May 3, 2012

You have to finish the wine…


I haven’t written in forever, and there’s a reason for that. These past few weeks have been really, really intense. Every year, the top two teams of the conference I play in move up to the top level in France, and the bottom two move down to an entirely different conference. If my team were to finish in the bottom two, not only do we move down a level, but the teams under us who also play for Limoges would have to move down. It’s a slippery slope, and not one I would ever want to be a part of. Even so, the last few weeks of my career came with this looming cloud over every game: any loss was accompanied by the threat of our team dropping out of our league. Needless to say, I’ve been overwhelmed with lots of different thoughts and feelings (i.e., nostalgia about playing my last games, hating to lose, wanting to win for the girls I’ve come to know and love on my team, and refusing to accept ending my career not only with a losing season, but a losing season leading to my team’s dropping out of its conference). With all that at stake, I haven’t been doing much thinking beyond how I can do my best to make sure we win these last few games, hence the lack of blogging.
A very serious free throw

Our last four games of the season really drew the picture for this past Saturday night. Going 1-2 in the previous three games, we had our work cut out for us. Even with a win our staying in/dropping out of our league could end up out of our hands. Basically, we needed to win, needed some other teams in the conference to win too (maintaining their position in the conference), and still needed other teams to lose to put us ahead by a mere point, keeping us safe and out of the “red zone.” Point blank: the stars needed to align. While the stars aligned in some fashion – we ended up winning by two in a cutthroat match with twenty lead changes – we found that the other teams in the conference did not hold up their end of our seemingly hopeless bargain, and we would drop out of our league.

As a player of part of a team, that kills me. We had a really trying year. With a coach change mid-season, our fair share of injuries, and the everyday battles that come with being a professional basketball player, this year felt like the accumulation of multiple seasons for me (i.e. physical fatigue of my season at Saint Joe’s, and the disappointment of my first season (and first losing season ever) at TCNJ). For someone who hates to lose, I could feel my heart breaking after each loss, and wondered purpose I was fulfilling throughout the course of this season.

As a player about to retire and reflecting on her career, I had to look further. At the end of the day, the only question that ever truly matters to me is: did I do my best and conduct myself in a way I can be proud of? When I can honestly answer ‘yes’ to that question, there’s not a whole lot more I can feel about a situation other than closure.

Last meal with my girls <3
One of the hardest parts about playing basketball overseas, is that after each season (unless you decide to stay with the same club next year), you have to say a lot of goodbyes. It’s a completely different type of goodbye than saying goodbye to my family and friends before I set out to Europe for the year, because I know I will see those people again. Even writing this is making me tear up, because I know I won’t see my best friend on this team for a long, long time…if ever. That’s a goodbye to someone who I have spent time with every day this year, have had the pleasure of getting to know, and quite honestly, love. That’s a hard goodbye.

I’ve been working on packing up my apartment for the last two days, finishing whatever wine there is left, and thinking about all that I have accomplished these past two seasons and all that is ahead for me. To be honest, by about week two of my busy and overwhelming schedule waiting for me at home, I’m positive I’m going to miss my mid-day naps and getting to watch tons and tons of TV shows I never have time to watch in The States. Yet, what it really boils down to is that I’d rather see my real-life friends over Friends, and my very own Modern Family over the Dunphy’s.




*Thanks to all my readers to for joining me on my journey overseas. I hope you enjoyed reading this blog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

April 16, 2012

My Favorite John Wooden Quote

"It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit."

















2 games left...

March 27, 2012

Bloody Hell: Hillary in London


This past weekend I got to travel to London. In thinking about how to approach this blog, I figured I could either give you a full run-down of everything I did and got to see, or share just a few fun anecdotes with you. As an athlete, I enjoy a good detailed play-by-play, but for the sake of entertaining my readers, I decided to go with a few fun anecdotes…

Anecdote #1: They drive on the left side of the road in London. Sure, I’ve seen my fair share of Austin Powers and Harry Potter movies, but really, nothing makes you feel more hesitant/uneasy/suspicious than having to look right and then left when crossing the street. Shortly after I arrived in London I had to hustle to find my way towards the Globe Theater to meet a friend from high school for a beer and a play. While frantically walking up the left sidewalk I felt someone rudely knock into my right arm. Even though I was cutting it close to being on time to meet my friend, I was prepared to take a few extra seconds to glare at my assailant. As I turned around I was shocked to realize my attacker was actually a public transit bus… I vowed to a) pay more attention to which way the traffic was coming and b) walk further in on the sidewalks for the remainder of my trip.

