By Martin Cleary
Tyra Blizzard is hungry to play a professional basketball game. Instead, she’s playing the waiting game as she hopes to follow three former University of Ottawa Gee-Gees teammates into the next level of the sport.
When Blizzard completed her university eligibility last March with the Gee-Gees following four years with the University of Windsor Lancers, she started looking for an opportunity to play professional basketball in Europe.
She had a highlight video put together, hired an agent and talked to many people about transitioning to pro ball, including her mother, Fabienne Perrin-Blizzard, who recently was hired as an Ottawa BlackJacks assistant basketball coach.
But just as she was starting her fast break to Europe, the COVID-19 pandemic blew the whistle on her plans. As COVID-19 moved around the world, teams stopped looking for players, especially guards, Tyra said in an interview.
“There was a little bit of interest in Europe and a little bit in France. There wasn’t as much as I hoped for. Due to COVID-19, teams didn’t want guards, but preferred to use their own players,” said the 5-7 Blizzard, an OUA all-star. “It’s definitely an uphill battle. I’m trying to stay positive.”
Blizzard keeps her focus by practising with the Capital Courts Academy team (co-founded by her mother) and providing Zoom training sessions for all Ottawa players through the Ottawa Shooting Stars organization.
Blizzard, who was a human kinetics major at uOttawa, knows being a 5-7 guard can have its drawbacks, but “it’s really a matter of finding a good fit… there will always be a team looking for the type of point guard that I am,” she said.
Despite the various pandemic-related lockdowns that have closed gymnasiums, Blizzard has been able to train in a private facility, when the Capital Courts players were allowed on the floor.
“The job of a pro athlete is to stay ready,” said Blizzard, who prefers to start her pro career in France, which has three levels – LFB, LF2 and NF1. She’s ready to start at the bottom. “It’s a great place to start and work your way up.”
European teams start looking for players as early as this month for next season.
“If you didn’t play the previous season, you can be heavily sought after because you’re available,” she added. The waiting continues, but with anticipation.
The 2019-20 Gee-Gees women’s team already has three players signed with pro teams in Europe and Asia: centre Angela Ribarich, forward Katherine Follis, and forward Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu.
A 2019-20 U Sports Academic All-Canadian, Ribarich is playing for league-leading Amager (11-3) in Denmark’s top circuit. She leads the circuit in rebounds, 10.5 a game, and blocks, 2.1 a game, and is third in scoring, 15.4 points a game.
Follis, a U Sports Academic All-Canadian who posted the best field-goal shooting percentage in the OUA and second-best among U Sports players at 58.7, plays for Jena in the Regionalliga, which is Germany’s third tier league.
Lefebvre-Okankwu, a three-time U Sports Academic All-Canadian who earned her BSc in biomedical sciences in April, took a break in December from her pursuit of a psychology degree to sign with Al Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.
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