Most students get to enjoy a leisurely Thanksgiving meal with their families. There’s time for seconds, and dessert, and for parents to share embarrasssing stories like they always do.
But basketball team member Jada Smith only got to enjoy a rushed thirty minutes at the Thanksgiving table, and she had to pack her seconds to go so she could get on the road and be back for basketball practice that night at 6.
It’s still an improvement over last year, when she stayed in Jackson and had Thanksgiving at Brooksie’s Barn with a few of her family members.
“It is a challenge, but it is part of the sacrifices necesscery to be a college basketball player,” said David Niven, head coach of the men’s team. “My family had most of the guys in our home for Thanksgiving who could not be with their families. Hopefully that helps them with that challenge.”
Both teams had practice on Monday, games on Tuesday, practice on Thursday and Friday, and games again on Saturday. The only full day of the break they had off was Wednesday. Smith drove home to Birmingham after Wendesday’s practice and arrived around midnight.
While their friends were watching football or lining up for Black Friday shopping, the basketball teams were running drills, practicing plays and shooting free throws.
“During times like this I want nothing more than to be a normal student and enjoy the long breaks” she said. “I always love hearing everyone’s stories about home over the break, but it always makes me a little sad.”
Felipe Rocha, a senior and captain of the men’s team, is from Southern Brazil. He first came to the states in high school, so he’s gotten used to spending breaks away from his family.
He got to have two Thanksgiving meals with friends before practice started at 7:45. He said there’s no holiday like Thanksgiving in Brazil, and the first time he experienced it he “wasn’t prepared” for the abundance of food.
He said the extra practice time was crucial for the teams to be at their best for games. The men’s team lost their game against Lane College on Tuesday to a team they should have beaten, according to Rocha. He called his team together even earlier than normal for practice on Thursday to tell them losses like that were unacceptable.
“I’ll cancel anything I have, especially after a loss,” Rocha said. “It’s hard, but at the same time we are here to play basketball. That’s our top priority.”
They worked for over three hours in preparation for Saturday’s game, and their efforts paid off. They won the game, and their first half was the best half they’d had all season, according to Rocha.
“In order to be successful, you’ve got to work hard,” Rocha said. “Nothing that comes cheap is worth it.”
The women won Tuesday’s game but lost in overtime Saturday.
Smith said while it’s hard right now, she knows the dedication is crucial for her team to perform well, and she won’t regret the sacrifices she’s making.
“It’s a bit frustrating now, but I will one day be able to look back on all this and not only see how much tougher it made me, but truly value the meaning of Thanksgiving and family.”