International Flair at 2019 U Sports Women’s Final 8: A Roundtable Conversation

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Left to right: Inari Syrjanen, Lanae Adams, Carolina Gonçalves, Ladonna Lamonth, Sabine Dukate, Eleanor Jones, Sarsha Cadle. Photo by Trung Ho.

Every year the U Sports Women’s Basketball Championship is a unique opportunity to see universities representing different cities across Canada come together to compete. What can be equally exciting is looking down a team’s roster and see players who come from different parts of the world that have chosen to play university basketball in the Great White North.

Across the four U Sports conferences (AUS, CW, OUA, RSEQ) during the 2018-19 season, over half of the 47 teams had a combined 45 internationally recruited student-athletes from 16 different countries on their rosters.

At the Final 8 hosted by Ryerson University this past week, seven of those players participated in the four-day tournament, coming from countries that include Australia, Finland, Jamaica, Latvia, Portugal, Scotland and United States.

On Point Basketball caught up with these players to talk about how they ended up in Canada, how they’ve found their experience so far and what comes next.

Part I: Ending Up In Canada

How did you end up in Canada and how were you recruited?

Sabine Dukate (Saskatchewan Huskies / Latvia): The recruiting process was kind of interesting. I Googled “Canada coaches,” and I got into a website that there was like all the national team coaches that has coached national teams… I found coach Lisa [Thomaidis] later on and then I emailed her as well and she emailed me back, and it was super-quick turnaround. It was like two weeks and I was here. I emailed asking if they were looking for a player and I got lucky because then two point guards just finished so they didn’t have any point guard recruited, so then she asked me if I can play point. I’m like, “sure, have never played one but let’s go.” So yeah, I ended up coming in here playing point.

Ladonna Lamonth (Concordia Stingers / Jamaica): For me it was kind of peculiar because I played on the Jamaica national team. I came in young on the team and it was a player who knows [coach Tenicha Gittens] who just started at Concordia, and she needed a post presence. And my teammate basically told her about me and from there that’s how I came to Canada.

Carolina Gonçalves (Regina Cougars / Portugal): I represent my national team’s under 16, and I had opportunity to play a couple of European championships, and one of my coach knew Fatih [Akser], my [current] assistant coach. I think they just start to talk and trying to recruit some European player, and I was lucky to be selected for them and to get the offer to come to Regina and to have this opportunity to play and study in Canada.

Sarsha Cadle (Acadia Axewomen / Australia): I always knew I wanted to go to school in [North America], whether that was Canada or America, so I put highlight tapes and game film up on to a recruiting website. And my coach, Len [Harvey], found me and contacted me. And then I did a recruiting trip and then loved it and that’s kind of how I got here.

Lanae Adams (Acadia Axewomen / USA): Len [Harvey] actually recruited me at Mount Royal when I was at a junior college in Washington, so a long roundabout way I ended up coming to Acadia. I also played at Vancouver Island University which is a college in B.C. Yeah, I love Canada, the eligibility is a bit different than the NCAA so it allowed me the opportunity to be able to play.

Inari Syrjanen (Ryerson Rams / Finland): I wanted to do an exchange, so I’ve done already three years of university so I wanted to do an exchange, go abroad. I wanted to keep playing basketball, too, so that’s kind of how I ended up here in a way.

Eleanor Jones (Ryerson Rams / Scotland): So I also spent a year in America and I went home to play back in England for a year and take a year off of school, and my assistant coach is actually from Ottawa last year. So she kind of put me in contact with Carly [Clarke] and, Carly watched video and got in contact with me, and was like, “let’s get you on a visit, let’s get you out here.” So I came to visit and that was it.

Part II: Everything is New

What was your perception of Canada before you arrived?

Lamonth: The impressions that you get from back home is that this is a cold country, and it’s just cold. That’s the only word you hear, “it’s cold.” And that was my very first experience when I got here. It was cold.

Jones: I mean the typical stereotype, everyone’s so nice and you love maple syrup. And just how cold it is but how beautiful it is, too.

Gonçalves: I know it was cold, and I can confirm. It was really cold.

What’s been the biggest adjustment?

