From ‘boot camp’ to happy home

Kelley Hughes watches intently during last Tuesdays game against San Jose. Sac State won 60-57 in the Hornets Nest.:


Kelley Hughes watches intently during last Tuesday’s game against San Jose. Sac State won 60-57 in the Hornets Nest.:

Victor Nieto

Finding your place in the world and what makes you happy isn’t always the easiest task, especially for college students. Even when you think you’re in the right spot, things can quickly become disarranged and confused. For Sacramento State basketball player Kelly Hughes, the goal was no different. However, it took a year in the desert city of El Paso, Texas to realize that Sacramento and the Hornet’s women basketball team was that place for her.

Like many young and talented athletes, Hughes wanted to showcase her game at the highest possible level and came to the decision to play on a scholarship at the University of Texas at El Paso for coach Keitha Adams.

“At UTEP, they were so focused on making you tough and making sure that you didn’t show any weakness. It felt like I was in boot camp,” Hughes said. “It felt like they didn’t care about our academics or anything else outside the court. I was just really walking around with a chip on my shoulder because I was so focused on being tough and that wasn’t me.”

Hughes said she learned a lot under coach Adams, and she was a really good coach, but the team and the school weren’t exactly what she was looking for.

“We had amazing facilities, a great arena and training room and it was cool, but I thought the thing that really mattered were the coaches because basketball is your life,” the red-shirt junior said.

Hughes left the UTEP program after her freshman year and returned to her home in Vancouver, Wash., to do a little soul searching and figure out where her next step would take her, which turned out to be in the direction of coach Dan Muscatell and his Sac State coaching staff.

“For me as a player, you can’t be happy unless you’re happy with the coaches and it kind of felt like a family here and that was what I was looking for, a family atmosphere,” she said.

Hughes enters the 2007-08 season in her third year for the Hornets and for the first time is taking on the role of shooting guard instead of the point, which she played mostly throughout her high school and college years.

Upon entering college, Hughes decided to curtail her scorer-like mentality a bit and concentrate more on managing the pace of the game and setting her teammates up for baskets in the more traditional point guard role. Now in her new role, she hopes to regain that confidence in her shot and revert a little more towards her high school playing style.

As a high school prep in the Vancouver area, Hughes was a prolific scorer. She led the state in scoring during her senior year with an average 23.8 points per game and was named to the all-state team, earned MVP honors of the Greater St. Helens league and left the program as the school’s all-time leading scorer.

Hughes believes both her and the team’s best days are yet to come and feels really good about the team’s chances this year in the Big Sky.

The preseason favorites to win the Big Sky are Montana and Idaho State, but to Hughes, those are just predictions, and they don’t mean too much.

“There’s no big time powerhouse or top 25 schools out there,” Hughes said. “I feel like anyone could win it this year and that’s why I came to this conference.”

The Hornets will continue then non-league schedule throughout the end of the year and will begin league play Jan. 3 at home against Portland State. From now until then, the team will have few breaks between games but hopefully for Hughes, that wont stop her from enjoying her time hanging out with friends and teammates on her off days.

Considering Hughes is a dietician major, one may expect the college athlete to have egg whites simmering on the stove, or have chicken breast and green beans cooking on the grill, but definitely not cookies and brownies and other high-calorie luxuries.

“My roommates and I love to cook,” Hughes said. “We usually make all kinds of desserts and my roommate Atty cooks great Italian food.”

For Hughes and her roommates, that meal is usually enjoyed while watching “Sportscenter” or with an episode of “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila” or “Dr. 90210,” however, she does balance that out by keeping up-to-date on our nation’s politics through the cable news outlets.

Professionally, after her college basketball career is over, Hughes hopes to become a dietician for a college or professional organization, ideally in women’s basketball. She also lingers over the possibility of going to law school, ironically a decision that her father, Robert, a lawyer himself, advises her not to do because is too stressful and time consuming.

Hughes hopes to become one of the key components in the success of the Hornet team during her next two years at Sac State and believes both her and her team have yet to reach their true potential.

“I just want the students to know we’re not the team that our record shows or what last year showed,” Hughes said. “We’re a new team and I think we are going to be fun to watch this year.”

Victor Nieto can be reached at [email protected]