A Tiny Feel Good Tale

Amidst the muck and the mire of the paint by numbers US presidential campaign – 1 %! 47 %! 53 %! 99%! – and its inevitable lies, damn lies, and statistics… a respite. A little Canadian Dream in a hard-core hoopsters’ package.

Lots more where he came from

I have coached young women’s basketball for a long time. Way back in the analog age, circa 1985, when Ontario player ambitions rarely extended beyond an indifferently organized and sloppily played high school season. No cell phones (and no practice rules banning cell phones), and no expectations that the game was any kind of ticket to anything, except for a few keeners who might continue playing through the largely forgettable Canadian university athletics system. With over 50 female Toronto-area players now on Stateside scholarships, and an Internet driven recruiting vibe that brings talent to the furthest reaches of the American college game, it is a different world, kids. Canadian youth basketball must be big time – it now rivals the recruiting stupidities and abuses previously reserved here in the Great White North for boys’ junior hockey.

I first saw Rhea play in her Grade 10 season. Her coach didn’t seem to have much time for a girl with no touch, no handles, and an unerring talent to inadvertently hammer some poor opponent into the hardwood on her way to an utterly graceless foul out. She joined our summer team with (ahem) modest expectations held by the doubtful coaching staff. But…there was something wonderfully refreshing about Rhea. She took criticism in her stride, she cared about her teammates, and she practiced, the steely glint of the resolute and the self-assured, where they are the savants that can see their next horizon, even where their closest fans see only mist. Mom and Dad came to Canada from Grenada, they both work for one of those Canuck banks that saved our backbacon during the Great Lingering Recession, proud in the best possible way of their ‘girl’, and her brother Rene, too. There is no fooling with Rhea.

It was this tough-minded, intelligent young woman who caught recruiters’ eyes by the end of her high school career in 2008. A small, quality Massachusetts school extended her a full scholarship – and she has never looked back. A degree, and good grades, a well-rounded game, almost a ‘double double’ over the past two seasons – at 5’10”, the shortest starting forward in her NCAA conference. And now? Rhea leaves on Saturday to play pro ball in Germany for the next season, an honest to God (albeit small!) monthly pay cheque for a girl who has only understood that you played hard, without compromise, and you always put family and team first. Who could have imagined such a thing seven years ago? Rhea did.

I know that Rhea isn’t the ‘paint by numbers’ kind, where answers are soundbites and political allegiance is tribal – and too often toxic. After four years of US college, she holds to the emerging view of her demographic that most politicians are bozos to their core. Rhea might not put it this way, but I see mighty if microcosmic meritocratic perfection in her career, where you make your own luck, but you never forget that its never all about you.