Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
If a picture really does say a 1,000 words, then the permanent ear-to-ear grin on USC freshman forward Alexyz Vaioletama's face tells you all you need to know.
"I didn't think I would even be here," Vaioletama said regarding her mindset two years ago.
Despite helping the U16 USA team breeze through the competition (by an average of 70 points per game) at the FIBA qualifying tournament in the Summer of 2009, the six-foot-one forward's future in Cardinal and Gold or for that matter in any NCAA uniform looked to be in serious jeopardy.
Although she selflessly played through pain in order to help punch the Stars and Stripes' ticket to the 2010 World Championships in France, it would come with an unfortunate cost- her entire junior season at Mater Dei HS (Santa Ana, CA).
Vaioletama (picture via USA Basketball) suffered stress fractures in both legs and would be forced to rehab for nine months during what should have been the most important year of her basketball life.
"I thought all of the schools who were initially interested were going to drop me," said Vaioletama. "Because the injury I had could have been career-ending. But, USC gave me a chance."
While Vaioletama initially fell in love with the USC campus upon her unofficial visit because of the communications program, it's proximity to her hometown of Fountain Valley, CA, the university's close-knit networking family and the women's basketball coaching staff, it was a call she received towards the end of her rehabilitation that sealed her fate as a Trojan.
"Coach Michael Cooper called me personally and reiterated that the program was still interested in me regardless of my injury," said Vaioletama who signed her letter of intent in April 2011. "Just the fact that he talked about my personality and how I conducted myself meant a lot."
In Vaioletama, (rated as the No.14 best player in the Class of 2011 by ESPNU), the Trojans are getting the whole package. Although she was overshadowed at times by her Mater Dei teammates (2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and UCLA-bound Jordan Adams), during the Monarchs' 2011 CIF Division I Title run, a fully-rehabbed Vaioletama (who scored 10.7 point per game) illustrated her length, athleticism, grittiness and high basketball IQ on a nightly basis.
However, the freshman believes her greatest asset to the Women of Troy this season will not be found in a box score.
"Intensity, passion and hard work," said Vaiolatema on the intangibles she will bring to a USC squad that fell short of the tournament in 2011. "I am very passionate about everything I do and also want to be a leader. Even though I am a freshman that is something I can bring to the table."
While the task of making the leap to the next level may be a daunting one for the 18-year-old who still admits she needs to improve her conditioning, if healthy, it looks like Cooper and Co. have a college-ready prospect on their hands that just might invigorate new life into a program looking to get over the hump.
And that's something all Trojan fans can smile about.
(Photo by OC Register)