I’m tall. It’s a fact. And I have absolutely no reservations about my height. I love being 6’1” (1.86cm) and wouldn’t want it any other way. Growing up I never really had an issue with my size and quickly learned to accept that I was taller than everyone else – even the boys. By the time I reached high school some of my male counter parts had finally caught up and it was nice change having to look up during conversations.
However, my life viewing the top of everyone’s heads ended when I entered the competitive world of NCAA and international basketball. I no longer was the tallest player on the court - but rather an undersized forward matching up with girls 6’3” and above night in and night out. Not only did these players tower over me in stature, but most outweighed me by a minimum of 30 pounds. Every minute I played in the post was a battle both mentally and physically. Being tall had its advantages, but I was no longer the one reaping the benefits.
Realizing from then on I was likely going to be one of smaller players at my position, I decided to improve parts of my game that bigger girls would have a tough time guarding. I worked hard on my cardio so I could tire out the larger players I was matched up with and made sure to run the break every time so I was the first down court. I increased my shooting range so when facing the basket, my opponent would have to move away from the key and more importantly, out of her comfort zone. I worked hard on my first step so I could blow by a player that wasn’t quick on her feet. I lifted weights hard to get stronger so I COULD battle inside, even if I was giving up 2 or 3 inches. And finally, I made sure that I was the hardest working player on the court when I was in the game. I dove for loose balls, crashed the boards every time a shot went up and made plays that didn’t appear on the stat sheet. For what I lacked in height, I made up with in effort.
That being said, during my first 2 years of professional basketball in Europe, I’ve found myself playing more 5 (center) than 4 (forward). In college I was a 4 – period. That was my position and I was good at it. However, after landing in Finland my coach wanted me to play the 5 rather than the 4. Always up for a challenge, I did just that. It was different, as I found myself playing almost 90% of the game with my back to the basket. The trend continued in Sweden where I was once again expected to play the 5. Gaining more and more confidence at this new position, I started to get comfortable and my stats reflected that. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find myself anchoring the middle again in Portugal. After Danielle (my American teammate who was sent home last month because of a stress fracture in her leg) left, I was our new center. After all my time spent down low, I now can say with confidence that I am comfortable with my back to the basket and have become a more versatile player because of it.
Like I said earlier, I love being tall. Aside from the fact that I have a heck of a time finding pants long enough – I think my height has only brought positives to my life. Off the basketball court I always find it interesting to see how people react to my size. If I had 10 cents for every time someone said to me “you’re tall” to me I’d be a millionaire. I’m tall? No way! I had no idea! Thanks for pointing that out – I should make a note of that! As sarcastic as I am, I’ve never hat the guts to respond “and you’re short.” One of these days… It amazes me how often I come across strangers who without introducing themselves or saying hello, just stare or say “how tall are you?” or “do you play basketball/volleyball?” Even better is when someone pretends to casually walk near me to measure if the top of their head is near my shoulders. Seriously? I don’t walk around asking short people if they are gymnasts or jockeys, so how is me being tall any different? I may sound like I’m being sensitive about my height - I’m really not, but some of the reactions I get are incredible.
I’m probably making it sound much worse than it is. It’s just annoying when encountering it on a daily basis. That being said, when home in Canada or the U.S. I’m still tall, but not so tall that I stand out like a sore thumb. I’m just a little larger than your average Canadian or American. It’s not impossible to find men taller than me and I definitely come across quite a few women who are around my size. It’s when you get to Europe that you start to feel like you’re on display. Scandinavian people in general are relatively tall. Not as tall as most North Americans, but definitely a bit above average. I got the odd look and typical questions here and there. But it wasn’t an issue. Yet when I got to Portugal, I realized I was a giant. I’m pretty sure that I’m taller than everyone in this country. Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit, but other than the American male basketball players and the odd Portuguese ones, I have yet to encounter a man over 6’1”. And I’m also pretty sure I’m the tallest female in Portugal - aside from some of the American players in the league. Here I’m huge and people stare unabashedly whenever I’m out of the house. At first I thought I had a growth on my face or was wearing offending colors, but quickly realized that I was unlike anything they had seen before – I was a 6’1” woman. Both men and women stare at me without embarrassment. When I stare back, they don’t look away. There is no shame in their curiosity and after a while it starts to get to me. I like attention – who doesn’t? But being constantly scrutinized each time I step out is weird. Portuguese people that don’t speak English tend to make hand motions and yell out “grande menina” (big girl) or “muito alta” (very tall) while others just point and talk rapidly to their friends. Umm…I can see and hear you. Hello!
