By Michael Sun
Brooklynn McAlear-Fanus says that ever since Day 1 of her University of Ottawa Gee-Gees career she’s always tried to keep a positive mindset.
“I’m someone who likes to make sure everybody is feeling good,” the fifth-year point guard said. “I like to make a fairly positive environment for most people.”
Last season, the sense of energy she exudes was matched by her play; McAlear-Fanus made the leap to the OUA First Team and in a near national finals-qualifying effort was awarded the status of U Sports Final 8 all-star. But the St. Matthew High School grad’s journey to becoming one of the most dependable players in the country hasn’t come without adversity, and the upbeat attitude and exemplary leadership she’s become known for hasn’t developed without being tested.
McAlear-Fanus grew up dabbling in any sport she could in an athletics-orientated family in Ottawa. Sports became a release for her energy, she told the Sportspage. By the time she reached high school, her focus turned towards basketball and soccer.
She enjoyed dazzling with creative passes that would lead to scoring chances for her teammates, both as a midfielder and point guard. In Grade 12, she was part of a Tigers team that won a ‘AA’ OFSAA basketball championship. The next year she brought her talents downtown to play for the University of Ottawa as a member of its soccer and basketball teams.
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During her rookie basketball season where she played only sparingly, McAlear-Fanus said she picked up key lessons from veteran teammates. She learned from players like Julia Soriano – who taught her the importance of hustle and speed in her play, and Kellie Ring – a fellow Ottawa-native who McAlear-Fanus called “one of the best leaders (she) ever had.”
“(Ring) was a really good balance of telling you what you did wrong and also being a positive light,” McAlear-Fanus said.
By her third season, McAlear-Fanus decided to focus on basketball to maximize her growth as a point guard. That year, she was thrust into a starting role on a young team. “It was hard,” she noted. “I made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of growing to do.”
It took until her fourth season to find her “stride” and become a better point guard and leader, she said. “Once I knew what I was doing, that’s when I was able to start leading,” she said.
In talking to the Sportspage, Gee-Gee teammates Natsuki Szczokin and Angela Ribarich sang high praises of their point guard.
“She knows what she needs to do…she’s such a leader,” Szczokin said.
Ribarich said that McAlear-Fanus especially knows how to get others going.
Crosstown rival Carleton Ravens coach Brian Cheng also had bright things to say about McAlear-Fanus, adding that she has a “warrior mentality.”
But while she’s ascended to becoming one of her conference’s top players – a journey that’s included a trip to the national championships capped off with a bronze medal (and a Player of the Game performance for McAlear-Fanus in which she tallied 12 points, eight assists and four rebounds, to boot), she’s also faced a new battle in and of herself – that with depression.
Her struggle with the mental illness had dated back to high school. McAlear-Fanus said she had “dark moments” then, but she couldn’t identify properly what she was feeling. She kept those feelings to herself until her fourth year at uOttawa. How she felt affected her on the court, she said, as she routinely felt mentally exhausted.
McAlear-Fanus says her biggest challenge was reaching out for help.
“I kept things to myself a lot and it ended up hurting me in the long run,” she said. She struggled as a leader – leading in ways she didn’t want to. She found it hard to keep her trademark positivity when she herself wasn’t content.
“When I was being a leader, I was short of that because I couldn’t take care of myself and I couldn’t take care of others,” she said. She finally told others that she had been struggling maintaining her mental health early this season. To deal with her feelings, McAlear-Fanus took part of the preseason off and also missed a couple of regular season games in November.
The decision to take a step back from the game was out of self-realization, she said.
“It was just kind of me realizing, ‘Okay Brooklynn, what you’re doing right now is not helping you and you do need help. You need to talk to somebody’,” she recalled.
She began seeing uOttawa’s mental health counselor and sports psychologist Anna Abraham and says she’s drawn support from elsewhere, including from coach Andy Sparks, teammates, family and others. McAlear-Fanus says she’s felt a weight lifted off of her shoulders this year. She is still dealing with depression – its ups and downs – but said she feels in a good place right now.
“There’s a lot of support in that aspect and it’s definitely a struggle I still deal with,” she said. “I still have a lot of struggles in that aspect. I think that’s why I like to keep that positive attitude because you never know what someone is going through at any given moment.”
In the marquee annual regular season matchup for the four combined basketball teams of the Gee-Gees and Ravens, the University of Ottawa won both games in nail-biter fashion. With a two-point victory in the women’s game and a one-point victory on the men’s side, this year’s matchups at TD Place were the first time the Gee-Gees ever won both Capital Hoops titles.