The Sky is the Limit for Utah Utes Standout Alissa Pili

The Sky is the Limit for Utah Utes Standout Alissa Pili

For Alissa Pili, her decision to transfer to the University of Utah from USC was about more than just basketball. The landscape of the area reminded her of her. Home, Alaska, from the rolling plains to the rivers to the weather. 

“[The transition was] definitely tough,” Pili says. “But I just think how supportive the good people here [have been] has helped me get over that homesickness.” 

After being named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year at the University of Southern California for the 2019-20 season, Pili faced injury setbacks that limited her playing time, leading her to want to go down a new path. Now that she’s at Utah, she’s learned not to take any day for granted, and she says head coach Lynne Roberts encourages the team to “play freely.”

“I go into every day as an opportunity to improve and get better and just continue doing what I love,” Pili tells SLAM. “I think I came here with the attitude of just having a fresh start.”

Leaving the comfort of USC, where her older brother, Brandon, just wrapped up his final season with the football team, wasn’t an easy choice. “Going to USC with my brother was great,” she says. “Especially being away from home, it was nice to just have him there to have someone to talk to and kind of look after me in a way.”

Now, she’s found a new family in Utah. 

Last season, the program broke numerous records, including the most wins in a single season since 2013, and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.  

The Utes are ranked 8th in the country, as of late January, with only two losses in what Pili calls the best conference in the country. The ability to continue developing her game against elite competition is a big reason she wanted to stay in the Pac-12.

Before USC, Pili was one of the most decorated high school basketball players in Alaska’s history, winning Gatorade State Player of the Year three times, National Player of the Year twice, and even the “Pride of Alaska” award from the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. 

Coach Roberts has been more than impressed by how seamlessly Pili has fit in and contributed to the team’s historic success. “It’s been really rewarding to see her buy in, hook, line and sinker,” said Roberts to “She’s done what we’ve asked, and she’s playing the best basketball of her life right now.”

One thing that Roberts says to the team every day is to just “trust the process,” and that has been a motivating factor for Pili. After being away from the game due to injury, she says getting to take each day as it comes without nitpicking the small things has been a huge change of mindset.

“[Roberts is] big on that, not worrying about, you know, these little things,” she says. “We’re just more focused on how we’re getting better and what we can do to get better.”

The team has done just that, getting better throughout the season. They have a record of 16-2 as we speak, and they feel there’s much more to still accomplish. 

“Just this season alone, we’ve achieved a lot of things that haven’t been done in this program,”
Pili says. “Just to be part of a group that makes history will be really cool. I think my goal, besides winning games and winning championships, is just to see how far we can get. When I look at this team, it’s like, the sky’s the limit.” 

Photo via Hunter Dyke/Utah Athletics and Getty Images.

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