Updated: Mar 5, 2019
Serena Williams triumphant return to the upper echelon of professional tennis after having her daughter had us all in awe. It also reminded me of the responsibility to provide girls and boys with as many strong female role models as possible, in order to assist in bringing equality to women in sports. Instantly Canadian Basketball legend Stephany Skrba came to mind. Stephany has given birth to her two sons while competing in the Euroleague at the highest level of women's basketball outside the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). Since 2009 she has excelled as a professional basketball player and full time mom, splitting time raising her two sons, thousands of miles from her family in Toronto Canada while competing against Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi, Angel McCoughtry and many more of the biggest names in women's basketball. Stephany's journey is clearly an inspiration for anyone looking for encouragement to pursue their dreams despite the perceived barriers people try to put before us.
The plight of North American women in basketball as a whole, is a daunting athlete journey. But I can't even imagine transforming my body back to a professional level after undergoing all the physical and emotional changes brought about through pregnancy. And If it holds true; the greater the barriers an athlete overcomes the more we admire them, then the trails blazed coming out of Toronto's basketball community by Stephany make her a Canadian Professional Basketball Wonder Women.
It is a privilege to have been part of Stephany's journey as a coach, trainer, event organizer and a witness to how she elevated herself and the game of basketball for women in Canada. Stephany's talent transcended the game of basketball for Canadian high school girls in the early 2000's. It was a time when the Canadian boys high school ballers were beginning to get even greater global recognition from the exploits of Jesse Young, Denham Brown, Olu Famutimi, Kyle Wilson, Jevohn Shepherd and Theo Davis. Stephany brought real star power to girls basketball. 120 NCAA Division 1 schools flooded into the city to recruit her and the country came calling for her service with a selection to Canada's Jr National Team.
"Stephany helped Canada qualify for the 2005 FIBA Under 19 World Championship for the first time in the program’s history after the Junior Women’s (Under 18) National Team captured the bronze medal at the FIBA Americas Under 18 World Championship Qualification Tournament in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico…Stephany Canada’s leading scorer at the tournament, averaging 12.0 points…Led the entire tournament in rebounding, averaging 12.2 rebounds…"- Canada Basketball, http://www.basketball.ca/files/Skrba,_Stephany___updated_March_2013.pdf
Stephany has always had the full respect of the male basketball players and coaches. Many of us felt she could more than hold her own if she had to compete against them. That respect lead her to be chosen P.H.A.S.E. 1's Canadian Female Rising Star in 2004. She followed that up by being chosen the first female to be on the cover of P.H.A.S.E. 1's All Canada Classic-Rumble in the T-Dot Poster in 2005 and unanimous winner of the 2005 P.H.A.S.E. 1 Journey Awards - Miss Basketball Canada.
Stephany's journey began playing organized basketball at Beverley Heights Middle School (near Jane and Sheppard) in Toronto, Ontario, then she played high school basketball for Langstaff H.S. in Richmond Hill, Ontario.
"I don't claim one particular part of the city, Toronto is my home!" - Stephany Skrba
Stephany's dad was a Toronto area high school star. He played at York University in Toronto and continued to play after University, when Stephany was younger, in different leagues and tournaments across North America. Stephany would go with him all the time and soon became passionate about basketball too. She began playing Rep. (Ontario Club System) and American Athletic Union (AAU) basketball for Toronto 5-0 and it was through this experience traveling to U.S. tournaments she got recruited by and accepted a scholarship to U. Michigan.
"In high school, Jim Henderson was my coach, my dad also coached me at one point...in college Cheryl Burnett and Kevin Borseth. Each one of them had VERY different coaching styles, but impacted my game and helped me grow as a player. I still use bits and pieces of what each of them have taught me to this day." - Stephany Skrba
THE WOMEN'S GAME
Stephany's level of dedication to a career in basketball is even more impressive when you understand the struggle for resources, support and opportunities in North American basketball for females pursuing a professional career. Female ballers make the decision everyday to pursue life in a sport that has drawn a very clear line when it comes to the return on the time a women invest in developing their talent compared to their male counterparts. This effort is not for anyone who lacks a passion to get the most out of the talent God has blessed them with.
I've been coaching, training and running events in the North American basketball community for 25 years and I'm currently Head Coach of the Phoenix Lady Elite 's Women's Semi-Pro basketball team playing in the Women's Basketball Development Association (WBDA). My experience is why I can safely say the treatment of women in basketball is a choice by those in position to put more money into marketing the women's game and creating an equal platform for them to get comparable contracts, and endorsement deals to men. The commitment of female athletes, the passion in which they play the game and the talent they display is definitely not the reason for the decision.
