Jennifer Tsurumoto Takes Point

In her final season donning the Anteater blue and gold, Jennifer Tsurumoto is continuing to forge a memorable career for herself in the two years she has spent playing for UC Irvine.

Standing at a modest 5-foot-6, the Sebastopol native wasted no time in making her presence felt on the team when she transferred last year, leading the team in assists and finishing second in scoring. Now a Senior, the point guard is still making waves; just last week she became the first Lady Anteater to score 30 points or more in two consecutive games coming off a week of play where she averaged 60 percent from 3 point range and 96 percent on her free throws.

Given her upbringing, the success that Tsurumoto has found throughout her collegiate basketball career should seem like a foregone conclusion.  A quick learner and naturally gifted, she participated in a myriad of sports throughout her childhood, such as softball, soccer, volleyball and even golf. Despite her many extracurricular activities, Tsurumoto remained steadfast in her dedication to basketball. Throughout middle school and into her freshman year at Analy High School, Tsurumoto simultaneously played for three different travel teams in basketball.

“Sometimes we’d have a tournament in the same area so I’d have to go play a game with this team, switch my jersey go play for this team, switch my jersey back and then go play for the other team again.” Tsurumoto said.

Concerned for her well-being, Tsurumoto’s parents would ask if this was what she really wanted, and assured her that it was okay if she was too tired and wanted to quit. However, it was clear that even as an adolescent the thought of quitting had never even crossed Tsurumoto’s mind.

“I just loved playing,” she said.

Her efforts were rewarded when she tried out and became one of the only freshmen to make varsity at her high school’s basketball team. Holding aspirations to play for a Division I College, Tsurumoto was told by numerous people that she would never be recruited by one due to her small stature.

Undeterred, Tsurumoto remained poised and motivated herself to work harder, but not out of desire to prove her naysayers wrong.

“I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, not necessarily other people. I could really care less what other people have to say about me. But I wanted to prove to myself that I could get to where I wanted to be with the size disadvantage and everything. I really just believed in my ability to be able to succeed.”

Unfortunately, in addition to her height, Tsurumoto also faced the disadvantage of playing at a relatively obscure and little known school. Hence, despite averaging 20 points during her senior year, Tsurumoto would only receive a small handful of offers from Divion II and III colleges. Knowing that she was capable of better, Tsurumoto declined all of the offers and instead chose to travel to Africa with some friends and spend her time volunteering there.

In an unforeseen twist, Tsurumoto returned home with no desire to play basketball anymore and a newfound goal of joining the Peace Corps.

“I was just in a different mindset. I feel like when I was in high school, I was all about basketball, but when I went I saw all these people, it was just eye opening and it just changed my perspective on what I wanted to do in life.”

When she started enrollment at Santa Rosa College, Tsurumoto’s parents stepped in and pushed her to continue with her aspirations in basketball, insisting that she practiced with the team for at least 2 weeks before deciding to quit. As it turned out, she wound up loving the coach and quickly became friends with several members of the team.

Tsurumoto would lead her team to a state title, posting an impressive 28 points against heavily favored Mt. San Antonio College in the semi-finals. In her second year, she was named the Big 8 MVP and attracted the attention of Molly Goodenbour, head coach of UCI Women’s basketball at the time and the one who would be responsible for recruiting Tsurumoto to Irvine.

As a player, Tsurumoto has matured the most in regards to the relaxed mindset that she takes with her into each game. In high school, the fate of her team seemed to always depend upon on her performance, which placed her under a lot of pressure and stress. With a team of players whom are just as capable as she is of scoring, Tsurumoto no longer needs to come into a game with the burden of carrying the team on her back.

“If there’s a lot of pressure on you to be the scorer, you feel more rushed, that you need to score.” Tsurumoto said. “That’s how I felt in high school a lot, but I feel like when you have more people to rely on, it’s like I can run this play, and she can score, or she can score here, and if I happen to get the ball back I can score here.”

As it turns out, Tsurumoto’s height did not prove to be a disadvantage within conference play, as many of the point guards in opposing schools are shorter than or equal to Tsurumoto’s height. Additionally, whatever she may lack in height she more than makes up for with her aggressive style of play. Whether she’s driving to the basket or playing man-to-man defense, Tsurumoto seems unafraid to throw herself out there to contest each and every possession.

While her height is a relative nonfactor, her size does cause her to get thrown around and hit the ground hard after collisions.

“When people foul me, they think I’m just flopping, but the fact is I don’t weigh that much, and so if someone hits me when I’m going full-blast I’m probably going to fall some weird direction, so that’s hard sometimes, but that’s what trainers are for.” laughs Tsurumoto.

No matter how many times she may fall after a hard foul or collision, Tsurumoto is always quick to get back on her feet and jump into the next possession.

“I try to push through because I know that the team does need me and there’s no time to sit on the bench and be hurt.”

For many of the seniors on the team, the end of this year’s season will most likely mark the last time that they play basketball competitively, and life without basketball has been a popular source of discussion among Tsurumoto and her friends.

“You know, we don’t really have an answer,” Tsurumoto said. “I feel like basketball will always be a pretty big part of my life, whether I coach after this, or keep playing, but I definitely see myself coaching later. I don’t ever really think it will completely go away.”

Upon graduating, Tsurumoto is tentatively set on becoming involved with Teach for America and to ultimately become a member of the Peace Corps. Although she has the talent to make it, Tsurumoto has not given much thought to turning pro as Teach for America currently ranks as a higher priority to her.

Regardless of what the future holds, Tsurumoto’s relentless drive and heart is sure to make her a welcome addition no matter where she may end up going.