Marissa Janning Blog No. 2: When basketball is so much more than a game

Each season, as college basketball rolls toward March, conversations tilting heavily toward tourney talk, the ‘eye test’ is often brought up. Has a team done enough, shown enough, been enough, to merit an NCAA tournament bid? Where should they be seeded? Who will they match up against? Did I forget to hit ‘Send’ on my finished online bracket?

That’s all well and good and exciting, but I have found that where players and coaches are concerned, I am more interested in the ‘Why’ test. What motivates these individuals to devote such formidable swaths of their time, to sacrifice so much, in the name of a game? What gets them to head to a gym on a Friday night to put up extra shots while classmates are out partying? To spend a holiday like Thanksgiving on the road?

The quick answer: because this game is about so much more than 40 minutes on a court with fans in the stands and a scoreboard running. It’s about people. Families and friends.

But for a much better take on the topic, here’s another blog post from Marissa Janning, a senior who last week endured a heartbreaking setback. Her response is breathtaking.

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No athlete wants to experience the feeling of failure or lose a tough game, but everyone will at some point throughout his or her athletic career. For us, our first loss of the season came at Drake on Nov. 24.

That left me and my teammates with a two-hour bus ride back to Omaha, give or take five hours of sleep. Then, two flights to our next tournament in Texas, which means there is plenty of time to reflect on the tough loss we just experienced at Drake.

Drake is on a roll, with some really good wins so far this season, making them a tough team to have played on their home court. There are plenty of things that we all know we could have done better: bending our knees for an entire defensive possession, taking care of the ball, crashing the boards a little harder, communicating more on a guard-to-guard screen, making that extra pass.

Personally, I have struggled with my shot, and against Drake it felt good, but it just didn’t fall as much as I would have liked. But there’s more to basketball than that. It’s always a learning experience, win or lose, which is also what makes it fun.

After the game, coach Fritsche (a Creighton assistant) made the point that, unless it’s March, there’s another day that calls for another challenging game. Even with me being a senior, it’s true, even though those days are running low. It was obviously frustrating initially, and took a little bit to settle in and go to bed trying to keep myself from going to the gym and getting shots up. I know that none of us can spend much time dwelling on this loss, since we have three games down in Austin, Texas over the next four days. We have to be focused facing opponents like East Carolina, Northwestern, which is ranked, and Eastern Washington.

Catching two flights on Wednesday, we reach Austin around 5 p.m. During layovers some of us will meet and talk with coaches, grab food, or just hang out as a team. Part of our layover in Chicago was spent talking briefly about the Drake game and putting it behind us. The other part was spent going over our scout for East Carolina. The rest of the night calls for a film session with coaches, a Thanksgiving meal, followed by practice later in the night. Although this will be a quick turn around for us, I think it’s a good thing in the sense that we can clean our slate and move onto the next game. At this point there is nothing we can go back and do differently, so what is in the rearview mirror, doesn’t necessarily matter when looking ahead to the next 30+ games. I’m sure Coach Flan will refer back to the Drake game from time to time and use it as a teaching point, which is all there is to do.

When reflecting on losses and being a major part of the team, I feel any athletes in my position can be hard on themselves. I’ve found this to be normal from talking to others such as my brother, Matt. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you don’t let it have a negative impact on your confidence or attitude. There’s a quote I’ve always loved and looked to frequently;

“Tough times never last, but tough people do.”

This just helps me remember there is more to come this season, just as long as it isn’t March of course! But actually, it reminds me to keep a level head and keep focused on our initial goals that we made early on this season. Sometimes I’ll find ways to clear my head by going to the gym or going for a run. The most important thing I think for me is to never become complacent, win or lose. There’s always something more you could have done in a game, but the best thing about basketball is that it’s never a complete story.

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Spending Thanksgiving away from home is tough to do. Many of my teammates and I are fortunate enough to have had our families come down to Texas to spend it with us and watch our games! Our first game in Texas was against East Carolina. We took this game (91–66), where I think it was won from the beginning as we came out firing from every area of the floor. Our energy was high, we shot well, communicated well on defense, and made them defend us. It all started with our shoot-around earlier that day, which is where we showed our coaches the energy and focus we had during our preparation, even though it was on Thanksgiving.

On Friday we faced #19 Northwestern. We came out completely opposite of the day before — no energy, tough time making shots, not locked in, and didn’t communicate well. The Wildcats took off and created a deficit that we just couldn’t recover from. Like Drake, this was another obvious learning experience for us.

This led into Day Three against Eastern Washington, which would prove to be a game of toughness.

Like East Carolina, we came out with high energy and focus. There were some slip ups throughout, probably caused by exhausted bodies, but Coach Flan does a great job at rotating our players and using our depth.

To be honest, this game appears to me as a bit of a blur since with less than 2 minutes left in regulation I went down with a broken fibula in my left leg. I was running to stop one of their guards from dribbling up the sideline and planted wrong when I tried to cut her off. At the time, I thought there had been contact, but after watching the film I found out there wasn’t any. I had felt as if someone had kicked me in the side of my left leg, but that was when my bone broke. I managed to stay and watch my teammates pull it out in overtime, still trying to cheer and contribute as much as I could.

I remember crying from the throbbing pain that I was feeling, but a lot of it was also caused by feeling scared and just wanting to be out there. My parents came down from the stands panicked, and I remember saying “I just want to play.” Hearing that it was a clean break and no surgery was needed was a relief to me since it wasn’t a tear in my knee or something more severe. The general time frame for recovery is 6–8 weeks, and it is too early for me to tell you where I will be at in coming back. Staying positive is my main goal right now, and it helps that I have amazing coaches, teammates, friends, family, and fans around me. The endless phone calls, tweets, texts, messages, ANYTHING, any support is greatly appreciated and doesn’t go unnoticed. I’m still kind of in shock, and getting through the airport has been interesting being in a boot and on crutches.

My Thanksgiving may not have gone as planned, but everything happens for a reason. The tough times we encounter may not be as bad as they really seem, just as the good times we have might not be the best we will have. I’m grateful to have an injury where I will be able to recover quickly and get back on the court. I’ve never in my life sat out, but now I’m part of what we call the “bench mob.” I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving, and thank you for taking the time to read this, I look forward to writing my next one! Go Jays!!

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops

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