For the past four years, Jocelyn Willoughby has been announced with the Virginia starters for all 124 games of her career. Sunday, she will take to the court in John Paul Jones Arena for the final time on Senior Day.
“I’ve been thinking about this a lot as we’ve played now two teams going through their senior nights and just kind of wondering like what it’s going to be like for my day,” Willoughby said. “One of the things that I’m proudest of is my class. And granted, there’s been change and that’s been kind of a marker of our experience, but I think we’re the first class in I don’t know how many years of Virginia women’s basketball that we came in together and all of us stayed. And so just those bonds and relationships and the growth that we’ve had together I’m so appreciative of that.”
“Looking at the basketball in itself, we came in with certain goals and visions in mind and I don’t think that all of them haven’t been realized. Part of the reason why I chose Virginia was to be able to be an impact player, to help rebuild the program. There are kind of ups and downs in that and so I think to be a part of the process and just kind of be realistic like it’s not all going to be done within four years but I think we have made great progress as a program. And just to be part of the group that lays that foundation or continues to build on the foundation is something I’m proud of.”
On and off the court, Willoughby’s time at UVA has been filled with success and achievement. She will leave as a member of the top 10 in scoring and rebounding for the Cavaliers. She’s also achieved some of the University’s highest honors, living on The Lawn in 2018-19 and being appointed as a Meriwether Lewis Institute Fellow for the class of 2020. These experiences and countless more have pushed Willoughby to where she is today, but when asked what she would tell her first-year self to expect, she had a simple piece of advice.
“For me, what I’ve learned is sometimes it’s better to not have expectations,” said Willoughby. “You want to have a plan but at the same time, take things for what they’re worth. So, I don’t know that I would tell myself to expect, I think I would tell myself to take each opportunity as it comes and to not take it for granted or to waste it.
“I’d also tell myself to enjoy the things beyond just school and basketball. I think over the years I’ve been able to do that but I didn’t come in as a first-year going that way. I think you learn with experience, right, and so I’ve valued the different lessons and experiences I’ve had.”
More so than most, Willoughby can see the growth she’s accomplished over the last four years.
“I’ve journaled over the four years,” she said. “So I have a journal that I finished my first year, second year, third year and now in my fourth year, and I think the biggest thing I’m proud of is just to see the growth and maturity and the change in outlook and perspective of certain things where I’m like oh that was a huge deal then and right now I’m like ‘that could happen and I’d just laugh it off.'”
Looking ahead to her final game in JPJ, Willoughby noted she’s filled with thoughts and emotion.
“Honestly,” she began, “I just want to enjoy the last few games and to have fun, have a lot of energy and passion and excitement going into the games. I think Sunday I want to be able to have fun and go to Lisa [Jablonowski] and do our crazy chest bump or go to Nikki [Toussaint] and give her a high five and things like that.
“I’m trying to think to myself, ‘how am I going to react?’ because normally I don’t watch the starting lineup, and so I’m saying to myself ‘should I switch it up so I actually watch it and take it all in today, or not?’ I think it’s so easy when you’re going through the game day rituals to just focus on your ritual and not take everything that comes with it. So, just taking it all in and appreciating all that’s put into game days from the practices leading up, to the band, to the Star Spangled Banner, to the actual playing of the game; just take it all in because after this it’s done for this level, at least.”
While it may be time for Willoughby’s collegiate career to come to a close, she’s excited to pursue what’s next.
“I think the next most immediate step is to play professionally,” she said. “We’ll see how the WNBA plays out, I think there’s some hope for there but definitely overseas. And I think that’s one of the valuable things about having teammates who have that international background to hear how basketball is different over there, how the culture is different and I’m really excited to to travel and to explore before having to settle down and more of a traditional career. Beyond that I will come back and finish my master’s degree in Batten.”
Always one of the most gracious individuals you will meet, Willoughby made sure to express her gratitude in closing.
“I’m thankful to my parents and brother for their encouragement and support throughout this entire process,” she said. “For the phone calls and text messages, the six-hour drives to visit me or come to games and everything they’ve done to get me where I am.
“To teammates, fans and coaches – everyone who supported me throughout the years – I’m so thankful for the support. Even professors and the whole community. I also need to put in a word for our practice players, basically anything we do wouldn’t be possible without them. There’s so much behind the scenes and support staff and managers that aren’t given the proper amount of appreciation. You see the coaches and the players, but there’s so much to make this program and world go around. And so I am just really appreciative of everyone. Thank you.”