After the coronavirus pandemic sent her and many other University of Colorado students home in the spring, Sila Finau had to get a little creative with workouts.
“There was this hill right by my house and I would run up and down it, just like continuously some days, just to get a workout in, just to stay in shape,” said Finau, who grew up in Dublin, Calif. “Sometimes I would get my siblings or my mom to come and run it with me.”
The offseason also included home workouts, dribbling drills and finding any available court to put up shots or work on “live drills.”
Now a junior on the CU women’s basketball team, Finau is motivated to make this next season her best with the Buffaloes. So far, the 5-foot-9 guard has had her best offseason.
“She’s just a different player right now, even mentally different,” CU head coach JR Payne said.
The key to Finau’s offseason wasn’t running hills or putting up shots, though. It was breaking down a mental barrier.
“I was having trouble with my mental health, so I just wasn’t getting to that point where I was good enough to start or just come off the bench and make an impact and stay off the bench,” she said.
Buffs assistant coach Shandrika Lee, who works with the guards, focused on Finau’s mental health this offseason.
“The two of them worked a lot on communication and really kind of pulling back the layers of, ‘What do you want to get out of this experience?’” Payne said. “(Lee) really challenged her from a communication standpoint.”
Finau showed some promise as a freshman in 2018-19, starting 13 games in place of injured senior Kennedy Leonard. That year, she averaged 3.0 points and 1.3 assists.
With Leonard gone last year, Finau battled with dynamic freshman Jaylyn Sherrod for the starting point guard job. Finau started seven games early and increased her scoring (3.4) and assist (1.5) averages, but found herself second on the depth chart most of the year.
“I did get down, but at the same time, you have to realize it’s not something that you can control,” she said. “You can only control your effort. (Sherrod) won that, but this year, I think things will be a little different – hopefully.”
While Sherrod proved to be one of the best young players in the Pac-12 last year, Finau feels better prepared to compete for a starting role – either at point guard or shooting guard – and her communication with Lee is a big reason for her newfound confidence.
“She really did help me a lot,” Finau said. “It was just really helpful. I encourage others (who are struggling) to do the same. I’m the type that doesn’t speak about much, just holds it in, and I think that’s what was hindering me from my best performance. Talking really did help and relieved a lot of stress and it just cleared my head a little bit.”
Like many college students, Finau has also become more mature during her time at CU and finds herself embracing a leadership role on a team that has six newcomers. She’s more vocal and has eliminated traits that were holding her back.
“Being an upper classroom, being a leader for these newcomers, you really realize you have to set a good example for them,” Finau said. “You have to do that in order for them to become what I am now and lead for future generations.”
Physically, Finau said she’s stronger and faster than last year, “Which I think is great for me, because I don’t even feel like I’m in shape yet.”
Payne has enjoyed seeing the growth in Finau.
“She’s in great shape and she’s got a lot of bounce to her right now,” Payne said. “She just carries herself with the confidence of an upperclassman and you always want that for your upperclassmen, but it doesn’t always translate that way.
“When you combine the mental work that she and coach Shan put in together during quarantine and then you add that to the physical work she put in once she got here, she just looks like a veteran upperclassmen that feels good and looks good and is talking a lot more than she ever has, which is great. She just looks good.”
She feels good, too.
Finau is excited about the young talent on the team, excited to compete with Sherrod and others for playing time and excited to put all of her hard work on display when the season begins in late November. Although the coronavirus pandemic makes everything this year unpredictable, the college basketball season is slated to start Nov. 25.
“I hope we have a season,” Finau said. “I really do, just for that reason – just so I can show that I’m more than a role player.
“I’m completely fine with whatever they throw at me, but I’ve just been working, trying to get better.”