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VANCOUVER — Basketball players will all tell you that the mind has a tendency to get awfully loud at this time each season.
And for UBC fifth-year guard Jessica Hanson, you might think that to be especially true, what with the final two regular-season games of her Thunderbirds’ career set tip off this Friday and Saturday at War Memorial Gym against the same Winnipeg Wesmen team which last season, as a heavy road underdog, stunned the ‘Birds on their home court in the opening round of the post-season.
Yet ask her all about her most-recent eight-game stretch to start 2020, one which just happens to be the most productive and efficient of her entire UBC career, and it’s clear that her response is coming from a deeper and more quiet place.
“One night (over the holiday break), I just got tired of my mindset of feeling sorry for myself and not enjoying the journey,” Hanson admitted Wednesday of stepping outside of herself to experience a self-empowering moment.
“There’s a Kobe Bryant quote about enjoying your journey,” continued Hanson. “I had a shift in mindset, and I’ve just been able to be more present in the moment, and at the same time, to not get so caught up in the moment.”
And so with teammate Kate Johnson embracing a good portion of the more defined point guard duties Hanson had handled over much of her UBC career, a liberation of sorts has been allowed to play out, contributing not only to UBC’s 14-4 campaign, but to a sterling 12-1 record over its past 13 games, including its current six-game win streak.
UBC head coach Deb Huband has noticed the deeper place from which Hanson has been playing.
“This year, and particular the last month, Jess has really moved her game forward,” said Huband of Hanson, who had never shot over 40 per cent from the field over her first four seasons, yet over the eight games the team has played since the calendar turned to 2020, has connected at a 53.3 per cent clip (51.6 per cent from three-point range) and is averaging 19.4 points per game.
“With that fifth year, there is that calmness and that experience that you hopes comes,” Huband continued. “There is an intrinsic confidence, a giving of herself to the game with trust. Sometimes, when people are so motivated, so hungry and so competitive, that when they find that level, you see them as their best selves. That’s what we’re seeing with Jess right now, and it’s great timing.”
The dynamics of every team are so uniquely their own, and in the case or the 2019-20 Thunderbirds, having to play without the double-double impact of fellow senior guard Maddison Penn, returning from a back injury, forced a significant shifting of chairs.
Through it all, Hanson, the 2015 grad of Vancouver’s Little Flower Academy, naturally gravitated to more of a scoring role, and with increased depth and experience percolating within a roster that hasn’t had a senior the prior two seasons, a stronger and deeper team has emerged in time for a playoff run.
“The types of shots Jess is getting now are different, because she’s not always playing at the one (point guard),” says Huband. “She doesn’t have to start with the ball in her hands. It can find her.”
It’s a prime reason that she has managed to keep her three-point percentage (16-of-31) and her overall field goal percentage (57-of-107) over 50 per cent in 2020.
As well, with the team’s depth, Hanson has averaged that near-20 ppg in 2020 in just 27 minutes per game, and within an offence that is led by star fourth-year forward Keylyn Filewich.
Yet those are just numbers.
To Hanson, the real story these days sit more in appreciating the very moment she finds herself in.
“I think I realized in December that I have two more months left,” she said of her U Sports career, “and now here we are at max, three-to-four weeks. That’s not panicky, and that’s not sad. It’s exciting that I am here with these coaches and these teammates and I have a finite time left with them. I want to make the most of it.”
At this same time in 2017, at the end of her sophomore year, Hanson remembers being present for the team’s Seniors Night, knowing that there wouldn’t be another such ceremony until her own in 2020. Hanson, Penn and Krysten Lindquist are the three UBC women’s players being honoured Saturday.
“There is a great opportunity that comes with being able to step into a bigger role when you’re younger,” admits Huband, referencing that Hanson averaged over 20 minutes-per-game coming off the bench as a freshman.”But with that comes a lot of added responsibilities, and that can sometimes feel heavy and overwhelming.”
And that why we said right off the top that basketball players, at this time of the year, tend to hear a lot of internal noise.
Jessica Hanson, however, is grateful for her present of presence.
And as the countdown to her final home regular season games against the team which turned UBC’s 2019 post-season into a one-and-done stunner continues, it’s that shifting mental mindset which has her appreciating the moment the best an athlete can.
“It’s kind of timely, and we’ve got a year’s worth of motivation,” she explained. “I’ve been thinking about these games all year… since that last game. It’s an exciting weekend, especially with our Courtside game Friday and Seniors Night on Saturday. I wouldn’t want to play anyone else.”
Since the new year, it’s been a new Jessica Hanson.
Perhaps the best way to say it, is that she’s seeing 20/20 in 2020.
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