Friday, November 12, 2010
Know Your Role!
New season. New country. New team. Same expectations – sort of. Though my job description rarely differs from year to year, it’s adjusting to the role each new team gives me that can be toughest.
In high school, it was easy. I just played basketball – and I was good at it. Points, rebounds, steals, blocks, assists – you name it, I did it. I stuffed the stat sheet without any interest in what numbers filled what column. Each time I stepped on the court I was excited to be playing the game I love – not concerned about the expectations people had placed on me.
Once I entered university, I realized things were going to be different. Everyone was a former high school star, thus the majority of us were asked to wear different hats in order for the team to succeed. At Washington I wasn’t looked upon to score, rather do the dirty work - play tough defense, rebound, make hustle plays, run the floor and hit open shots. Though at times I felt my abilities and contributions were limited – I took my role in stride. If fulfilling these requirements would help us win basketball games and take us to the NCAA tournament, I was all for it. Sure it was an adjustment and I often felt outside my comfort zone (spending the majority of my time behind the 3-point line), but we advanced each year in the Pac-10 tournament and played post season 3 of my 4 years. I have no regrets about my on court contributions at UW, I just wish I had been given a little more freedom to show what type of player I really was (am).
After graduating from UW, I figured that was the end of my competitive basketball career. When in reality, it was the just the beginning. Unsure of what to do with my first summer of freedom, I ended up participating in Spokane Hoopfest for the first time. Those who know me well understand this is an event I hold very close to my heart. Playing on a team composed of extremely elite level players (and close friends) I would be taking on a role similar to the one at UDUB. With a potent combination of scorers (Lindsey Wilson - All-American at Iowa State, WNBA draft pick, European professional, Casey Nash - All Pac-10 at Oregon State, Pac-10 scoring champ, former European professional and Amy Taylor - GNAC player of the year, former European professional), I was more than happy to let the guard types take shots while I cleaned up the boards and patrolled the paint. This is a role I truly cherish and enjoy. I have no qualms about it either, as I feel my skills are being used effectively in the half court 3 on 3 event. I can honestly say Hoopfest is when I have the most fun playing basketball.
Playing in Hoopfest only re-lit my competitve fire. After the tournament I decided I wasn’t done. I was going to try and play pro. Connecting with an agent, I was ready to start my career overseas. Initially I thought I’d play a year to try it and then join the real world. Well, it’s been 4 years and I’m still bouncing a ball across Europe.
Each professional season I’ve not only been able to travel numerous countries, but I have also learned a lot about myself as a person and as a basketball player. I’ve finally been able to develop into the type of player I always knew I could be. I’m happy with my game and understand what I can and cannot do on the court.
With every new team that has employed me, I’ve been asked to take on a different role. First and foremost was to score and score a lot. At first, the idea seemed as foreign as my surroundings. After 4 years of scoring off of fast break layups, offensive put backs and corner jumpers, I’d forgotten how to take control of a game and put the ‘biscuit in the basket.’ Finland was an eye opener. My team had 3 import professionals (me and 2 North Americans) who were all in their first year and all expected to score bunches of points. Thankfully we played well together and the scoring machine I knew in high school gradually made a return. Rebounding, which has always been my forte, was never a problem - but regaining my confidence on the offensive side was an important part of my overseas development. Looking back, playing in Scandinavia (I signed in Sweden for 2 months of post season play after failing to reach the playoffs in Finland) was the perfect place to start – as it introduced me to what was to come.
In my second season I agreed to terms with one of the top teams in Portugal. Employing my American teammate as the main scoring focus, my role was to average a double-double and take pressure off of her. After she experienced a season ending injury, I was forced into the starring role. I relished the opportunity and was able to continuously improve my offensive skill set. A month later the team brought in Casey Nash (good friend and fellow Hoopfest teammate) to help share the scoring load. Once again I was lucky, as Casey and I shared great chemistry and complimented one another on the court.
However, the biggest role I’ve ever taken on was last year in Luxembourg. Though perhaps not the strongest league in Europe, it was there I was expected to do the most and experienced the most pressure. In Lux, you’re literally paid to produce results. As the only full-time professional on a team, a win or loss is pinned solely on your shoulders. If you’re not averaging 25+pts, 12+rbs a game and outshining or shutting down your opposing American counterpart, your job is on the line. There’s money in Luxembourg and they’re more than happy to swap you out next week if you aren’t providing more wins than losses. It’s an exceptional league and changes the way you think about the game. The reason I love basketball is because it’s a team sport, but in Lux you’re expected to do almost everything on your own. Thankfully, I was blessed once again to be put in a good situation that provided me with a strong supporting cast. We put together a great season, reaching both the league and cup finals. It was here I developed mentally as a player.
Which finally, brings me to my current season in Spain. This is by far the best team/league I’ve played on in my 4 years abroad. My team currently employs 6 full time professionals (2 North Americans, 3 Spaniards, 1 European). The basketball level is high and every game (thus far) has been competitive. Though I don’t believe I’ll ever play at a higher level than NCAA Div. I, Spain has brought back some of my passion that was beginning to wane. This season I’m in more of a supporting role. With so many scoring options, I’m expected to rebound, defend and score close to the basket. With our lack of height I have be a force underneath the basket, despite being eternally undersized. ☺ I’m happy with what is expected of me and feel I can put together a strong year. Though my numbers are much lower than the previous three (currently averaging 14.2 points 9.5 rebounds [4.8 offensive] per game while shooting 50% from the floor), I realize I’m in a much more competitive league with yet another role to fill. My goal is to finish the year averaging 15pts and 10rbs. And I feel I’m more than capable of doing so.
Important road game this weekend - looking for the 'dub' to make it 3 in a row!