Former Hephzibah basketball star Le’Coe Willingham just completed her 10th WNBA season. As a member of the Atlanta Dream, Willingham saw her team get swept in the WNBA finals by the Minnesota Lynx.
Willingham, 32, played at Auburn and joined the WNBA in 2004. The forward has played for Connecticut, Phoenix, Seattle and Chicago.
Q: You have been successful at all levels of basketball. What are the biggest differences you have found in what it takes to win consistently at the different levels?
A: There’s always hard work and a spirit of never giving up. It takes a lot to be a champion. It takes a team with one goal, and you have to work at it every single day. There’s no time off. But of course there’s a difference now at this level. When you’re younger there are a lot of kids playing, and you find that you’re much more athletic than most of them. But here the talent is the best in the world so you have to bring your best every single night. You have to stay in the best condition you can be in.
Q: When you left Hephzibah in the late 1990s, the WNBA was still a new phenomenon. What were your impressions of the league then, and how do you feel about it now?
A: I was a big fan when the league first started. I remember an article back then in The Augusta Chronicle where they came and talked to us at a summer league about the WNBA. It was always a dream, and to be here 10 years is special to me. I have a lot of faith in this league. We all want it to continue grow and be prosperous.
Q: As a professional athlete, do you feel a personal responsibility to serve as a role model for young girls?
A: Of course. Someone is always watching you. And that goes for not just athletes. Children are watching grown-ups during everything we do. You never know, the smallest thing can have an impact on a child. So yes, I feel a responsibility to be a great role model, especially since I have a son, also.
Q: What was your most memorable game played in the WNBA?
A: My first championship. Game 5, 2009, at Phoenix against Indiana to win the WNBA championship.
Q: What would you like to pursue in life once your playing days are over?
A: I definitely want to get into coaching. I have a passion for basketball. I’m a basketball brat. I love it, I study it, so I really want to go into coaching to stay in this sport.