This won’t be a particularly long post – I have other more far more lengthy, ‘useful’ and better-prepared posts sitting in my drafts – but I just wanted to take a half hour to sit down and record this moment while it’s still relatively fresh in my mind, this snapshot experience that I think I’ll take away as one of the absolute highlights of this year.
I’ve talked about basketball before, and I’m afraid for those of you who really could not care less, this is going to be another one of those posts. My experience of training with the varsity team here has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, requiring major commitment, insane amounts to learn, and a whole lot of courage and determination to keep at it. It’s quickly become one of the most central aspects of my life here in Ottawa, it’s a daily experience of drills, sprints, shoots and game plays to learn.
And that’s just been the practices. Because for all I’ve talked about basketball, and despite all the assumptions of friends and family back home, I haven’t actually morphed into a sporting superstar over night, making the starting five by week 2 of being in Ottawa. The standard is so much higher here than in the UK, the competition all the more intense; I quickly realised that having no game-time at all for the entire year was a quite feasible reality. And I was totally okay with that. I’ve come to feel such a part of the team that I genuinely want their success far above and beyond my own contribution; these girls work so hard, I want them to do as well as they can, even if that only involves me training with them at practices.
This changed last week however. I was given the heads up, completely out of nowhere it seemed to me, that if I was going to be ‘dressed’ (i.e. put in official kit on the bench), it would be the following week for the Saturday game. This both terrified and absolutely thrilled me. I had initially put ‘Represent the Gee-Gees!’ on my bucket list here on this blog, but after the first month of brutal practices and realising how much I’d have to catch up on, I took it down, thinking it was unrealistic. Now I was being given not just a ‘maybe’ but a ‘potentially’. Wearing the kit was enough of an honour, to get 30 seconds on the court would be amazing.
The weekend swung around and I mooched along to the Friday shoot not really expecting to participate much, knowing my ‘game’ would be the next day. But with 3 players out injured, as we were warming up coach shouted out across the court – “Tess, if Julia is still out you’ll be dressing tonight, alright?” This, I’d not been expecting. The Saturday team we were playing are currently one of the lowest ranked in the country; we could afford to play rookies. The game that night was against a team who were far more experienced, with far greater potential to beat us.
But the evening came around and with Julia still out (bless her, hope that hamstring gets better soon Jules!), I was given someone else’s kit that was a bit too small and sent out to warm up with the team. It felt insane; insane and a massive privilege to be on the court, and honestly, this would have been enough for me. Emily was in the crowd as I’d mentioned to her my possibility of playing, and I knew my Dad would be happy enough just to see me in the kit on the game footage.
While Lakehead to their credit certainly were a good team, we managed to take a lead and hold it pretty quickly in the game. A lot of our players had a very good game (Ari, that’s you especially), and it was one of those days I was very proud to be on the sideline in the garnet and grey. And then, in the final 3-4 minutes, coach looked down the bench, met my eye and gestured me over.
I was going to go on the court. Shit.
I felt honestly a bit sick, and even with the commentator calling out my name and the girls on the sideline hollering their loudest on my behalf I can’t remember feeling more nervous. Fortunately coach called a time-out, and then very deliberately (and very kindly) pointed out exactly where I should go and where people should find me in our offence. Looking back the whole thing was incredibly sweet and definitely on my behalf. I don’t think I’ve received so many slaps on the back in my life.
Back on the court, I had about 3 minutes of game time. I honestly don’t remember most of it; I know I had a turnover and lost the ball at one point, I know I made a decent block on defence and that I’ve never worked harder in my life to stop someone scoring. What I do remember is the final seconds of the game, and the fact it was an inbound pass on our offensive end.
I could hear coach yelling “give it to Tess!” from the sideline distantly above my teammates cheering, but that didn’t twig until I made eye contact with Melina inbounding the ball. She passed it straight to me, I struggled a bit as defence collapsed on me, and put the shot up just as the buzzer sounded.
It hit the rim, bounced once, and went in.
I cannot describe the feeling of elation in that moment. It was honestly one of the most surreal and amazing sensations of my life, and as my team swamped me in hugs and cheering I was overcome with incredible affection towards everyone. I couldn’t quite believe that such a dodgy shot had made it, but everyone’s sheer joy on my behalf was the most humbling and wonderful experience. It’s perhaps best described by showing you; these clips were shared on uOttawa Gee-Gees’ twitter.
It’s cliché, but after that passed in a bit of a blur. Coach congratulated me, the guys who’d been commentating wanted a quick interview for OUA TV, several of my teammate’s parents came up to give me a hi-five, I made the ‘Pros’ list in the post-game dissection in the team-room, I chugged chocolate milk and thanked Melina for trusting me with the inbound pass. Later, I realised my best friend in the world had stayed up despite the time difference and watched the entire thing online, and had published an adorable congratulatory post on my Facebook wall.
I know, I know. It was 1 shot. In a game that wasn’t that crucial, where the score was hardly massively altered by my contribution – but I can’t even begin to explain what it meant to me. What it meant to feel that I’d managed to prove I could perform to the coaches; what it meant after months of literal blood, sweat and a whole lot of tears, of being the worst on the team for so long; what it meant to be part of that group hug of girls, to have that many people feel so happy for me, to have felt that I’d finally contributed positively to the team, instead of always being a burden. It was quite a feeling.
All I know is that the photo that’s currently my desktop background makes me smile like nothing else (header photo) and that I’m unbelievably grateful to have had this opportunity to be part of this team. I could not have predicted how much emotional investment I would develop in a sport, but I can’t help but it feel it’s going to have a lasting impression on this year, and on me.