HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
MAKING A GRAND ENTRANCE (Part 1)
By Martin Cleary
Professional women’s basketball has been an eye-opening experience and a season of firsts for former University of Ottawa Gee-Gees’ Angela Ribarich.
The 2020-21 season is her first as a professional player, playing on a different continent, in a different time zone, and without Christmas at home. And you can’t forget first in a COVID-19 pandemic environment.
It’s also the first time where Ribarich, a 6-5 centre, is the centre of attention, when it comes to offence for her Amager club, which sits in first place in the elite Danish Dameligaen with an 8-2 record.
“As a pro, I am expected to score and be the player on my team,” Ribarich wrote in an email interview. “But, I’m used to playing on teams where the role of scorer or defender, etc., was not for certain people.”
Well, Ribarich is certainly a fast learner. After missing Amager’s first three games because of a sprained ankle and serving as a productive and promising substitute, she exploded on court Saturday in her first role as a starter.
In 33 minutes of floor time (that figure matches her uniform number), she collected 29 points, 23 rebounds and two blocks as Amager rolled past defending champion and third-place Horsholm 77-60. It was her fifth double-double of the season.
For her stellar debut, Ribarich was named the Danish league’s player of the week on Monday. Her impressive numbers have made her the league’s top-ranked player in rebounds at 10.6 a game and blocks at 2.0, and third in scoring at 15.7 points a game.
Ribarich was a late signing by Amager and had less than a month to prepare for a new experience in a new country. But she was uplifted by the experience and maturity of her teammates, including many with NCAA training.
Right from the start, she knew pro basketball “wasn’t going to be a cakewalk,” as she classified the level of play as “a good mid-major NCAA team.” But then she sprained an ankle in practice and became a spectator.
“It was a little disappointing, but as all basketball fans know, the season is long and the deeper you get, the more important the games become. So, getting healthy became the focus,” Ribarich continued.
Amager, which is a suburb of Copenhagen, has six regular season games remaining over the next two months before the playoffs.
When she did play her first game (Amager’s fourth), she came off the bench to play 22 minutes and showed she was healed by contributing 18 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots.
“I was happy that my first game with the team went well. While I knew that much of my success came from the element of surprise on the part of the other team, it became obvious that I could be really successful here.”
Playing basketball in COVID-19 times is a bit of a challenge. Gyms are only open for team practices and games, and she’s unable to get extra shooting time before matches like she did with the Gee-Gees.
“The only real difference is that I do more at-home workouts and shoot on outdoor hoops,” said Ribarich, adding COVID-19 means virtually no social time with teammates, staying with her billet family and little touring. As a history and art buff, she tries to spend her free time in museums and galleries, when possible.
“I can either accept it or not, but I figure it’ll be a lot easier to accept it and try to work with what I’ve got rather than to fight reality.
“I like to think that I’m lucky in a sense. I never played a regular pro season and then had to adjust to playing pro in COVID. COVID basketball is my normal.
“Some things are a little difficult like playing without an audience or only being able to get in the gym during very specific times. But for the most part, it has all been part of the adventure,” Ribarich concluded.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.