Connecticut native Chantell Alford is looking forward to the start of this season’s basketball league with Team Montenotte Hotel Glanmire.
Having starred on last season’s league and cup-winning side, she’s well settled in Cork by now.
It wasn’t her strangest overseas posting. There was that brief spell with Sporting Al Riyadi in Beirut...
‘Language wasn’t really an issue,” says Alford.
“They spoke English there. Obviously a lot of people speak Arabic, but as it happens I took Arabic in high school, so I was able to understand a bit, at least.
“It wasn’t that it was a challenge, living there, but it was a matter of getting over the fear of being there — the fact that you’re in a country right in the centre of the Middle East, with so much happening in all of those countries all around.
“Once I got there the people were great, very welcoming, and though I wasn’t there too long, it was rewarding, a good experience.”
After that, Ireland was far easier in terms of culture: “The language barriers make me nervous when I go somewhere new, but that’’s a challenge for most people. Here, it’s different.
“People speak English, the food’s not too different from home, and living is much easier when all that is much the same. You can focus on basketball, then.” How does she find the game here compared to the college game back home, then?
“It’s faster here,” she says. “I realised that when I was here last year.
“Adjusting to how the game is played, regardless of the standard where you are compared to the game back home, there’s an adjustment period. I think I was able to do that last year — it took a while, but I found my niche and was able to be in the game, to be a part of the team.”
For her friends and family back on the East Coast of the US, Ireland may not be as exotic as Beirut, but it’s still pretty distant, surely.
“To some of them it’s a little strange, yes. But others say, ‘just be grateful you have this opportunity’, and it is an opportunity.
“I just wish more people could come and visit, because it’s such a beautiful place, and I really love it here. But they tell me to take advantage of it and of every opportunity that comes my way, to really enjoy it. And I do.
“It’s also a case of me coming over and having a job to do, and wanting to win.” Focusing on the job takes discipline, she says.
Living in Cork’s Ambassador Hotel in the season, she has to focus on being “as prepared as I can be” for tip-off, but it’s her teammates who provide the escape valve away from the court.
“I have to be as prepared as I can be for when basketball comes around. I focus on that when it comes around.
“My teammates help. It took a while to break into all of that last year, getting out and about. I felt myself being pretty stuck in the hotel, I wasn’t getting out much, but my teammates did a good job.
“They got me out to visit their houses, to go for tea or coffee, to go to movies... that was a big help.” So what have been the highlights of her stay?
“The friendships I’ve made, those have meant the most to me,” says Alford.
“You go to different places and meet different people, and making friends is what counts.
“Plus, last year my Mom was able to come over and visit, and she said the same thing — how welcoming people were to her.
“Winning helps, too. Winning the National Cup and the league title, those were really big. How did my friends react when I told them? I just told them I was part Irish, anyway. I was happy we got it done.”
In the medium term, where does she see her future? Trying to break into the WNBA back home or maybe experiencing different cultures?
“Right now I’m just focused on the season ahead, and seeing what happens.
“The WNBA has always been in the back of my head, but travelling to different countries is something I enjoy, too.
“I studied criminal justice in college, but I’m thinking of going back to school next summer to do massage therapy — just to stay in the sports world. But for now it’s all about this season.”
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