PROVO People love great traditions.
And a family sports tradition is just one thing Alexis Kaufusi and Gabrielle Pinegar have in common. The two T-Birds have been best friends for years, inseparable, and it's not just because they play on the same Timpview basketball team. They started playing basketball together in junior high school and have been thick as thieves ever since.
Perhaps one reason is that their families have so much in common in the way of sports. In Provo you can't say the names Kaufusi and Pinegar without something clicking in people's heads. The Kaufusi boys played college football at BYU and Utah, and Alexis' father, Steve, also plied his trade in the NFL for a few years before going into coaching he's currently a defensive assistant with the Cougars. He liked basketball better but just didn't have a chance to play that sport because he was too short and his skills didn't match up with his height.
Alexis Kaufusi doesn't just get the sports tradition from her father's side, though, as her mother's brothers all played basketball, and her mother is an athlete in her own right with running, swimming and biking in her repertoire.
The Pinegars have been around for generations as "Grandpa Ed" loves to regale people with fascinating stories of his own basketball background, which includes BYU High, Brigham Young University and playing against the John Wooden-coached UCLA teams and some of the top talent around at the time. Gabrielle Pinegar's father also played basketball as did all of her three brothers, one of which, Matthew, is a redshirt freshman on the BYU team.
But though their athletic pasts are similar, and they are currently working as a unit to put together another winning Timpview basketball team, their futures show them taking very different paths, at least for the next four years. Kaufusi signed her letter of intent to head on to college and play basketball for BYU during the first week of October. But then, the 6-foot-1 post player hasn't had much of a chance to play during the last two years and really wants to play the game she loves at the next level.
"It's really nice to be back. I've missed it a lot," she said about playing basketball for her high school team, something she wasn't able to do at all last year and for half a season the year before.
After a stellar freshman season, which was good enough to impress plenty of college scouts, especially those looking for a natural rebounder, she suffered the first of her crucial injuries by breaking her foot in practice in a fluke accident just prior to the start of her sophomore year.
"Sometimes I think I'm invincible. Now I know I'm not," said Kaufusi, who added, "Now I'm a lot more careful. I work on my core and my flexibility."
She missed the first half of her sophomore year with that injury, and while playing the rest of the year with an impressive season for some, she felt she hadn't quite returned to her old self by the end of the year and was really excited to play some more ball after the season ended. But then came the crucial accident during the summer prior to her freshman year as she played a pick-up game with friends after finishing a soccer match. She set out to prove she could dunk the ball, and at least she showed off that talent before she tore the ACL that kept her out the entire year.
"I hung on the rim and swung off and landed wrong," she said of the injury that kept her from playing all year on Timpview's state championship team.
She did get to participate in the fun during the last few seconds of the final game, but it just wasn't the same thing. And she really wants to be able to say she did more than hit a free throw and toss up an airball on a championship run, giving her additional reasons to get her team back to that level. Her injuries don't stop there as a pair of concussions and a couple of broken noses also dot her injury horizon. And the one broken nose came as a result of that torn ACL.
"The day after my knee surgery, I fell and hit my nose on the toilet," Kaufusi joked, as she was on medication but figured she knew how to use crutches and walked to the bathroom alone when she really needed help.
She also admits to crying for three weeks after her surgery but says that during the experience she discovered her life's ambition, to become an orthopedic surgeon specializing in knees, noting that she'll know the pain her patients are in and wants to use that knowledge to help them. She and Pinegar are both taking a med tech class where they're learning how to do different things in the medical field. Pinegar's also interested in pursuing something along those lines, as she leans toward nursing. But for now they're busy trying to defend their title, and Kaufusi is finally feeling like she's all the way back from that ACL injury.
"When we went down to Phoenix (in mid-December) to the Tournament of Champions, I started feeling like, 'yeah, I can do this now. I remember.' The hardest part to get back is the killer instinct to go after the ball. But in Phoenix it threw me back into that really aggressive in-your-face kind of play."
But even though her healed knee feels stronger than the good one, she doesn't want to do any more training with her triathlete mother.
"I went biking with her once, and I couldn't walk for two days. I'll stick to my short sprints," said Kaufusi.
Her mother, Michelle Kaufusi, was a cheerleader in high school but also loved to run, qualifying for the Boston Marathon at one time. But now she's busy entering triathlons, and her daughter believes, training for the Iron Man. She'll watch her mother in amazement as she tries to improve on the feeling of defeating the dynasty Mountain View team in the quarterfinals of the playoffs during her freshman year by taking her team to the title.
"We're starting to come together as a team and pick up where last year's team left off," she said.
And much of that job falls to "best buddy" Pinegar as she takes on the outside portion of the inside-out Timpview tandem. Pinegar says she was always a bit of a tomboy as she played Junior Jazz for a team her dad coached and hung out with Matthew. And she loves playing that family sport but has recently informed the rest of them that she just doesn't have plans to move on and play in college.
"My dad is fine with it, but my brother thinks I should play," she said, noting that she's not sure if Grandpa Ed knows quite yet, but she's sure after it sinks in he'll be OK with her decision as well.
"I want to be a nurse, so I'm going to focus on school," she said.
It was during a Junior Jazz game that she discovered a knack for the 3-point shot that's made her famous in the world of Utah high school hoops. But though she loves to drain the three, she's learned to do plenty of other things in her basketball universe as well.
"It's just all fun. I love scoring points, stealing the ball, getting a sweet pass. It's all exciting," said Pinegar, who can also rebound when she wants to despite being only 5-foot-6.
She'll get a really intense look on her face, and other teams had better watch out.
"If I feel frustrated, I feel like I really need to get the ball," she said, and she usually does with a sudden burst of insane intensity.
But though she's ready to give it all up at the end of the year, she wants to feel one more time the exhilaration of taking home a state trophy."It was so much fun. It was the best experience ever, I think."