Anecdote #2: Shakespeare didn’t have to worry about planes interfering with his plays in the 16th and 17th centuries. The actors who perform there now do. The play “As You Like It” is confusing enough with actors playing different roles and pretending to be different people, but add an airplane muffling the dialogue, and you have a recipe for catastrophe! The stage was absolutely beautiful, and the performers did a great job and were incredibly animated, but I could have lived without the added sound-effects by the planes flying overhead.

Anecdote #3: It seemed to me like Lord Farquaad of Shrek had about three inches on each of the Kings who lived in The Tower of London. In the White Tower I got to check out the armor of past kings and princes, and let me tell you – those were teeny tiny men. I know I’m a tall, tall woman, but these men would probably just barely clear my waist. I think Shrek had it right when he wondered if Lord Farquaad’s big castle was compensating for something…

Anecdote #4: Apparently twin brothers separated at birth will DIE if they are reunited after a period of time and find out that they are indeed brothers. The play Blood Brothers, which I got to see at the Pheonix Theater, was really interesting. Other than the plotline forming around the unbelievable aforementioned superstition, the play was actually quite funny and the acting was really good – at least in the first half. I knew the play was headed down-hill once the main character got his girlfriend pregnant. We all know by now what I think babies lead to, but in this case it was marriage, crime, prison, depression, addiction, paranoia, and murder. I guess twin brothers separated at birth WILL die if they are reunited after a period of time and find out that they are indeed brothers.

Anecdote #5: Don’t go to scary attractions alone. One of the included attractions with the London Pass is the London Bridge Exhibition. OOOOOoooooo (that’s my phonetic ghost noise CAPS LOCK use at its best). Anyways, this exhibition is supposed to be scary…you interact with live actors who are dressed in scary (but really not so scary) costumes. You walk through different areas of the attraction and discover different things about the people and events in London long ago. As soon as my tour guide pushed me past the first curtain and told me to “turn left,” I immediately started creeping myself out. Not only could I not see two feet in front of me (as evidenced by my walking into a wall), but I felt like a swarm of ghosts from London’s past were about to pounce on me and, I don’t know, eat my flesh? I made it through the first four rooms, but when the tour guide asked if anyone wanted to leave before they headed down into the subway tubes, I quickly raised my hand and dashed out of there, leaving nothing but a family with an eleven-year-old girl tough enough to brave it out in my midst.

All in all, London was a really fascinating place, and full of history. I got to see the normal tourist attractions like Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the London Eye, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, St. James’s Park, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. The only thing my trip was missing was Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger.


March 14, 2012

March Madness

I'm realizing it's been a long while since I've written a blog, so I figured what better topic to write about than March Madness.

I'd actually been counting down the days (incorrectly, I might add...oops) to Selection Sunday since the Monday following the Superbowl. Selection Sunday is kind of like Christmas morning to me for a number of reasons, not all of which even have to do with basketball. Of course I love hearing about which teams made the tournament, and why certain at large bids were chosen over others (yes I'm one of those people who think that's super interesting), but March Madness happens to coincide with Spring, my favorite season, which makes me want to start the "days til I'm home countdown."  I'm desperately trying my hardest not to start that countdown, because I learned last year that if I start it too early, it can make the rest of my time here feel incredibly long, but back to March Madness... March Madness is the start of an incredible few weeks of exciting basketball games, tons of which I get to see because of the amount of free time I have over here.

This year especially I'm so excited about the men's tournament because so many teams are very evenly matched. Not one team has an untouchable player like Brittney Griner, and no teams are heading into the tournament undefeated like the women's Baylor team this year or the women's UCONN team from two (and three) years ago. I literally spent the last two days researching teams and making cases for who I think might win. Fortunately (for the excitement factor) and unfortunately (for the predictability factor) I was completely stumped about a number of first-round games and likely down-the-road match-ups. For example, Iowa vs. UCONN, Southern Miss vs. Kansas State, and then of course those 5 vs. 12 match-ups that often lead to upsets all had me forming pro-con lists in my head. I actually thought I was all set in my picks, until I found out Syracuse's big man Fab Melo is academically ineligible for the tournament and won't be helping his Orange teammates try to get a ring. That turn of events basically left me speechless and I would HATE to Melo right now, for obvious reasons - like NOT GETTING TO PLAY IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT. Honestly, that sucks enough, but I also think that if the NCAA committee knew he wasn't going to be able to play going into Selection Sunday, they would have put Syracuse at the second seed, having them play against teams earlier on who I personally think they match up better with. Needless to say, I no longer think Syracuse will be cutting down nets this year, no matter how much I like that team, coach, or their program.

