Sophomore guard Lori Bjork stands out on court, in school

 

 

By Dave Fultz

“LO-RI’s WINN-ING!” Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap. “LO-RI’s WINN-ING!” Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap. The midseason rout of the University of Michigan has the home crowd chanting for their sophomore guard as the Illini faithful roar from their seats adjacent to the pep band.

Lori Bjork looks up at the scoreboard and sees the fans were right. The defensive effort of the Illini had only allowed 13 points to the Wolverines, and Bjork had scored 17 points of her own in the first half. The guard had received some help from the Illini’s stifling defense, but it was true, she was outscoring the Wolverines.

Bjork ended the game with 25 points on 6-of-9 3-point shooting. After the team’s impressive first half, Bjork only had to play 11 minutes in the second half after playing all but two in the first. She was in a self-described “groove” that didn’t end until she was taken out of the game in the second half.

“Shooters talk about having the green light and I obviously have that,” Bjork said after the game. “But tonight it was like I was on main street and they were green all the way down.”

She gives a little smile when talking about it after the game, but all the guard did to acknowledge the impressive feat at the time was give a little nod to the fans and then quickly refocused her attention on the task at hand. This humility, while it may seem small, is indicative of the type of person and player Bjork is.

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    After the nod she gives a hand to the media by answering questions about the chant and having a little laugh, Bjork quickly refocuses the attention off of herself and back to what is more important to her. The Illini won and played well as a team.

    “Everything starts on the defensive end,” Bjork said. “When we are playing with that much intensity on the defensive side of the ball, it takes a lot of pressure off of our offense and allows us to play more freely.”

    In just two seasons, Bjork has established herself as the co-captain of the Illini and is one of the most accomplished and acknowledged student-athletes at the University of Illinois. As part of a six-member freshman class a year ago, she has helped to build a solid foundation on which the Illini hope to build. In addition to her athletic achievements, Bjork has a near-perfect GPA.

    All in the Family

    The Johnston, Iowa native has always had the support of her very intelligent, athletic family, whether her efforts were in academics or basketball. Lori is the daughter of Alan and Louila Bjork and has twin siblings, Kevin and Janna, who are three years older.

    Her mother and sister are both teachers, and her father and brother both played basketball during their days as student-athletes. Alan played at Cornell College while Kevin played in high school and played golf at Beloit College.

    “My brother was a really good basketball player in high school,” Bjork said. “I always (hung out) with him and went to shoot with him whenever he went.”

    Bjork smiles and recalls memories of her driveway battles with her brother.

    “Our hoop was out on the driveway and my mom would always have to set the timer so that my brother would get 30 minutes to shoot and then it would be my turn to shoot for 30 minutes.”

    Even during this story, her competitive streak got the best of her.

    “He probably still thinks he’s got me beat in terms of shooting,” Bjork said, “but if we go long enough I’m going to win.”

    Illinois’ Sharpshooter

    After choosing Illinois among many potential schools that were recruiting her, including Big Ten rival Iowa, Bjork got to work as a freshman and quickly played her way into the starting line-up.

    “My first impression of Lori was that she is a throwback type of player,” head coach Theresa Grentz said. “I mean that in the highest compliment because when I think of some of the players that I’ve had the pleasure of associating with and how much fun they were to coach, I know that Lori is one of those players.”

    Teammate and co-captain Danyel Crutcher, a junior forward, only remembers one thing about the first time she saw Bjork at practice.

    “The first thing I thought when I saw her was, boy, that girl can shoot,” Crutcher said. “She was roaming around in pickup just hitting jumpers all day. She’s just a pure shooter.”

    Bjork was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team after she led all freshmen in the conference in three-point field goals made per game (1.71) and free-throw percentage (81.0) and ranked second in scoring (10.1 points per game).

    This season, Bjork was named a second team All-Big Ten selection as she led the Illini in scoring (14.3 points per game), minutes played per game (35.1), and 3-point field goal percentage (38.5). She led the Big Ten in 3-point field goals made per game (2.7) and broke the Illini’s single season record for 3-pointers made in a season when she bested Krista Reinking’s total of 74 by draining 84 from behind the arc this season. The sophomore is also on pace to shatter the Illinois all-time career three-point record of 194 made threes as she is already third on the career list with 137 made in just two seasons.

    Academic All-Star

    With such hard work and success on the basketball court, it would be easy for someone to overlook the enormous amount of success that Bjork has also enjoyed as a student. She was the valedictorian of her high school graduating class, and despite her hectic playing and practicing schedule, has a near-perfect GPA in her two years at Illinois.

    “Lori works so hard all the time,” Grentz said. “Regardless of what she is doing – whether she is studying or playing basketball or whatever she is doing – she does it full speed. Very few people do that.”

    Bjork’s efforts were recognized this year as she was named to the ESPN the Magazine Academic All-America third team. Bjork was one of 15 players recognized, and joined Tennessee’s Candace Parker as the only sophomores honored.

    “The awards and things don’t even faze her,” Grentz said. “They aren’t why she does what she does. That is what makes her special.”

    The first Illini player to earn the honor since 1982, Bjork has a 3.94 GPA in political science and is set to graduate in three years before beginning a graduate program according to the team’s academic counselor, Jason Holtman.

    Being able to excel in both areas is something that Bjork values.

    “At this point, I definitely identify myself as an athlete,” Bjork said. “I still think of myself as a basketball player. At the same time, I don’t think that either is something that is mutually exclusive. When you do both, they each enhance the other in your life.”

    Grentz likes the attitude of her co-captain and believes the sky is the limit for the hard-working sophomore.

    “Without a doubt she has the respect of this team and she is a leader,” Grentz said. “Her teammates thoroughly enjoy her and feel confident in her ability on the court, as does her head coach. In her future? Whatever Lori wants to do, she can do anything that she wants to do.”