Dukate: It was a lot of adjusting for me even from basketball side. Like coming playing professional and then – that’s really your job, right? You go in, you do your job and you leave. When here, you build friendship, you go in school, you’re a student first. And it’s so different when you keep playing with the same players, and how big the community support is, and the culture is so different than mine. All the small talks, I was like, “why people are doing this, I just don’t understand.” Now I’m like that and I’m like, oh my god.

Jones: I guess not the language but the whole slang and just being able to understand everyone. I understand what people are saying but a lot of the time in class people don’t really know what I’m talking about. Because they’re like, “what are they saying? Who is this person?”

Syrjanen: Finland there’s only five million people in the country and there’s like six million people live on GTA area. And we don’t really have these big cities as Toronto is. And the language of course. Also the small talk culture in a way, maybe, because we don’t really do that at all at home.

What’s one thing you really enjoy about the team’s city?

Cadle: I love just the people, I’ve never had such a great sense of community and everyone’s just so welcoming and willing to come up and talk to you. Like just so warm and open, that’s probably my favourite part. All my professors come and watch the games and tell me how I played after the game which is kind of nice.. sometimes.

Dukate: The city is small so it was easy for me to adjust because I come from such a tiny country like Latvia… it’s kind of nice, I like it when it’s not too big. Toronto is like, “ah, I don’t know what to do here.” It was easy to adjust, I like when it’s small, you can get around, and you kind of know everybody.

Gonçalves: Because it’s like a small city, our basketball community is so nice because everyone supports the community, lots of people come to our games. Like we played around the west and I think our gym is the one that who has more supporters. More kids watching us play and see, like, they want to be like us, they want to represent the university.

Lamonth: One of the things I must say, though, is the variation in food choices. There are a lot of different food choices – there’s Chinese, Japanese, Vietname, there’s Portuguese, there’s a lot of things you can experience in terms of different cultures. That’s what I like about Canada… here it’s a bigger country so it’s more – you have more to experience. So that’s one of the things, I’ve been really exposed to a lot of different cultures, different people, their way of life and it’s cool.

Jones: I really like being in the city… back home, we don’t have much to do, so I really enjoy being downtown, being able to go out for lunch with a friend and just walk downstairs, walk out my apartment and there’s so much stuff there, and I like to travel a lot… and I take photos so it’s a lot to take photos of.

Part III: International Basketball Experiences

What kind of basketball experiences did you have before coming to Canada?

Dukate: I started professionally playing in TTT Riga, they took me at age 16 for more like experience in that first year. They still play in the EuroCup in the EuroLeague, so I was more a bench player, just like a practice player there in my first year. And then after that, two more years I played in TTT Riga. And then after I finished 12th grade I was looking somewhere else to play professionally, so I found this team in Lithuania – BC Suduva, so I moved there and I played three years there and then I ended up here.

Gonçalves: I started in Portugal – I’m from Portugal, and I’ve been representing my Portuguese national team. So I had a lot of experience playing against Latvia, Spain, France. Lots of players that I’ve played in those competitions are now playing in U.S., some in Canada, too. EuroLeague basketball, so it’s really nice to see them… some are in WNBA already, that’s pretty nice – a girl from Italy. So it’s interesting to see that we come from Europe and in other countries and we are able to adapt to other cultures, to play the game that we love all together.

Lamonth: I played on the Jamaican national team since 2011. I’ve been to a few, like the Pan Am Games, the Central Basket Tournaments, Tournament of America ones. It’s really high-level basketball when you get to those tournaments. I was a young player coming in on the team so I had to just learn a lot from the seniors that were there. It really prepared me in terms of my maturity when I came here.

Syrjanen: I think I’ve played in eight different countries, maybe? A tournament in China and the States, and here. And then Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania. Spain, I think? So obviously I haven’t been anywhere for this long as I have been here.

Jones: So I’ve played on the national team for four years, all the way up to [Great Britain] senior women. That was an incredible experience, because we travelled, we played against the best in Europe. Italy, France. It’s like 30 year-old women, they have so much knowledge and I was 16, 17 at the time. So I was like, “oh my god this is insane.” But you learn so much.

Part IV: Being A U Sports Student-Athlete

Talk to me about the education part of your decision, why was the academic side important?