After all of my research, I ended up filling out four brackets: one for who I think will win based on statistics and my own very own 'formula,' an upset bracket, a bracket of who I think (with the help of all the sports center talk I've listened to over the past week) will win games, and then a bracket based on a combo of  who I want to win and which teams have what I think it takes to win games in the post-season (consistency, good coaches,  and veteran players to name a few).

Even with all my research, formula making, and insight as a player for who I think makes a good tournament team, I'm not even slightly convinced I have even one truly successful bracket made. Every single game this month will be unpredictable and fun to watch. That is why I love March Madness.

February 17, 2012

The Love/Hate Relationship


I don’t know how many of you out there listen to Dane Cook, sometimes he can be pretty vulgar, but usually after about twenty minutes of listening to him and becoming desensitized to his choice of words, I can’t help but laugh at his jokes. He tells this one joke about a couple who can’t stand one another, but stays together and has these ‘nothing fights.’ I can never remember the punch line of the joke…I think maybe it has something to do with peanut butter…but I always vividly remember how he describes the way this couple holds hands. He says their hand-holding is not loving at all, it’s like a “rigor mortis, rheumatoid arthritis, red rover grip,” and quite honestly, that description hits home for me in a really weird way.

I think it’s really difficult to articulate an athlete’s love/hate relationship with his/her respective sport. Most of the time when we think about relationships, we think about a connection between two people, and last I checked, a sport is not a person. Even so, I think that the relationship an athlete has with his/her sport can sometimes be a little more frustrating than a regular relationship. There’s really not a whole lot of give and take in an athlete/sport relationship. You can’t compromise with your sport and say, “if you buy the groceries this week, I’ll get them next week.” That would be like saying, “if I work on my dribbling today, tomorrow you have to work on my free throws.” See? It’s what I like to call untranslatable. And yet, a committed athlete spends more time improving the relationship they have with his/her sport than they probably do on any other relationship in their lives (perhaps that’s why so many NBA players get divorced…).

Sometimes I can’t help but ask myself a big fat WHY? Why am I in this relationship? Particularly, those questions of doubt about my relationship with basketball come when I’m getting screamed at for missing a shot or making a bad pass. This year has been especially interesting during those moments, because my mind goes straight to thoughts like, “I could be counseling someone who really needs my help right now,” or “I could be home spending valuable time with my family.” I can honestly say I wasn’t having those types of thoughts last year, but I digress. 

The other issue with the athlete/sport relationship is that an athlete can’t really rely on his/her sport for much. Sure, there is always the promise of getting in a workout, but there is no promise of winning a game, of getting on a hot shooting streak, or making it to the league’s championship game. All you can do is prepare, prepare, and prepare some more. When you strip it down, athletes basically spend their time preparing and dedicating their lives to something with just the hope that any one of those things might happen.

This is why I can relate to that Dane Cook joke so well. Big picture: our team isn’t doing so hot this year; we practice twice a day and have talent, but just can’t seem to put enough together to win games. Small picture: I’ve been playing basketball for fifteen years now and sometimes I will still miss a layup. It’s those times when I want to take a basketball and throw it against the backboard or drop-kick it across the court or inflict a rigor mortis, rheumatoid arthritis, red rover death grip on it.

Reading this blog back to myself, I’m sitting here thinking, “Hillary, you’re right; athletes are bat-crap crazy. Why do you do this again?

The reality of the athlete/sport relationship delves a lot deeper than I’m giving it credit for. When I think about the happiest/most exciting moments of my life, two vivid memories pop right into my mind. One was when I was twelve and made a championship game-winning shot in a CYO tournament against a team we’d never beaten before, and the second was when the buzzer went off after the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament my senior year of college and I knew I was going with my team to the Final Four. I’m pretty positive that these memories will only take a backseat to future happy/exciting moments in my life such as a marriage proposal or the birth of my children.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and after this year, I’m not positive what role basketball is going to have in my life. I’m planning on finishing up my MA in counseling and taking a break from the game for a while. Because just like in normal person to person relationships, when it isn’t working anymore, sometimes the best thing to do is take a step back and give each other some space until you cross paths again in the future.

