By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — What’s in a name?
Kaleena Jordan Lewis was born on Nov. 3, 1993. And even before she entered Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif., she had begun to make a name for herself on the basketball court.
But before the start of her freshman year she approached her mother, Sundy, with an idea. She wanted to hyphenate her last name to include her mother’s maiden name, Mosqueda.
Meet Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
“I just wanted to have … With my dad not really around anymore, I just wanted to be more connected to my mom,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I’m very close to the Mosquedas and I wanted to be a part of them with that last name.
“I told my mom, ‘I want to have your last name when I go to high school. I want to share that with you.’ She was like, ‘Good, that’s up to you.’ She was teary-eyed away from me, she admitted later. But right then she had to show how strong she was.”
Like mother like daughter.
The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s sophomore forward has had an All-American kind of season. She leads the Huskies in scoring (17.4) and the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (50.0). She enters the NCAA tournament with more rebounds, assists, and steals than she had her freshman year. She was named to the all-Big East first team earlier this month and was named a WBCA Region 1 nominee Tuesday. That makes her eligible for the 10-member WBCA All-America team.
UConn (29-4) is the top seed in the NCAA tournament Bridgeport Regional and will begin its bid for a record sixth straight Final Four appearance Saturday against Western Athletic Conference tournament champion Idaho at Gampel Pavilion.
“I am a lot like my mom, and I think that the older I’ve gotten the worse it’s become in being more like my mom,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “My mom is very nosy. She has to know everything. My mom loves to talk. My mom loves sports. She’s probably the most competitive person that I’ve met in my life, whether it’s shooting paper into a trash can or just playing softball. And she’s the most caring person ever. She’ll try to help anybody whenever she can, which is the reason that she got into
nursing in the first place. She wanted to help people. She went from working in the ER to the mother/baby unit and she loves every single one of them. It takes a strong person to work in that field and my mom is a strong person.
“The thing I take most from my mom is probably the competitiveness. I might not want to say that I want to win at every single thing but in my mind I’m always thinking, ‘I need to win this.’ ”
Sundy Ali (she’s married to Mosqueda-Lewis’ stepfather Khairi) was a standout softball player at Mater Dei and went on to play in college. Her daughter believed that adding her mother’s maiden name to her own would make the adjustment to high school easier.
“Going into high school I wanted to have the same name as my mom,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “That was actually how a lot of teachers at school recognized me, through my mom’s name. My mom had the same Spanish and math teachers I had. The guidance counselors were my mom’s teachers. I wanted to have that connection with her.
“And it was really important to me to do it because it allowed me in a way to share a family legacy at Mater Dei. She was a very good softball player there and the coach even asked me if I wanted to play. But with basketball there was no time for that.”
Mosqueda-Lewis finished her career at Mater Dei as the school’s all-time leader in points (2,744), rebounds (876), and 3-pointers made (337). As a senior, she led her team to a perfect season, its third straight CIF-SS Division 1AA title, and its second consecutive state crown.
She also won gold medals with the United States U-16 national team in 2009, and world championship gold medals with the U-17 team in 2010 and the U-19 team in 2011.
Standing behind her was her No. 1 fan.
“My mom doesn’t get mad often, it’s more like a disappointment,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “The main thing my mom stressed a lot was grades. My mom’s really big on getting good grades. She feels that if I’m not getting good grades I’m not doing things to my full potential. She always tells me, ‘The only reason that you got a basketball scholarship was so you could go to school for free.’
“She usually lets me come to her if I’ve had a bad game. She knows when I need a little time away, when I don’t really want to talk about it. Then she knows when it’s time to settle it and it’s time to talk about it.”
Her Mexican heritage is also important.
“Being a part of a Mexican family is incredible,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I’m lucky I have so many aunts, uncles, and cousins, and the camaraderie we have as a family. My uncles and cousins watch all the games together and the family is all so supportive. Just the fact that I have a family that tells me how proud they are of what I’ve done and proud of all the work that I’ve put in means a lot.
“I speak Spanish. It used to be a lot better when I was younger. It’s OK. I can get by. When we went to Mexico for the U-16 tournament in 2009 I was able to communicate. And my mom speaks it fluently as you might think. When she gets mad, it’s in Spanish.”
She probably does not need Spanish where she’s going the next month, which Mosqueda-Lewis hopes is here, Bridgeport, and New Orleans.
But she wants her mother there every step of the way as the Huskies pursue an eighth national championship.
“My mom is just one of the toughest ladies I know,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “She doesn’t push me to get things done. But then at the same time she knows when I need mom and that shoulder to lean on.”
What’s in a name? To Mosqueda-Lewis, it’s quite a lot.