VANCOUVER — Jessica Hanson, with ears wide open, sought trusted counsel last Friday evening.
Coming off a career-high 28-point performance in what was a 77-73 Canada West regular-season finale loss to the visiting Victoria Vikes, one in which the UBC Thunderbirds’ third-year guard shot a sizzling 6-of-10 from beyond the three-point arc, what did the eyes she trusted most see?
With the ‘Birds set to play host to the Lethbridge Pronghorns on Friday (6 p.m., Canada West TV) in a one-game, sudden elimination opening-round playoff clash, this was valuable intel.
Her two sounding boards?
UBC head coach Deb Huband, as well as her dad, UBC men’s head coach Kevin Hanson, the latter taking extended peeks at his daughter’s performance in the moments before the UBC men took to the court against the Vikes.
“It was so weird because I talked to them separately and they both said exactly the same thing,” Hanson relayed on Tuesday following practice.
“They both said that they hadn’t seen that shot in a while. It had good lift. It had good arc. And they said I just looked a lot more comfortable.”
All of this is significant, because just past the midway mark of her career as a university player, days like last Friday come along and show that success in the simple/complicated world of the jump shooter doesn’t always happen because of some technical re-set.
“I have been getting in the gym with (UBC assistant coach) Carrie (Watts) and with my dad,” admits Hanson who this season shot 35 per cent from the field and 32 per cent from beyond the arc in regular-season conference play. “But really, I haven’t made more than maybe a couple of small tweaks. I don’t want to change anything major this far into the season.”
Volume shooting certainly helps, but a small part of you can’t help but think that as Hanson continues to grow more accustomed to the myriad of other tasks and responsibilities she has taken on as a member of a ‘Birds team devoid of fourth- and fifth-year players, that the recent comfort she has been feeling has manifested itself in the form of what others called a more comfortable looking and self-assured player.
GLUE GIRL 101
Huband knows that in Hanson, Maddison Penn and Keylyn Filewich, that she has three pieces with which to lay a foundation of longterm success.
But she also knows that there is a transitional period over which time those same young players will have to fulfill other equally important roles, ones which aren’t so much related just to scoring the ball.
In Hanson’s case, Huband admits handing her the kitchen sink and more. And because of that, one of the dean’s of the U Sports coaching world considered her performance in the loss to the Vikes as significant.
“I think Friday was her strongest game of the year and I think a testament to her competitive spirit and willingness to work,” said Huband.
“One of the transitions she has had to make in only her third year is to be the glue on the floor as far as leadership at both ends of the court is concerned,” Huband continued. “So we’re asking her to lead with her energy and to get more comfortable asserting herself verbally with her teammates.
“She’s also played some heavy minutes (a team-high 32.9 mpg) and that can sometimes affect your touch and your finish with your legs. It’s finding that balance between being a scorer, playmaker and leader on the floor, and sometimes added responsibilities can detract from your game if you are a scorer. That is quite a heavy load.”
But not one Hanson has shied away from carrying.
“It’s taken a while to get used to,” she admits, “getting other people the shots they need and continuing to be a confident leader out there while still looking for my shot. Friday was a breakout game for me, a career high (in points) but there is nothing to celebrate yet. There is a big game this Friday and I have to get myself and my teammates going.”
A BRIGHT FUTURE BECKONS
In the fall of 2015, as Hanson arrived at UBC, mentors in her peer group were there to help with her transition.
“When I came in as a rookie, I had fifth-years in Adrienne (Parkin) and Diana (Lee), and even last season we had fifth year players (like Kara Spotton and Andrea Strujic).”
Yet very quickly, a trio of third-year players — Hanson, Penn and Krysten Lindquist — have become the team’s elders.
“Now I look around and it’s a lot different being one of the players that the rookies are looking to,” says Hanson. “It’s crazy.”
Yet so is the potential of a ‘Birds team whose collective chemistry, after its holiday break sojourn to Cuba, has spiked towards the positive.
“I can remember after playing Regina on the last weekend before the break just thinking ‘OK, it’s time to get to work now,’” says Hanson of a 72-56 loss which had mired UBC with a 4-8 Canada West record and five-game losing streak. “And that was the general sense of the team. We all put in a ton of work and Cuba turned out to be an amazing experience for us.”
And now, after a 6-2 finish to their regular season, Hanson looks to both the immediate and the longterm future of the program with a renewed optimism.
“I am not sure if Keylyn, Maddie or I have all had our best game together,” she gathers. “We have all taken turns. But each of us, we’re all still growing and learning how to play with each other.
“And the more everyone on our team does, the more it helps shape our identity. We’re not trying to create a new one. But we are still trying to build towards the kind of team we know we can be. That is exciting.”
And it’s through that process of meeting daily demands, the ones which help you grow as a person and player, that rewards can sneak up on you, manifesting themselves in uncommon ways.
Ask the ones whose eyes Jessica Hanson trusts most, and chances are they’ll be in complete agreement.
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