Courtney Vandersloot at home in the spotlight
SPOKANE, Wash. -- The girl in the middle of the crowd, the one with the blond ponytail and the bright eyes, doesn't look so uncomfortable.
She doesn't look like the young woman who went to USA Basketball trials a few years ago and admitted she "said 10 words the whole time." She doesn't look like the person who, as a freshman, called NBA legend John Stockton -- a Gonzaga graduate -- and prayed that she would get his voicemail so she wouldn't have to talk to him.
No, these days, Gonzaga senior point guard Courtney Vandersloot looks at ease surrounded by reporters and TV cameras. She's had a lot of practice of late. Vandersloot has turned into the darling of this NCAA tournament, with her dazzling game and the records that continue to fall the longer she plays.
She's been the darling of Spokane, Wash., for a lot longer. She is recognized everywhere she goes in the college town. People come to games with signs to cheer her on. She received, by far, the loudest cheers in introductions on Saturday night in Gonzaga's regional semifinal against Louisville.
One young boy showed up to games wearing a T-shirt that read "The Future Mr. Vandersloot." "We give her a bad time about that one," Gonzaga forward Katelan Redmon said. "She's great with it. She's such a humble player."
The spotlight that has pointed at Vandersloot is catching the entire Gonzaga program in its reflection. And so far, the Bulldogs have risen to the occasion.
"You never really think you are going to be that team, but ... look at all this," Redmon said.
But let's face it, Vandersloot certainly has it coming. She has set the bar high with extraordinary performances, and she keeps clearing it. Two games ago, she became the first Division I player -- man or woman -- in history to collect 2,000 points and 1,000 assists. Saturday night, she broke the women's NCAA record for assists in a single season at 358 -- and counting.
The "and counting" part counts for a lot, because Vandersloot and her team are not done yet. Backed by what is expected to be a near-sellout crowd at Spokane Arena tonight, Vandersloot could lead the Bulldogs to the women's Final Four.
Should Gonzaga, and its swell of boisterous crowd support, upend top-seeded Stanford tonight, the Bulldogs will become the lowest seed ever to reach the national semifinals. They would also become just the second non-BCS school to do it.
"Coach [Kelly] Graves is always joking with me to not get a big head," Vandersloot said with a smile. "I don't really pay attention to it. I don't read a lot of things. ... People are always asking me, 'Did you see that in the paper? Did you see this article?' But I don't really focus on that. I'm really happy with where we are as a team."
Vandersloot said that her family is keeping some of her clippings and mementos and that she will go back and look at it all later. When it's over. But it's not over yet.