I know it’s not just my height that makes me ‘fascinating’ here in Portugal. It’s probably the combination being tall and having light hair and light eyes. I’m different. The girls on my team constantly refer to me as being blonde – which I’m not. I’m definitely a brunette. However, the majority of Portuguese people have very dark hair and brown eyes. So someone like me, who has light brown hair and green eyes and Casey, with light brown hair and blue eyes, are somewhat of anomalies. I can’t tell you how many Portuguese men have walked up to me on the street just to compliment my eyes. It can be quite flattering.
Ahh…Portuguese men. Since we’re on the topic it’s probably worthwhile mentioning how different they are from Canadians/Americans. Portuguese men, actually European men for that matter do not lack confidence. Unlike at home, they are not the least bit intimated of a tall woman and often say exactly what is on their mind. There is no censor, often leading to uncomfortable and awkward situations. I don’t get offended anymore, but can’t believe the cahones some of these guys have! Whenever I’m walking around downtown I always seem to be hissed at. Apparently this is the Portuguese version of whistling. It’s very strange to have someone hiss at you. How do you not react? The best way is not to, because it’s exactly what they want. If you look in the direction of the sound, you’re often treated to blown kisses, howling or shouts in rapid Portuguese. Keeping your eyes in the direction of the hiss for more the 2 seconds is a huge mistake, as the men are encouraged and will continue to ogle you until you’re out of sight. I’ve even had some follow me, which can be very unnerving. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in and I make sure to be surrounded by people or duck into a café whenever this occurs. Now that Casey is here, we face the onslaught together and almost always end up laughing at the ridiculous remarks and gestures being made. Who doesn’t love a man yelling at you while slowly looking you up and down?
Basketball Update: Last weekend we won a cup game, defeating 2nd division team Lousada by 20. It’s weird how when sometimes playing a much weaker opponent you tend to play down to their level. This happened most of the first half, but we eventually corrected stupid mistakes and pulled away. Being careful with my sore achilles, Coach subbed me into the game with 10 minutes to play in the 1st half. After getting warm and slowly making plays on the court, I got comfortable. In 21 minutes of action I finished with 16 pts and 6rbs. I’ve been slowly working my way back into practice this past week and have found my feet are starting to feel a little bit better. I’m still being smart about how hard I go in certain drills, but I think they may improving. I’m still not without pain, but it’s not as bad as it was before. Last night I had my first practice where after 2 hours on the court I was able to walk without a limp. Hoo-ray for small victories! This weekend we play 2 games back to back. Saturday we play Povoa in Porto (Northern Portugal), while Sunday we play Esgueira in Lisbon (Southern Portugal). Needless to say, it will be a long road trip.
Wednesday night our men had a huge win over one of the most historic basketball clubs in Portugal – FC Porto. The 3-point victory was back and forth with the crowd going crazy in the last 2 minutes. It was an exciting game to watch. Afterwards, Casey, Jason and I went over to Lance’s apartment. There we met up with the 3 Americans from Porto. It was fun to chat about home and share our European basketball experiences. We watched the UNC-Duke basketball game on TV (yeah J!) while getting to know each other better. It reminded me of being back in college.
In other news, last night the Huskies played the Oregon State Beavers at Gil Coliseum. As a proud Husky, I made a bet with Casey on the game (Casey is a OSU alum.) The loser had to wear the winner’s school colors all day and buy coffee. With the year the Dawgs are having, I should of bet against them. Sure enough, the Beavers came out on top. Today I found myself wearing orange and black, with Casey ragging on me every 5 seconds. A bet is a bet and I would have done the same to her had my team pulled out the ‘W’. Burnt by the Beavs!
Sidenote: For those of you who don't know, I'm now blogging for the Vancouver Province Newspaper. The link to it can be found under my links section on the right hand side of this page or you can just click here to view it. Enjoy!