January 25, 2012

Living with Spiders


Outside of my parents’ house there is a shed where we keep our lawnmowers, pool chairs, floats, sleds, and all the other outdoor equipment/toys that we’ve accumulated over the years. As a kid, that tannish colored shed, with red shutters and flower window boxes was a regular pit-stop for me before embarking on all kinds of adventures (read: trucking my fake gas pump, chalk, and bike up to the cul-de-sac to play ‘traffic’) and activities (read: making mud pies on my Barbie kitchen set and trying to get my brother to eat them).

The shed was such an exciting place for me – I’d get all of my fabulous ideas about what to play and how to keep myself entertained by what was inside. Unfortunately, the shed had one crucial flaw: spiders. I really don’t like spiders. After I read one time that the average person swallows seven spiders a year, I was never the same (I honestly don’t even know if that’s true, and I continuously question how they gathered that data). Regardless, I am convinced now that whenever I wake up with a sore throat it’s because a spider crawled into my mouth during my sleep and thrashed and scratched all the way down my esophagus before making its way into my stomach. I’m sorry; I’m realizing that is a super gross thing to talk about. Maybe I should have prefaced this blog with some kind of ‘disturbing imagery’ warning. Anyways, back to the shed. The shed didn’t have just any kind of spiders on it, but daddy-long-legs, the creepiest of creepy spiders. Their legs are just SOOO long, and I know people say that about me, but I have a pretty normal-sized body to match my very long legs, whereas daddy-long-legs do not. They have those teeny tiny bodies and you can’t help but wonder if there is even enough space to fit a brain in there. And if not, what tells them how to function? Plain and simple, if there is a brain in there and if it is that small and relying on those long, long legs to do its bidding, well, I just don’t want any part of that.

Whenever I couldn’t get to my toys in the shed because of a parade of daddy-long-legs covering the door, I would run and get my daddy (who also has long legs incidentally) to move them for me. I always thought it was so awesome that I could just run to my dad and he’d make my fear of spiders a non-factor, removing them for me and opening those shed doors to the realm of infinite playtime possibilities…

At some point, and I’m not sure exactly when, and as we all do eventually, I stopped running to my dad to make my fears disappear. The awesome thing is that together, my mom and dad were able to give me the tools I needed in order to make a lot of my own fears disappear. When I realized for the first time that I had fears that they couldn’t take care of for me and I couldn’t take care of for myself, I learned the serenity prayer. Through the serenity prayer I started to understand that there are things I cannot change, and rather than let them stew inside me and cause all kinds of ruckus, the best thing I could do with those fears was acknowledge them, and then let them go.

When I first got to my apartment in Limoges, I was greeted by none other than a community of spiders. Since I obviously couldn’t run to my dad to have him take care of them for me, I gave myself two minutes of freak-out time, and then got a cup and a magazine putting them all outside, one by one. That is except for one. That one spider was super quick and I just could not catch her (she’s also pretty big and super scary looking), so I let her be and named her Charlotte. She lives in a hole in the wall where the pipes are in my bathroom, poking her head (and creepy legs) out from time to time. I don’t find her nearly as scary as I did that first day I came here, and in fact, her presence doesn’t even bother me anymore (except for when I wake up with a sore throat and run to the bathroom to make sure I didn’t eat her in my sleep).

I think it’s pretty incredible that sometimes there are fears that we not only overcome, but actually learn to even enjoy (unfortunately, I think that’s where my analogy of this spider fear ends). Before coming to Europe, I’d never really spent much time alone. In all honesty, I feared what I might discover if it were just me and my thoughts and lots and lots of time. At first, I didn't know what to do with myself, but after a few weeks, and then a few months, I slowly started to really enjoy the time I had alone. I’m not trying to say that there aren’t days where I miss home like hell (today was actually one of those days), but in the grand scheme of things, I’m really proud of myself for ‘Eat. Play. Love.’-ing my way to a place of serenity I didn’t know I had. 

Living with spiders isn’t so bad after all.

January 18, 2012

Basketball is a game of...


