Holesinska letting her game do the talking
CHAMPAIGN — Petra Holesinska speaks four languages and had a 3.82 grade-point average in her first semester at Illinois. A model student-athlete.
But the freshman from the Czech Republic had a difficult time getting admitted because of her English score.
“Taking a test in another language is really hard,” Illinois coach Matt Bollant said.
“We had to fight to get her in. I said, ‘This is a kid who is going to stay up all night to get her assignment done. She’s going to do whatever she has to do.’ ”
Ultimately, the school said “Yes.” Bollant is thrilled about it.
On Monday, Holesinska earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.
Against Rutgers on Saturday, the 5-foot-9 guard scored a career-high 21 points, hitting 5 of 6 three-pointers.
It was the kind of performance Bollant hoped for when he began recruiting Holesinska. How did she end up at Illinois? It started with Bollant’s trip to the Czech Republic.
“I went with the intent of recruiting international players,” Bollant said.
He was scouting current Illini Jaelyne Kirkpatrick, who is from Canada, when he saw Holesinska.
“That started the recruiting process,” Bollant said. “We have websites that we subscribe to and saw how highly rated she was as one of the top international kids.”
As soon as it was permitted by NCAA rules, Bollant called Holesinska and began to build a relationship.
Now a part of a productive freshman class, Holesinska is fitting in well with her teammates.
“She’s just a likable kid,” Bollant said. “Everybody that meets Petra likes Petra.”
Holesinska has had to adjust to being in a new country. But it isn’t her first time away from home. She previously attended a boarding school.
In the Czech Republic, Holesinska played in a pro league with former Illini star Jenna Smith.
Holesinska wasn’t paid by her team, so that allows her to be eligible now.
“It’s great experience,” Bollant said. “She’s played against good competition since she’s been young. That’s probably helped her transition a lot here.”
Bollant wants Holesinska to play every game like she played against Rutgers.
“I think she can be special with her ability to score,” Bollant said. “I thought offensively she was going to be able to help us a bunch. I just didn’t know defensively where she would be at. But she’s so smart. She’s one of the quickest to pick up anything we do.”
Holesinska needs to get stronger.
Weightlifting isn’t part of the routine for women’s basketball players in the Czech Republic.
“It’s a different mindset,” Bollant said.
Holesinska is averaging 9.9 points a game this season. She has added seven points per game in the Big Ten, averaging 17.
Coming off a 37-point home win against Rutgers, Holesinska and the Illini travel to Iowa for a 7 p.m. game tonight against the Hawkeyes.
“We’re hoping to continue to move forward and get better,” Bollant said. “With a young team we want to keep seeing progress.”
Thanks in part to Holesinska, the Illini (7-9) are 2-1 in the Big Ten. That matches the conference win total from last season.
“I just feel like we came back after the break and reset,” Bollant said. “One of the things we talked about is you have to believe in yourself individually and you’ve got to believe in this team. The Iowa game (a home win in the Big Ten opener) helped us to do that.”