“What people need to understand about women’s sports is we’re just as disciplined, we’re working just as hard, we’re just as dedicated and just because a casual guy fan who might be physically stronger than me is watching and thinks he can take me one-on-one, that doesn’t mean I’m not working every day in the gym, and that when I go out on the court, it’s not just as hard as every other professional sport,” - Sue Bird, Basketball Operations Assistant for the Denver Nuggets https://www.denverpost.com/2019/02/28/sue-bird-nike-dream-crazier-ad/
My first introduction to Stephany Skrba was in 2004 at Centennial College in Scarborough, Ontario for P.H.A.S.E. 1's All Canada Classic. The P1ACC was Canada's first and only National High School Basketball all star game where both the males and females shared the same stage. Stephany was an junior so she was selected by the committee to play in an exhibition all star game during the P1ACC that pitted the top female players from Ontario vs Pennsylvania's best.
When Stephany walked out with her Ontario All Star teammates it was like the opening scene of Wonder Woman and we were being introduced for the first time to the potential of women training for high level competition. Stephany could have easily been cast to play the role of an Amazon. At 6'2" long and lean she looked like the prototype for an athlete sculpted to play professional basketball. In 2004 alongside her good friend Alisha Tatham the winner of the first ever Miss Basketball Canada and M.V.P. of P.H.A.S.E. 1's 2004 All Canada Classic - Girl's Rumble in the T-Dot National High School All Star Game many people who saw these female hoopers for the first time at Centennial College Arena, instantly became fans.
Although I was excited to be a part of such a historic day in women's basketball, it was also through running the All Canada Classic I was introduced to the fact decisions were being made from the corporate level down to us on the ground-floor how to treat the women's game. The biggest opponents to the girl's game being played before the boy's game came from our sponsors. Their very false rational was the girls all star game lacked excitement and would take away from the event. We insisted and went forward with the event. Centennial College Arena was packed for the P1ACC Girls Rumble in the T-Dot game and in their gratitude the girls put on an intense battle for the crowd.
WATCH THE FULL GAME OF P.H.A.S.E. 1'S 2005 ALL CANADA CLASSIC GIRLS RUMBLE IN THE T-DOT
For the ignorant who believe women's basketball lacks excitement because only a few have the ability to dunk the ball in a game, then they have never watched Steph Curry and Steve Nash hold an NBA stadium captive with their every move and not even put a finger on the rim. They also missed the beauty of a basketball game where the ball moves from player to player with precision passing, cutting through the defences web and ending with an open jumpshot. Surely dunking the ball can't be the only basketball skill worth spending money to watch.
I could easily site all the obvious examples at the high school, college and professional level of the disparity between the treatment of females verses males. Instead there needs to be more focus on role models like Stephany Skrba and how they continue to inspire the women and men who have the honor to connect with them throughout their careers.
STEPHANY'S PROFESSIONAL CAREER
Stephany is currently playing for Union Angers Basketball Club (UFAB49)in Angers, France. The Women's Union Angers Basketball is the professional women's basketball club playing in the Women's Basketball League (LFB), the highest national level.
Stephany is in her 10th year as a professional basketball player and has eight seasons under her belt. Stephany took time off to each year she had a child but quickly got back to training with a variety of local trainers to help her get back to an elite level. Stephany's first pro contract was in Spain (1yr) and she has played in Poland (1yr), Italy(1yr), Greece(2yrs) and now in France(4yrs). In her first year in France playing in the Euroleague, which is the best league in Europe, Stephany led her team in points and rebounds while leading the whole Euroleague in field goal percentage. Stephany has had many great accomplishments as pro but she is most proud of winning a Euroleague Championship in France and being league leading rebounder in two different countries, Greece and France.
"Growing up I loved Tracy McGrady, for how smooth his game was and Kevin Garnett, for his passion for the game & the fact he was a double double machine (like I've tried to be throughout my career as well)." - Stephany Skrba
I am very proud of the role model Stephany has become in the basketball world but as a parent I am even more proud of the mother she has become. Stephany is a committed full-time mom raising her boys while playing professionally. She not only picks them up from school, prepares their meals and helps them with homework. Stephany has strategically made a point of exposing them to the beauty and history of the different countries she has lived with them. They have learned the languages of Greece and Poland, while on the way to becoming fluent in French.
"Europe is very family oriented...you get to spend a lot of time with your family. I really wanted to see my children grow up in the early stages of their life and show them the world while still doing what I love..." - Stephany Skrba
"Along the way my role in Stephany's life has changed from event organizer finding ways to celebrate her talent in high school to a trainer and coach when she was transitioning to a professional career. I have had the pleasure of coaching her in 2009 when she returned for the P.H.A.S.E. 1 All Canada Classic Alumni Game and again in 2010 when she played for P.H.A.S.E. 1's Toronto Lady Elite 1's. I am honored to now have the opportunity to share Stephany's "Journey Of An Elite 1" and shed more light on her amazing legacy as a Canadian Pro Basketball Wonder Women." - Wayne Dawkins