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Tuesday, July 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Angie Bjorklund looks back at Tennessee days while pondering her future

Angie Bjorklund, right, scored 1,469 career points with Tennessee. (Wade Payne / AP)
Angie Bjorklund, right, scored 1,469 career points with Tennessee. (Wade Payne / AP)
By Dave Trimmer For The Spokesman-Review

Ten years ago, Angie Bjorklund’s dream was becoming reality.

Deep into fall practice at the University of Tennessee, there was a chance the recent University High School graduate could start her first game for the Lady Vols, the most storied women’s basketball program in the land, and legendary coach Pat Summitt.

“You’ve really jogged the memory. I want to say she had mentioned it,” Bjorklund said from Tarbes, France, where she is in the midst of her second season after a four-year hiatus from competitive basketball.

“Any time that coach could use an opportunity to motivate her players, she would use it. She would say, ‘You have the potential to be a starter if you work at it.’ Playing 5-on-5, if you were on Candace Parker’s side, you were with the starters.”

And what a start she had. But it wasn’t the official season opener when she became just the 10th freshman to start her first game for the Lady Vols. It was the first exhibition game.

“The only thing I remember from that first game is that we were playing the Olympic team, Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings, players I remember idolizing,” Bjorklund said. “I remember being more awestruck by that than being in the starting lineup. I was guarding Diana Taurasi … welcome to college basketball.

“I remember being so nervous. We got the ball first and I forgot the first play, I got it all wrong. As soon as I got the ball I shot it and it went in, but everybody was yelling at me to run the play.”

That’s from a Washington high school Gatorade Player of the Year and a gold medal winner with Team USA at the FIBA U-19 World Championship in Bratislava, Slovakia, in 2007.

Bjorklund’s first season ended with the memory of a lifetime – an NCAA championship, the eighth and most recent one for Tennessee. When Bjorklund graduated she had 1,469 points and she remains the Lady Vols’ career leader in 3-pointers made with 305. Along the way she earned a host of honors.

“After 10 years, the first thing that comes back to mind are the experiences with your team, off the court, in the locker room, laughing,” she said. “Like when I think back to high school. More than the actual games, it’s the relationships.

“As far as basketball, winning a national championship is something you hang on to forever.

What also hangs on is losing in the first round (of the 2009 NCAA Tournament).”

The loss is a big deal for Vol Nation, which has never seen its team miss the NCAA Tournament or lose in the first round any other year. But that isn’t what sticks with Bjorklund.

“Not the loss, but the training afterward,” she said of being pushed beyond a point she thought she could reach. “I never worked so hard.”

Relaxed and enjoying life now, she finds it a lot more difficult to imagine where she might be in the next 10 years.

Once she finished at Tennessee, Bjorklund’s shot at the WNBA was derailed by injury, something she doesn’t much regret. Combining the WNBA with playing overseas, pro basketball is a grueling year-round job for women. She prefers balance in her life and time to travel or be with family.

She spent a year at Santa Clara as director of basketball operations, a first step to coaching in college. A psychology major at Tennessee, she decided to get her master’s, attending Idaho to help with the basketball team and be closer to home.

Then she went to Boise and got a job at an athletic club and began training young basketball players. She is intrigued by the prospect of the mental aspect.

“I know for myself, if I had the tools before that I have now I would have been a better player, or at least enjoyed myself more,” she said. “I want to take the mental skills and on-court skills and combine the two.”

Then Bjorklund was contacted by an old coach and went off to France.

“When you take four years off, it’s definitely difficult to get back in swing, but it’s fun,” she said. “After having a 9-to-5 job, going back to throwing ball into the hoop, life is good. You appreciate the game more. I took it for granted … coming back I feel really fortunate. It’s been interesting. I don’t know if I play as well as I did but definitely enjoying it more.”

She has no idea what her stats are, but it doesn’t matter. At the ripe old age of 28, she finds herself drawn to helping her younger teammates.

“I find myself wanting to coach them rather than getting better,” she said.

Time away from the court is spent exploring southern France, especially the beautiful French Pyrenees mountains. In the offseason she backpacked around Europe before heading home.

Without an agent, she isn’t sure if she’ll get another season, but she’s ready to come back and resume her potential training business or pursue college coaching. She’ll be Aunt Angie to her sister’s three young children in Spokane.

Although she recently got help from a former Tennessee trainer to deal with an injury, Bjorklund doesn’t stay in touch much with her former teammates. She’s not into social media and without that, connecting from overseas is difficult.

“I’m more about the authentic relationships” she said. “I value that and I think social media takes away from that. I work with young athletes and I want to be a role model (for not making social media mistakes). I’m terrible about keeping up anyway.”

Lady Vols are close just from the experience of playing for Summitt, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease soon after Bjorklund graduated in 2012 and died in 2016, two weeks after her 64th birthday.

“Honestly, still to this day it doesn’t seem real she has passed,” Bjorklund said. “I hold on to memories of Tennessee and her coaching. I say some of the things she said. I hear her voice when I’m playing. It’s been tough on all of us. She really brought us together as family. When something tragic like that happens, it doesn’t seem real. She stays with us … it’s tough to talk about.”

So was predicting where she might be in 10 years.

“Any time in my life I’ve planned, it’s never turned out how I planned it,” she said. “I know what I love and I’m passionate about. Basketball, psychology, kids, training. … I can’t imagine not being around the game. Basketball has been in my life one way or another. It’s hard to imagine it not being part of it. I’m just not sure how it will look.”

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