by HOWIE STALWICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he University of Tennessee women's basketball team draws nearly 15,000 fans per home game. We repeat: The University of Tennessee women's basketball team draws nearly 15,000 fans per home game.
Perspective, anyone? Last season, the Washington State women drew about 7,000 at home -- for the season. Even WSU's nationally ranked men's team averaged about half as many fans (7,466) as the Tennessee women. And those constant sellouts at Gonzaga men's games only fill up a 6,000-seat arena.
Welcome to the wonderful new world of former University High School star Angie Bjorklund, a rare freshman starter at top-ranked and defending national champion Tennessee.
Bjorklund's world will become even stranger, however pleasantly, when older sister Jami and the Gonzaga Bulldogs visit Tennessee on Sunday afternoon.
The Bjorklund sisters played together for years, but now they'll be playing against one another -- and probably guarding one another -- in a game for the first time in their lives.
You think that's tough on the sisters? What about the parents? Jim and Kris Bjorklund's loyalties are so literally divided, they'll be wearing sewn-together T-shirts with "TENNZAGA" on the front -- one side Tennessee orange, one side Gonzaga blue.
"We'll sit in the Tennessee section," Jim says, "because I'm sure they'll be better seats than Gonzaga seats."
"But when Tennessee comes here next year," Kris promises, "we'll sit behind the Gonzaga bench."
The odds are longer than the Oregon coast on one family having their only two children wind up starting on top-notch women's basketball teams at the NCAA Division I level. Everyone seems to agree it couldn't happen to better, more deserving people.
"They're so driven and motivated," University High coach Mark Stinson says. "I had them in class, and if they miss a point, they're like, 'Oh my gosh, I've gotta fix that.'
"They're great kids, great athletes, great basketball players and great students. They're just wonderful, wonderful kids. It's like, 'Are they for real?'"
That question certainly applies to Angie on the basketball court. A three-time All-American (first team as a senior) and state player of the year, Angie averaged 25.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.0 blocked shots per game last season. Stinson says Angie "without a doubt" is the best player in Washington girls basketball history.
"Angie's just a gym rat," says Jim, a former U-High hoops standout. "In junior high or high school, any time someone had a game and called her, she'd be there -- guys, girls, whatever. She definitely loves the game."
Jami, a junior guard at Gonzaga, was an outstanding high school player in her own right. At 5-foot-11, she's an inch shorter than her sister, but Jami held the U-High career scoring record before li'l sis broke the Greater Spokane League career scoring mark set by current NBA player Adam Morrison. Jami started part-time as a freshman at GU, then started full-time last season on Gonzaga's first NCAA tournament team.
"Jami was in fourth or fifth grade," Jim recalls, "playing her first year (of select youth basketball), and she came up to me and said, 'Dad, I want to get better. I want to be a good basketball player.'
"I said, 'Well, you've got to work hard.' She said she had all these things after school that she had to do, so I said, 'If you get me up at 5:30 in the morning, we'll go to the club and shoot around.'
"That's what we did. She's definitely self-motivated and self-driven."
Angie ranks fourth on the 7-0 Lady Volunteers with 10.1 points per game, and she's fifth in rebounding at 4.0. Jami ranks fourth on the 6-3 Bulldogs with 8.6 points per game, and she's second in rebounding at 6.0.
Mighty Tennessee will be heavily favored against the unranked Bulldogs. Jim and Kris Bjorklund figure it's a win-win situation for them, even though it'll be a win-lose proposition for their daughters.
"I'm going to be clapping all the time," Kris says.
"I just hope it's a good game," Jim says. "I hope both teams play well, and I hope both girls play well."'
Gonzaga faces Tennessee in women's basketball on Sunday, Dec. 16, at noon (Pacific).