The other day I was enjoying one of my favorite activities during my down-time in between practices: thinking. Particularly on this day, I was thinking about how I made it this far as a basketball player, because let’s be honest, it isn’t my unmatched athletic and physical prowess that got me here. I like to think that I’ve made it to this level because of the way I think about the game, a mentality I started learning under my first basketball coach, really started to understand during my one year at Saint Joe’s, and continued to apply and hone in on during my time at TCNJ.

While I was home during Christmas break, a former NBA player, my agent, and I got into a discussion about what type of game basketball is. The argument laid out there was that basketball is a game of speed, and whoever is the quickest would end up winning games - the rationale being that if the defense can’t catch them, the defense can’t stop them. Since I think that players and coaches tend to over-analyze the game, and since that premise was simplistic enough to make a lot of sense in my mind, I wanted really badly to agree. I thought about that idea for a while and eventually came to the conclusion that realistically, if that were the case and basketball was a game of speed I’d be screwed out of a job. That’s when I stopped wanting to agree. Then I remembered that basketball is a team sport, and thank God for it, because that’s why I’m still working, and is also why it makes that argument null and void. Even if you are fast than your one defender, are you faster than a collective five? Most likely, chances are no, you’re not; not unless you’re Carmelita Jeter, and even then, I’m just not sure. Our conversation definitely got me thinking about what basketball was a game of, and here’s what I came up with…

Arguably, I think THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT aspects of the game of basketball are timing and spacing. Even in a basic transition set (for non basketball players, this is the time when you run really, really fast down the floor and try to score on the other team before they have time to set up their defense), if you don’t have good spacing and know where your teammates are or where they are headed, you can easily throw the ball to the bench, your own coach, the other team’s coach, or what I think is the funniest mistake you can make while executing a play, run into your own teammate (essentially doing the defense’s job for them). I actually did run into a teammate once in fifth grade, and I ran into her HARD. I vividly remember the noise she made when I knocked the wind right out of her (it sounded like a cross between a mouse’s squeak and a cat crying in a vet’s office). Honestly, I was scared out of my mind that I’d broken my best friend’s sternum and killed her…now I’m not so sure why I think this is funny…I digress.

There are probably millions of offensive sets out there, but I like to think 10-15 feet between players is a good basic rule of thumb (unless someone is setting a screen) when it comes to spacing. Those 10-15 feet give each other enough space to react to one another if someone starts driving to the basket, making a cut, setting up their defensive player to make them look like an idiot out of position when the ball gets skip-passed, and so on and so forth. Spacing is so important and, MY GOSH, when someone comes into my space and brings their defense with them, it takes just about every ounce of self restraint for me not to yell, “GO FIND YOUR OWN SPACE,” at them. Maybe I should start doing that; it would probably be pretty effective.

Of course then there’s the timing bit to this complicated puzzle we call basketball. Let’s say you’re player B. If it takes two seconds for player A to set a screen for you, player B, on the wing, and it takes four seconds for player C to set a screen for player D in the corner, and the two screens are supposed to happen simultaneously in order for player B, to have a pass/drive option, at what time should player C leave to set the screen for player D? It seems like it should be easy enough right? Player C should start two second before player A so that you, player B, and player D are coming off the screens at the same time. Unfortunately it isn’t quite that simple! A lot of timing success depends on reading how the defense is playing screens. Are they hedging? Are they switching? Are they bumping and recovering? Is it different for ball-screens than for off-the-ball screens? Then, when you finally think you know how to read exactly what the defense is doing and how much time reading the defense will take, player E beings to feel left out and starts to pinch in from the decoy position, essentially messing up all the spacing of the play. After you yell at player E to “GO FIND YOUR OWN SPACE,” and try to run the play again, player C’s shoelace becomes untied, she bends down to tie it, and once again you, player B, are throwing the ball to the bench, your coach, or the other team’s coach.

All jokes aside, I have seen teams who execute offenses perfectly using spacing and timing. Teams who work together to get one another open are my absolute favorite teams to watch (*cough cough* Stanford, Tennessee, *cough cough*). Also, to be honest, I like saying that basketball is a game of timing and spacing because somehow and someway, I became quite good at using timing and spacing to my advantage and understanding how powerful both are on the court. Timing and spacing are probably the reasons I still have a job (oh, and I guess it helps that I’m 6’3”).