Jones: That was a huge part because I wanted to do media, and Ryerson is known for its RTA programs and its imaging program so that was what really excited me – like a good play of basketball and a program I was going to enjoy, and not just kind of waste time with something that I didn’t really want to do.

Cadle: After school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in terms of academics. I knew I was really interested in people and working in sports and stuff like that, and in Australia when you go to university everything’s super specific. And so when I was looking at Canada, I came to Acadia and I looked at their kinesiology program, and I just kind of fell in love because it’s really broad and you can find your own little place within that degree, which I really liked.

Adams: Because of the eligibility and stuff, I’m able to get my master’s degree right now and so that’s a big thing for me. Because having a scholarship to be able to play basketball and getting a master’s degree is super-cool and a pretty unique opportunity, so that was the biggest reason why I was able to come.

Gonçalves: Speaking my country is hard for us to play professional or be more competitive and study at the same time. They don’t really support student-athletes… In U.S., in Canada, I think the process is so much easier to play and study at the same time. And for me it’s really important to take my degree and taking in English will be easier to me to get a job, hopefully, so I’m really happy.

Dukate: Just like, when you play professionally, I was already older then usually people start university – I was not fresh out of high school. And kind of playing, I was seeing a lot of older athletes that has finished school before, in States or summer, so I was starting to think about it. Maybe it’s time, I need to get an education and it doesn’t mean I can’t play anymore… Saskatoon kind of have all programs I wanted to be in. I started with kinesiology, and now I transfer to psychology.

Syrjanen: For me I’m almost done my undergrad so I don’t have that many courses left. But for my master’s, I’m probably going to minor in sports management, so I have been able to take those courses in here so that’s a big part, and it’s actually been very interesting.

Lamonth: My passion is teaching, and my passion is also mathematics. So you put both of them together and you know, I want to be that passionate math teacher. Back home I was actually doing a bit of that, I already had a bachelor’s in math education. So when I got the opportunity to come to Canada to study, it was a win-win for me… I wanted to come and do something in math, in an international institution and to put that on my resume. So, not only that I was a passionate teacher but I’m also equipped with the content as well, and it’s been challenging studying math and statistics here but it’s worth it.

Best moment so far with your team?

Adams: Winning AUS for me. We just came together as a team, and just like jumping up and down on the court with your teammates, everything was worth it at the end of the day.  

Cadle: Getting to do back-to-back championships, but also the other one was last year on our exhibition trips we got to go to Calgary and we went to Banff, and being on top of the mountains in Banff was the most surreal experience I ever had in my life.

Lamonth: Coming back after one year of not playing and playing in one of our tournaments and got my career high, I had 15 points and 21 rebounds in one game, and I’ve never had that before. So that was pretty exciting for me. And… that was not actually my most, no. Actually, it was when my picture got up in the gym. After not playing for a year, I came back and then after that tournament, though, my picture was put in the gym. So if you come to the Concordia gym, just for this year, you’ll see a big picture of me.  

Dukate: Definitely in first year winning a national championship and then now. A big highlight was when all my starter team finished, and I was the only returning starter from that championship team and all these young girls came and we won CanWest in that year as well.

Gonçalves: Last year when we won the Canada West championship.

Jones: I want to say the best moment might be this weekend [Final 8]. There’s been really good moments but I feel like one really memorable moment is going to be this weekend.

Syrjanen: Yeah, probably. It’s yet to come!

What do your teammates tease you the most about?

Gonçalves: They’re always saying that I’m really cold and I’m complaining with the cold, and they actually think it’s funny. They think it’s really funny when I go to the bench and I’m a little bit frustration I start to talk in Portuguese and I expect someone to reply me. And like, they’re not going to reply they don’t know Portuguese, so they can’t.

Lamonth: My accent. It’s like, they like it but then when I say stuff, especially in the moment if I’m playing, my Jamaican Patois will come out and they’ll be like, they’ll laugh. Especially coach, they will laugh so much. Coach will be like, “Ladonna, they don’t understand you.” I’m like, “oh,” and then I come back and I break it up.

Cadle: My accent, 100%, all the time. I say words differently, like I have different words, so if I go and say “rubbish,” they will repeat the word rubbish ten times without fail.

