Lori Bjork is on pace to break the Illinois career three-point record this season.
Aug. 1, 2007
The Big Ten Network is set to launch on Aug. 30 providing fans of its 11 schools conference programming 24 hours a day/seven days per week. In addition to expanding coverage of football and basketball, Illini fans will get a chance to see some of the stars of Olympic sports that are making headlines. This is the fourth in a series of profiles on athletes you have likely read about, but perhaps never had a chance to see their talents.
Lori Bjork is old school. In an age where the self-help aisle is full of all sorts of advice from so-called experts, Bjork believes in one main ingredient to be successful -- old-fashioned get-your-fingernails-dirty hard work.
If Bjork even comes close to duplicating her school-record 84 three-pointers from last season, she'll top the Illinois career record of 194 in just three seasons. She earned second-team All-Big Ten in 2007 and holds a 3.94 grade-point average in political science. If she ran for office she would be the candidate for the blue-collar worker.
Bjork can't remember when she started playing basketball. Her father, Alan, played ball at Cornell College and her brother, Kevin, also took up the game. "We had a hoop in our basement and I've had a basketball in my hand for as long as I can remember," Bjork said.
Besides trying to emulate her older brother, Bjork says she enjoys playing basketball because "you can control how good you become. It's one of those few sports where you can make yourself better all by yourself. Wherever you can find a hoop and a ball, you can work on your game."
Bjork started playing organized basketball in fourth grade when she convinced her father to allow her to play on the boys' team. Unlike many of the blue chip players these days, she didn't opt for the AAU travel ball route until later in her career. "I never stayed in a hotel for a basketball tournament until I was in high school," Bjork said.
Beside basketball, Bjork played softball, and in the state of Iowa, the school softball season comes in the summer. But once she entered high school, she felt it was time to devote her athletic energy to basketball. Bjork understood what it took to win and took pride in being the underdog. "Most of the coaches thought we would get killed by 30 points because they thought all we had in Iowa were farms," she said. "It was fun to prove them wrong."
Bjork was a four-year starter at Johnston High School where, even though she was a first team all-state selection, Blue Star Report only ranked her as the 130th best prospect nationally and she wasn't heavily recruited by the big schools. What she took from high school is more important -- friends she made from a range of years. "Because I played varsity all four years, I got to play with players three years older than me and three years younger. I follow friends of mine who are still playing."
In coming to Illinois, she had a gold mine - the Ubben Basketball Complex - where she could work on her game whenever she wanted to. "It's a huge benefit because you don't have any excuses," Bjork said. "You can't say that another team is practicing in there because it's our gym. It's up to you to get in there and work. For me, I can come into Ubben, turn on the music and it becomes my basketball sanctuary."
They say it's not that difficult to work hard on something you love and there's no mistaking Bjork's love of the game. "I'm a basketball junkie," she said. "My teammates joke that I have a basketball encyclopedia. They come to me if they have questions about where someone is playing or coaching."
Bjork was a point guard in high school, but although she has played that position at Illinois, she has been best known for her three-point shooting. She led all Big Ten freshmen with 53 treys in 2006, then exploded for 84 in '07, which broke the Illini single-season record held by Krista Reinking for 11 seasons. She had a streak of 35 straight games with a three and a nation's-best 27 straight contests with multiple treys. Her 137 career three-pointers are 17 more than she had in four years of high school ball.
"I didn't really develop that part of my game until I came to Illinois," she said. "It's neat to have the streak, but there is a lot of luck involved. It just means that the defenders kept losing me."
Because of her three-point shooting, there has been talk about moving Bjork to the wing. She says she'll play wherever it benefits the team, but indicates, "I'll always be a point guard at heart. Wherever I am on the floor my role is to get other players involved and help us score."
Regular visitors at Ubben aren't surprised to look over and see Bjork working on shooting, ball handling or even weight training and doing it at the same intensity as a game. That's by design. "The number one thing for me is to lead by example. You never know when someone might be walking through the door. You want to motivate them by always working hard."
Make no mistake about it, though; Bjork's individual work is done to benefit the team. A fourth-place Big Ten finish last season has had people talking of getting back to the NCAA Tournament, something Illinois hasn't done since 2003. First-year coach Jolette Law has talked about championships since she set foot on campus in May.
"It's exciting for us to have an opportunity to leave a legacy in helping get this program back to the tournament," Bjork said.
There's no question that Law has peaked the interest of fans in women's basketball and that there will be added energy in Assembly Hall this season. It's the hard work of individuals like Bjork working toward a team goal that will make the difference in their ultimate success.