Jeff Jacobs: Rebecca Lobo enjoying Northwest Catholic run to championship game: ‘I’m just Maeve’s mom.’

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With 2.1 seconds remaining and the score tied, Elizabeth Kitley took an inbounds pass, turned and calmly swished a long two-pointer to beat North Carolina at the buzzer on Feb. 23.

As her Virginia Tech teammates mobbed the 6-foot-6 senior, the television camera turned to her dad in the stands. Ralph Kitley is 6-10. He played at Wake Forest. It’s hard to miss him.

“He’s just going nuts,” Rebecca Lobo said.

Ralph clasped hands with one fan. He threw his arms in the air. The camera panned to the floor and back to Ralph. He’s still yelling. He’s punching the air.

“It’s my favorite moment of the college season,” Lobo said. “It’s high school, but I’m now in a place where I can sort of relate. For them it’s their world. I think any parent can relate to that feeling.”

Welcome to the world of Rebecca Lobo, ESPN analyst and mom fan.

Maeve Rushin, the willowy daughter of a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and one of the great sports writers of this generation, will play for Northwest Catholic in the CIAC Class S championship this weekend against Kolbe Cathedral at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Mom won a national championship with UConn and a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic team. Mom never won a Massachusetts state championship with Southwick.

A 6-5 budding scribe, Steve played forward for Bloomington Kennedy which made a run in the 1984 Minnesota high school tournament. Kennedy also lost in the state semifinals.

Mom and dad did not play for a state championship.

“No, they did not,” Maeve said.

The 6-1 junior laughs. 

“It’s great to be able to accomplish that as a team,” she said. “I’m so happy for our seniors.”

There was a time when Rebecca Lobo was the daughter to every mom in a UConn crazy state. She’s the mom now. She’s the fan.

“I love it and at the same time my stomach is in a knot,” Lobo said. “Sometimes it’s in a knot the entire day. It’s unlike anything else. It certainly was easier for me as a player. It’s certainly easier for me when I’m coaching. At least you have some control.

“It’s great, but it puts you through an emotional wringer. I think every parent watching their child play feels the same thing.”

Lobo remembers when she had her oldest Siobhan in a Baby Bjorn at the grocery store. A well-meaning person came up and said, “Are you going to play basketball like your mommy?”

Now Siobhan was only a few months old and obviously didn’t understand.

“That was probably the point that it hit me I needed to do what I could to shelter my kids from unfair expectations.”

Maeve started playing basketball in the second grade in Granby. Volleyball, softball, she still plays three sports.

“Basketball, I think, is her favorite,” Lobo said. “The one she plays in the summertime in AAU. I think her best days are still ahead of her. She’s a solid player, for sure. She loves it and if she continues to put the time into it, I’m interested in what she could become. I think she’s just sort of scratching the surface.”

Although she hit a three to open a third-quarter burst in the semifinal victory over Somers, Maeve didn’t shoot especially well Monday night. She did work her way out of foul trouble to grab double-digit rebounds and block a ton of shots. She has a very good handle for her height and, true to her mother’s basketball disposition, nice passing instincts. She has turned in multiple double-doubles this season.

Maeve said she wants to play in college. To my eye at this point, she projects as a nice Division III player. And if that sounds like any sort of disappointment, you’re nuts. Seven percent of high school athletes even play sports in college. You know how many players in history have been better than Rebecca Lobo? The list is short.

“I don’t really know if my kids feel any of that outside expectation,” Lobo said. “I’ve sensed it over the years — like listening to adults cheer slightly too loudly because my 12-year-old got her shot blocked — but I don’t know if my kids have.

“We are protective and do what we can to limit that burden. We never post about their activities on our public social media. While we are extremely proud of them and try to make sure they know that, we never wanted them to have an extra target. It’s not their fault they have to claim us as their parents.”

Humor is sacred in the Rushin-Lobo house.

“The thing I think that makes us most proud is when one of them say something witty,” Lobo said. “We’re like, ‘Yes! We’ve done our job.’”

On Wednesday at the CIAC championship luncheon, Maeve told me this was her first interview. She was a little nervous. My first interview as a sports columnist was with Lobo in 1995 when the USA team visited Storrs. I was a lot nervous.

So mom and dad should be happy with this little interchange:

“I’ve been told your older sister is the social butterfly.”

“Yes, she is,” Maeve answered. “I really don’t know what happened to me.”

Siobhan played basketball through her freshman year at Northwest Catholic. At 6-3, she was a Class S All-State volleyball player and played tennis all the way through her senior year. A freshman at Fordham, she’s pursuing a degree in Communication and Culture.

Thomas, who turned 14 in the fall, is one of the three freshmen to make the Northwest Catholic varsity headed to the Division I finals. Although he plays sparingly, he does play on the junior varsity.

Rose is a seventh grader. She plays soccer and basketball. She’s in the school play.

“They’re all doing their own thing,” Lobo said. “They’re all following their own little path.”

While Lobo says Siobhan is the most outgoing, Maeve and Thomas are probably the most competitive. All four are great kids.

“They are the nicest family,” coach Alison Connors said. “The most down to earth.

“Rebecca is a huge supporter, but for the most part it’s, ‘I’m just Maeve’s mom.’ She is a great resource whenever we need anything.  The girls all look up to her. I look up to her. Any advice she has, I welcome it. Who wouldn’t welcome it?”

Lobo coached her kids through middle school and helped with AAU. She said she’ll keep going with Thomas’ AAU team. It’s her mission to teach team play. Even with individual trainers, she says, kids improve their shooting and dribbling, but not their passing and catching.

“My mom gives me really helpful advice,” Maeve said. “She knows when to step in and help me and when to step back and do it on my own.”

“She loves talking about the WNBA and college,” Lobo said. “She watches both a lot. She follows on social media. But our relationship is much, much more mother-daughter. When it comes to her game, she doesn’t really talk basketball with me. She doesn’t want to watch film with me. It’s mostly, ‘Great game. Way to get on the boards.’”

The emergence of freshmen Abby Casper and Maeve Staunton has enhanced the team. Northwest Catholic’s last two games on the Run to the Sun may have been its best.

“I know it definitely means a lot to mom that we made it here,” Maeve said. “She knows how much it means to me and how much I wanted to do this. She has been through it all and knows how it feels.”

Although Lobo has attended most games this season, she said she is at her best spectator self when she’s on the road with ESPN, watching on stream in a hotel room and can yell and cheer without worrying about it. She said Steve has the same parent emotions.

“He’s probably worse than me,” Lobo said. “He doesn’t say a word. He just sits there. We’re better off if there’s a buffer between us. We’re not good watching games right next to each other.”

“My parents were great,” Lobo said. “They were super supportive. I never really heard them in the stands, except when I was taking free throws. My dad would yell ‘On your toes.’ He still does that when Maeve’s at the line, which sort of warms my heart."

Near the end of Rebecca’s career with the Sun, Steve would sit with Dennis and the late RuthAnn. He said RuthAnn, one of the great mom fans in UConn history, would react demonstratively either way even on a meaningless jump shot in the fourth quarter.

Maeve rattled a shot in and out recently. Lobo let out a sigh.

“You are so your mother right now,” Steve said.

“It’s completely DNA,” Lobo said. “Nothing I can do about the genes.”

Except bring them this weekend at Mohegan Sun.; @jeffjacobs123