My one (and only) day as a Buffalo women’s basketball player
Published: Sunday, September 22, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 22, 2013 22:09
If you thought women’s head basketball coach Felisha Legette-Jack was intense while watching from the bleachers, just wait until you’ve stepped foot in her gym.
Last Tuesday, I attended the women’s basketball conditioning practice as an active participant. The team conditions every Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30-7:30 a.m. I knew this would be a struggle going in, but what hit me most was the team’s attitude.
Somewhere between the fifth and sixth “champion” – a drill in which you sprint back and forth on the court, eventually totaling a distance of 4,466 feet (84 percent of a mile) after all 11 runs are complete – I was ready to give up, or at the very least try to take a run off. I began to feel my breakfast – yogurt, banana and milk – form into a disgusting concoction as it made its way back up my body. I dangled my half-dead body over my knees as my breathing mimicked a panting dog.
Then something I never expected happened: Players came up to me one by one telling me to keep pushing.
Me – some college journalist who has no reason to be sharing the same court as these Division I athletes. They genuinely wanted me to finish and compete with them.
At that point, I knew I couldn’t take any sprints off. And miraculously, I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, my hands were on my knees after every sprint and when I crossed the end line, I laid up against the wall, but I kept going.
When my alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. – after about four hours of sleep – I was the most nervous I’ve ever been for a practice. I played sports my entire life – travel teams, varsity championship teams – but that was ancient history. I consider myself in decent shape, but the next time you see me on a treadmill would be the first. And I will never be on a bicycle that doesn’t move.
But once the team and Legette-Jack took a specific interest in making me succeed, I knew I couldn’t quit.
I was not the only one on the court struggling to complete the drill and this is when Legette-Jack brought out the best of everybody in the Triple Gym. Through her words, she made me want to take my body to points I didn’t think were possible. And I don’t even play for her.
After the seventh and eighth champion, my heart was pounding, sweat was dripping off my face and all I wanted to do was turn to someone and ask, “How many more do we have?”
The team began practice with jump ropes as the opening warm up. The girls on the team were able to go on one foot and do crossovers, so I tried to replicate them. I never got past three.
After this was ladder drills. We went in and out of ladders laid out on the ground, doing different coordination, speed and balance drills, followed by some stretching.
Then the “fun” started.
A mixture of sprints, back pedals, karaokes and defensive-shuffle drills. We went full court for a few minutes, but the minutes felt like hours.
I turned to our senior photo editor, Aline Kobayashi, and asked her what time it was.
She told me the time. Honestly, I don’t even remember what she said because I was so tired. But I remember thinking, “Good, I’m almost done.”
I wasn’t almost done.
The champion drills were set to begin and my legs began to fade.
The experience gave me a whole new level of respect for the women’s basketball team.
During the champion drills, players would run out and put their hands on their teammates’ backs to help them, even when they had completed their turns and could rest on the side.
If this doesn’t scream “team,” nothing does.
To my relief, there was one thing left – four minutes of planks and wall sits. I was exhausted, but relieved. Then, they started talking about practice at 3 p.m.
I just thought, “How on earth will these girls be recuperated enough to play actual basketball in six hours?”
I encourage every reporter out there, regardless of the media outlet, to try this experience. There is no better way to understand the identity of a team than to experience it.
From a guy who thought he was in good shape, you will find out there’s nothing more humbling. There is no doubt any of these girls could run me out of the gym any day, from the star to the last player on the bench.
Legette-Jack wrapped up my day perfectly: “Owen, you are more than welcome to come back whenever you want, but I don’t think you’d be able to play for this team.”
No arguments here.