All-star tournament leads to trip of a lifetime

By Pam Windsor

Being on the road is just part of being an athlete. But what happens when the road trip takes you south of the Equator to Brazil?

Women’s Basketball Head Coach Molly Totten Jones ’86, along with junior Alicia Hopkins and sophomore Kelsey Jones, found out this past summer when they traveled to the South American continent to participate in this year’s USA Division III All-Star Tour.

Joining them on the trip were assistant coaches John Jones and Kyle Wilson ’05, currently an assistant coach at Henderson State University (Ark.).

“Our first game was a little rough,” admitted Hopkins, a junior. “We had no idea what to expect and they were really athletic, and we were really tired. We’d just gotten off the plane and had to drive two hours to get there.”

The 10-member team, rounded out by students from other U.S. schools, lost that first game, but won the next. Overall, they were two-and-two in the tournament.

“I think what impressed me was how with each game their playing got better and better, even though they had never played together before the tournament” said Molly Jones.

On the court, before and after games, the girls got to know more about the Brazilian players and some of the challenges they face.

“I met a girl who played basketball for a team we played and her parents had split,” said Hopkins. “She was really skinny … because she doesn’t eat. Instead, she’s doing everything possible to make sure her siblings can eat.”

That same girl, like most of the players, couldn’t afford proper basketball shoes. Hopkins wanted to give her an extra pair she’d brought with her, but they didn’t fit.

Fortunately, Hopkins’ coach had an extra pair that did. Later, she gave another player her own Nike socks, after a game. The Brazilian players were extremely grateful.

Sampling the local cuisine gave the team a chance to try a different kind of favorite college food. The pizzas were unlike any they’d seen in the U.S.

“They put beef on their chicken (pizza) or they brought out a chocolate pizza with sprinkles, or an ice cream pizza,” said Molly Jones.

Overall, the trip for the coach  and her players was both warm and enlightening.

“When we play our games here, we’ll play the game, then we shake hands afterward and everybody goes their own way,” said Molly Jones. “(After the games), the girls had a lot of interaction, and even though they weren’t speaking the same language they were able to communicate. 

For Kelsey Jones, who played for the Panthers during her first year, the different lifestyle made her appreciate the advantages she has in the U.S.

“It definitely opened my eyes,” she said. “Everyone in Brazil was no nice and so glad to welcome us to their country even when we didn’t speak a lick of Portuguese. They didn’t even care.”