HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
If Deb Huband had said no to Bev Smith back in 1988, there would be no reason to write this story. But the Ottawa-born Huband said yes, which sparked and then ignited enough cause for a complete biographical book.
Smith, one of Canada’s greatest female basketball players from 1979-96, had just been named head coach of the University of British Columbia women’s team in 1988, shortly after leaving the national team as a player.
But she desperately wanted Huband, a long-time national squad teammate, as her assistant coach. But Huband, a star player in the Quebec conference with Concordia and Bishop’s, was establishing her career as a speech-language pathologist.
“I was living in Vancouver at the time and she wanted me to be involved and support her in her first step (as a head coach),” Huband said in a telephone interview. “It took a lot for me to change my course.
“She twisted my arm to be an assistant. She didn’t last long and decided to play another quad (four years with the national team).”
Smith only served as UBC’s head coach for the 1988-89 season (8-12 regular season, 8-16 overall).
But Huband decided to remain as an assistant to new head coach Misty Thomas, another former Canadian team player, while juggling her professional life with Thunderbird practices, games and travel.
She served as a volunteer assistant coach for 2.5 years before stepping away from the court to focus on her full-time job. But when Thomas’s time as head coach ended in 1995 (58-62, 67-78), Huband got a tap on the shoulder.
The UBC athletics department hired a head-hunter to find the next head coach and they came to Huband, who had stellar university and national-team playing careers, and had refused to consider head coaching offers in the past.
Huband weighed the pros and cons and accepted the position in 1995. It turned out to be the right move for both sides as Huband would become the longest serving and most successful women’s basketball coach in Thunderbirds history.
And now, after winning three Canadian university championships, a Canada West Conference record 344 games and 537 overall matches, Huband has announced she will retire as UBC head coach at the end of August.
“I started to think about life after my career, when that will occur and ways to spend my time and energy,” said Huband, who will turn 65 on Sept. 5. “Basketball was a full-time commitment, 24-7-365.
“I invested a tremendous amount of time. I was passionate and had drive. I loved the job. But there does come a time to channel your focus to other interests; some time you have to free yourself for other interests.”
In her first two years as head coach, she juggled being a full-time head coach with reduced hours as a speech-language pathologist. She had doubts entering the job. Can she survive as a coach in Canada?
“I had gone in a different direction, taking my masters (in Vancouver) and following a speech-language pathologist career path,” she added. “I didn’t embrace coaching as a career path; it wasn’t a viable full-time profession.”
But once she settled into her new role, she made it work because she took this gift and smothered it with her love of the game, dedication and took her role seriously to help young women mature as players and individuals.
Huband also was that way as a player – a two-time CIS (now USports) first-team all-star, MVP of the 1978 CIS championship tournament, and undefeated in her four Quebec regular-season campaigns from 1976-80 (49-0).
She played 11 seasons for the Canadian women’s team and was team captain for many years. A point guard, she steered Canada to bronze medals at the 1979 and 1986 world championships and a best-ever fourth at the 1984 Olympics.
By teaching her players the value of hard work, discipline, communication and sacrifice, Huband led the Thunderbirds to greatness. UBC won national championships in 2004 (first time in 30 years), 2006 and 2008 in six Final 8s.
In the Thunderbirds’ other three nationals, they were the 2012 finalist, third in 2015 and participated in 2007. UBC also captured Canada West Conference titles in 2008, 2012 and 2015, while placing second in 2004 and 2006.
Team success also earned her individual honours such as the Canada West and CIS coach-of-the-year awards. Her career win-loss records were: 344-171, regular season; 509-259 against U Sports teams; and 537-295 overall. Huband is ranked fourth in overall career wins, fifth for regular-season victories, and sixth for wins against Canadian universities among all Canadian women’s basketball head coaches.
Huband also had various coaching and mentoring roles with Canada Basketball for more than a decade. She went to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, earned a silver medal at the 1999 Pan Am Games and was head coach at the 2001 Universiade.
One of the few Canadians to experience the Summer Olympics as a player and a coach, Huband can find her name in or on eight halls or walls of fame, including the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame (1995) and the Nepean Wall of Fame (1987).
Huband had her final UBC season (2020-21) stolen from her by the COVID-19 pandemic. She found it “a bit anticlimactic,” but the extra time allowed her to focus on her own well-being by swimming and visiting the fitness centre.
In her retirement, Huband plans to spend more time with family, play golf and tennis, and go for hikes and walks in the woods.
“Maybe, I’ll be ready for the senior (basketball) league,” a fit and healthy Huband said with enthusiasm.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 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.
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