|Small-kid Nicole on the great wall.|
My niece is a basketball player. She's a really good basketball player. We (her mom and I) didn't think she would fall in love with hoops, but when she moved back to Portland, Oregon after three years living in China, she found comraderie on the court.
Those first few middle school seasons were rough. We watched and wondered if she would stick with it. My husband and I cheered maybe a little too enthusiastically back then, yelled at a few officials, screamed a little too voraciously, but eventually we put ourselves more appropriately in check. We realized this was Nicole's journey; we were sidelined.
Over time, Nicole also started putting things in check. She developed solid skills: a beautiful three-point shot, solid handles, a step-back jumper, a Euro-step, and she had tons of support. Her mom played college hoops and wanted to provide all that Nicole wanted in order to meet her goals. But skills and support can't make you love basketball.
|Nicole and Jamie, back in Jamie's high school days.|
Before she started high school, she made her way through the Westview development program, and she followed the Westview varsity team faithfully. She became friends with players and found role models who showed her what going-to-college-to-play-ball looked like. Jamie Nared, a senior when Nicole was in the seventh grade, went to play at Tennessee. Watching this top recruit, Nicole was able to see what hard work on the basketball court looked like and some of the rewards it could bring.
I watched all of this from a distance, as Nicole joined club teams and played under new coaching staffs. She made varsity as a ninth grader, and I heard updates from Nicole and my sister about how her team was doing and how Nicole was playing. Toward the end of the season, she started getting more minutes, but it wasn't until her sophomore season that she started putting up impressive numbers. She also kept looking up, now at college programs and players she admired, most notably Oregon State, where she watched and developed friendships with dominant guards like Sydney Wiese.
|Nicole and the PAC-12 three-point record holder.|
The summer after her freshman year, she came to Southern California where my family could finally watch her play. Her new club team had some amazing athletes, one being Bendu Yeaney, who ended up at Indiana. Nicole played alongside Bendu and other great players. She watched and learned, but also during this time, Nicole stopped growing. There was some height on her dad's side of the family, so we hoped, but Nicole plateaued at about 5' 7". We knew this meant that if Nicole wanted to play at the next level, she would have to stand out in other ways. And then, during her junior year, when recruiting was just starting to heat up, something shifted.
|Nicole and Indy-bound Bendu.|