what we’re going to focus on because that’s going to set the foundation for this program in the years to come,” Willoughby said.

Over her four years, Willoughby has used her positive energy, competitive drive and passion for the game to leave an everlasting impact on Virginia women’s basketball.

“Jocelyn is the one that keeps everybody focused and [makes] sure everybody's on task so we can get through stuff,” freshman guard Carole Miller said. “She's a good role model because she's always giving her best. As a first year, it has been great to look up to her and see how we should do things. It has helped us know what to do next year for the next group of student-athletes coming in.”

Looking into the future, the Virginia legend plans to temporarily stop working on her Master’s degree in pursuit of a professional basketball career. 

As the interview came to a close, Willoughby made sure to wish Melissa Dudek, women’s basketball’s Sports Information Director and “team mom,” a happy birthday all while brushing off her best performance of the season in favor of talking to the women’s basketball staff about a book she just finished reading. The entire scene encapsulated Willoughby’s identity — both as a person and as a player.

“There’s never been a recruit like Jocelyn,” Dudek said. “She was a very unique first-year. There’s never been anyone with a smaller learning curve. She came in more seasoned. Jocelyn had it all figured out. A lot of people think they have it all figured out, but she actually did.”

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