Adams: The only thing I get made fun of is being old, because I’m going to be 26… so I’m the old lady in the locker room, especially with my knee surgeries and stuff.

Jones: My accent.

Syrjanen: Yeah.

Dukate: I would say coaches probably tease me more, they tease me probably from my first year when I was super-serious and I never smiled and never joked around. So they were just like, coach would say “walking on egg shells.” When we would sit down she’s like, “oh, do you remember when we even didn’t know who to put in a room with you,” so they would tease about that. And girls, if I say something really out of order, like if I have a sentence, like it makes sense translating from my language but it doesn’t make sense in English, so they would just laugh about me. Or I have a thick accent or some kind of particular word and they would say, “oh my god, say it again!”

It’s probably not given enough credit how difficult it is to move overseas or to another country to play basketball at this level and pursue a university degree. What would you say you are most proud of about yourself in your time here?

Gonçalves: I think I grew up a lot since I’m not so close to my, I’m really close to my family and friends, and like being away from them first time was like a shock. Because I wasn’t used to living together, living with people that I don’t know, sharing other things like a house and everything, but it’s different when you don’t know people. But I think my teammates really help me a lot, they’re family too, they always ask me if I need something, they’re always trying to make me feel at home so I’m really grateful.

Jones: I think dealing with a big injury, so I haven’t really played all season. Or I haven’t played my fullest the whole season… so I feel, just being able to stay engaged and being able to still give something to the team. I’m pretty out there, so I feel like I’ve taken a really big role in a motivator, I guess? Bringing energy every day and in games, and just keeping the team in good spirits. 

Syrjanen: At first, when I first came here I really thought I was good in English. I’ve always been good, I didn’t need any stress about it, but as soon as I came here, like being the only one who doesn’t speak it as a first language it was kind of hard to take part in conversations and actually like, if your thoughts line up fast. So I really feel like I’m proud of how I’ve developed in a way, because it doesn’t feel so hard anymore.  

Lamonth: That I was able to juggle all of this, being away from family. I’m basically alone, a lot of my teammates they have their families when things get down and they’re not really feeling it and they really need that motivation outside of their teammates and outside of their coaches, they can go home and get it there. For me, it’s like, I go back to my apartment after having a tough practice or having a bad midterm or something and I just have to deal with it. So a lot of times, I really look at it and I’m like, you’re really tough to be here, you’re fighting the weather, you have the practices, you’re dealing with aches and pains, your school, it’s a lot. And I’m really proud of myself to come this far, to be finishing this semester… this was probably my best year playing.

What are your plans after graduating?

Gonçalves: I would like to play professionally first, and then for sure keep connected with sports. I want to take psychology and then a master’s in sports so I want to help athletes and do their psychology part with them.

Lamonth: I would probably want to work here, pursue my passion of teaching math. But whether it’s here or going back home, but that’s really my passion is to be a math teacher, to help the youth. You know, I think a lot of kids they fear the subject and I think it has a lot to do with how it’s presented to them. And I think I have like that experience and I have the drive to go beyond to get kids to like the subject and to really show them the importance of math.

Jones: I want to travel. I want live in a van and just travel and just try to make money by taking photos.

Syrjanen: So I’m only here for a year, because this is like an exchange for me. So I’m going to go back home and finish my undergrad first and then master’s, so basically, still a bit school, I guess. I’m probably going to keep playing basketball in the Finnish top league.

Dukate: I haven’t decided yet, one plan is trying to apply for university in Calgary for counselling. Or other option is going to play pro, again for a couple of years and then saving money and stuff and then coming back and then studying. I haven’t really decided.

Adams: All my family is in the States, like I have nobody in Canada. So I’m pretty big of a family person so I’ll most likely be moving back home after I finish my master’s. But I plan on working with maybe a sports team or a university as a community liaison or something like that, but not quite sure I still have another year, so I’m not in any rush to go into the real world yet.

Cadle: I kind of always had it in my head when I first came here anyway that I do my four or five years and then go back home, but the more that I see Canada and kind of the States, the more I think that I feel like I could find a home here. And as I’ve kind of built my life and met people and establish relationships and stuff like that, so I genuinely have no idea at the moment. I’m just trying to concentrate on enjoying my time at Acadia and seeing where that takes me.

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