Read More in this series on Ottawa’s HIGH SCHOOL BEST here.
By Martin Cleary
If you charted Hannah Riddick’s basketball career using a flight of stairs, her determined effort up every step would place her about halfway to the top of the staircase.
She progressed well during three years with Calgary Basketball Academy and represented Canada at the 2019 U16 FIBA Americas championship (2.8 points, 4.3 rebounds a game), taking the silver medal. But she wanted to step up her game more.
One of her national-team assistant coaches was Ottawa’s Fabienne Perrin-Blizzard, the head coach of Capital Courts Academy, which is based out of Cairine Wilson Secondary School. Their conversations led to action.
Riddick decided to move to Ottawa, where she has spent the last two seasons with Capital Courts. She raised her level of play in 2019-20 in the competitive Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association. But then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the presence of the pandemic, half-court practices and no league or tournament basketball games, Riddick used her gritty, defensive mentality and worked hard. For all of that and much more, she earned an athletic scholarship.
Earlier this year, Riddick accepted a full scholarship to attend the University of Memphis and play for the Tigers’ women’s basketball program under new coach Katrina Merriweather. She went through a different recruiting process than normal.
Coaches from the AAU team UPlay, a team she was planning to play for in the summer of 2020 but didn’t because of the pandemic, connected her with Memphis. All Riddick could offer was game film, since there were no live games or visits.
“I also never got to see the school. So for me, when I leave in June, I’ll be seeing the school for the first time,” Riddick wrote in an email interview. “In a way, they are putting their faith in me and I am putting my faith in them.
“I believe the University of Memphis can provide me what I need to reach my fullest potential. I had a lot of opportunities in Canada and some in the U.S., but because I didn’t get to play AAU tournaments in the spring or summer of 2020 they were more limited.”
Riddick also can envision Memphis providing her the right pathway in her pursuit of earning a medical degree and becoming a surgeon. She enjoys the sciences and will enroll in health studies.
During her 2019-20 competitive season with Capital Courts, Riddick earned several top-player-of-the-game awards and had an outstanding OSBA playoffs, averaging 16.5 points, nine rebounds, four steals and three assists a game.
“When she (Perrin-Blizzard) reached out about me coming to the program, I saw it as an opportunity to be exposed to a higher level of competition than what I was exposed to in Calgary,” Riddick added.
“I also saw it as an opportunity to get more exposure for secondary opportunities. During the two years I’ve been at Capital Courts Academy, I have grown exponentially as a player, I’ve developed parts of my game that I ignored because I wasn’t being challenged enough in Alberta. Being able to compete and find success at a higher level has given me a lot of confidence in my abilities as a player, which is crucial as I’m heading into college.”
Riddick is grateful for all her experiences, including those with the national team, which exposed her to an even higher level of the game. She experienced “the national-team style of play” and “the more strategic aspects of basketball.”
“Coming in as a player who excelled mostly off of athleticism all my life, to having to compete against other highly skilled players, it really challenged me in ways I didn’t expect,” continued the 5-10 guard.
“It was a really new experience at the time, but one thing I always contributed to the team was effort. Every practice or game, I would go in and come out a little bit better than I was when I went in.
“I also contributed defensively by being disruptive and crashing the glass and rebounding. The experience taught me a lot and from it I am a more skilled and knowledgeable player than I was in 2018 and 2019.”
Riddick also describes herself as “a striker-type player,” who generates offence in transition or through her defence. But with no games and gym space restrictions for practices, this season has been “mentally challenging.”
“One of the challenges being that we were only able to practice on a half-court gym, and as a player who thrives in transition offence and defence, being limited to a half court forced me to work on different parts of my game,” she wrote.
“Then you have the two-month lockdown (December-February), where most of my training consisted of team workouts on Zoom, doing stuff like ball handling, film and strength training.
“Most of us were just dribbling the ball in our living rooms or basements because there was snow outside. That’s when you really have to lean on each other for motivation because it can be hard to find that motivation to train, when there’s little hope of having a season. But it’s times like these that make you dig deep. It’s times like these that test if you really want it.”
As Riddick has switched her focus to prepare for her freshman season at Memphis, she finds it difficult to leave Capital Courts without playing a final season and seeing if she could have taken a step or two more up the staircase.
“As a senior leaving this program, it kind of feels unfinished, like I didn’t get to leave that last mark. But I’m grateful for the time COVID provided to allow me to develop other parts of my game,” she added.
Read More in this series on Ottawa’s HIGH SCHOOL BEST here.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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