Gratitude for women’s basketball at all levels, from Baylor to Bard to rec leagues — Kianna Smith, Jeff Walz talk Louisville’s strong start, win over UConn — Must-click women’s basketball links
The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, December 22, 2021
As the year comes to a close, it’s hard for me to feel anything other than gratitude, as it relates to women’s basketball. That’s women’s basketball at every level: WNBA, high-level Division I, Division III programs like my alma mater, Bard, even high school and rec leagues. (Editor’s note: you’ll be receiving a full complement of newsletters this week, then we are off next week.)
I took on a new gig among the many I have this month, calling men’s and women’s basketball games at Bard. It was something I did, casually, when I was in college, but I brought a different approach to it this time, taking hours — too many, really — researching home and road teams alike. And it’s given me a chance to get to tap into the narrative arc of the players on the Raptors, too.
No, there aren’t future pros in the Bard program this year. There are future doctors, there are incredible artists and activists — it is a Bard team in every possible way. But these are also basketball players, ones who have played the game virtually their entire lives, at what is likely the final formal stop on that journey. There’s something beautiful and poignant for me about Division III hoops in general, this hoops mortality sitting just beyond the horizon, even for freshmen.
That’s the essence of this work I do, really, why I love it. It’s about seeing these arcs up close, trying to illuminate it for readers. Breaking news has its place, and I do enjoy the chance to tell people things they want to know, and do it first. But the real joy is from capturing the lives people in this game we all love are experiencing at different points, people whose performances bring us to a place that I experience the way I do great music or theater or film.
To know them better, to understand the context in which it all happens. This is what the work is for me.
And so it is for me watching Christina Kiser, Bard’s best scorer (with only a COVID year missed potentially preventing her from holding the top overall mark), a life of playing basketball to emulate her older sister and spend time with her father, figuring out ways to navigate double and triple-teams to get to the basket on a long-troublesome ankle.
It is seeing Emily Engstler this past weekend, once at Syracuse, now a vital cog in Jeff Walz’s Louisville team with justified Final Four aspirations. It is watching NaLyssa Smith of Baylor that same day, learning from Nicki Collen how to be a WNBA difference-maker in real time. It is Naz Hillmon of Michigan, sharing her routine with me in a back corridor of the arena after willing her team to victory.
And it is taking my now-vaccinated seven-year-old to a Pascack Valley-Ramapo High School game, where we can enjoy the long-term brilliance of PV coach Jeff Jasper and the blooming game of Ramapo’s senior leader Madison Schiller all at once.
The plan, as of now, is for my daughter to play in her rec league come January. When we arrived home, she couldn’t stop shooting at our driveway basket, which I may or may not have adorned with a glow-in-the-dark net and LED lights around the rim, along with a glow ball, to help extend her time out there as long as she wants it to last.
I love to use the #WNBA40 hashtag for posts of her on my Instagram, but the truth is I don’t need her to become some superstar athlete. I love playing Legos with her, too. What I do know is that, beyond the pleasure I find right now in sharing that love of a game we both find fascinating at this point in time, I am absolutely invested in what her arc looks like, on and off the basketball court.
I’m so excited to get to WNBA arenas next year, to the Final Four in Minneapolis once again, but also to more local high school games, and every rec league matchup my daughter has. It’s all part of the rich fabric of women’s basketball.
Thank you to everyone who has allowed me to tell their stories in 2021, so many of you subscribers among that group. Here’s to a 2022 with more of them, a safely in-person collaboration between us, the journalists who live to chronicle it and all of you, providing thrills and emotional connection on and off the court in this pastime we all love so much.
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