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Leiloni Culley Hopes to Help Team to Title

By MIKE MOGUIN
GTR Sports Writer

OVERCOMING PRESSURE: Owasso’s Leiloni Culley attempts to shoot the basketball despite pressure from defenders in a game against Broken Arrow last season. 


Courtesy Owasso Public Schools


When LeBron James is playing, you can be sure Leiloni Culley is watching.

The 5-10 Owasso senior, who plays forward/guard for the Lady Rams, looks up to the man they call King James in the NBA and models her play after him.

 “I love LeBron,” she says. “He is more of a role model for the game of basketball. He is humble, he is good, he is aggressive; he knows how good he is, but I like how humble he is about sports.”

As far as Culley having a favorite NBA team, it’s all about wherever King James goes.

She now likes the Cleveland Cavaliers and was a fan of the Miami Heat when he was there. “I’m just a LeBron fan. Usually, wherever he goes, I support him,” she says.

“When I first started, I think I was honestly just doing it for fun,” says Culley, who started playing the hardwood at the age of six. “But, as I got older, I watched LeBron, and I just liked how explosive he was when he played. I like how aggressive he is and how he can play every position. If I put my mind to it, I feel like I can do that too. But, I can play any position on the court.

“If I’m playing down low, I like to size up with a player and if I’m playing guard, then I like to use the dribble and things like that,” she says.

Culley is also a fan of the performance of Skylar Diggins, who plays for the WNBA’s Dallas Wings (formerly the Tulsa Shock).

“She is really a good explosive player. I like how great of a leader she is too,” Culley says. “She’s a great person. I met her in person awhile back when I was younger and just started playing. She is cool. I like her a lot.” 

Culley, a four-year starter, is one of three seniors and four returning starters leading the Lady Rams in a quest to return to the Class 6A girls state championship final, two seasons after finishing runner-up.

When the season started, Culley and two other key players were out due to injuries, but have all since returned. Culley was dealt a concussion after colliding with a teammate during a November practice.

Owasso went 1-2 in its first three games. But since Culley returned for the Tournament of Champions at Oral Roberts over Christmas break, they have won seven straight (as of Jan. 6), including championship game wins in the TOC and the Skiatook Invitational, giving the team a 7-2 record and No. 6 ranking in Class 6A.

Through the tournament games, Culley is impressive with 3.2 rebounds, 0.5 assists and 0.5 steals per game, while shooting 38 percent from the field, 22 percent in 3s and 53 percent in free throws.  

The atmosphere of basketball in general is what Culley likes most about the game.
“I like the adrenaline that it gives you,” she says. “It’s fun and I like the bonds that you make, the traveling and everything that comes with it.”

Although it’s been two seasons, the loss in the 2016 final motivates the team to return.

“It doesn’t matter what talent you have on the team,” Culley says. “If you listen to the coach and focus on the little things like fundamentals, we can get as far as we want. We got motivation going. Even though we lost some people, we can still make it there.”

Being in leadership roles means a lot to the seniors, Culley says. They are wanting the younger players to experience the taste of playing and winning the championship.  

“I know there is a big chip on our shoulder right now, but I think we can do it,” she says. “We all want it really bad. We make sure the team knows that. The team does a good job of supporting us and we all come together.”

The key, Culley says, is focusing on the little things.

 “I think that’s what it takes. Just coming together as a team and giving it all you got, no matter what,” she says. “If we do the simple things right, we’ll get very far. We’re already practicing and working on those things. I think it’ll just be a matter of keeping it simple, playing basketball and having fun.”

Updated 02-01-2018

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