April 8, 2011
By John Cummings
For Dayton Daily News
From the first time she pulled on a jersey for the Canadian national women's basketball team, Kendel Ross has dreamt about playing professionally overseas.
After a standout career at the University of Dayton, Ross is getting a chance to live the dream.
After finishing 16th on Dayton’s all-time scoring chart with 1,063 UD Head Coach Jim Jabir helped Ross land a contract with GDESSA/Barreiro of the Portuguese La Liga Feminina.
“It was always in my mind that when I was done playing college ball I would be over in Europe,” Ross said. “This has a lot to do with playing for Canada Basketball. I have been travelling overseas since I was barely 17 with Junior, Young Women's, and Development national teams. Almost all of our national team players play overseas to keep a ball in there hands in the offseason.”
So far, Ross is making the most of the new challenge.
In her first game, Ross scored 33 of the team’s 67 points. At the close of the season, she led the league in scoring (22.0 points), was fifth with 11.6 rebounds a game and fifth in blocked shots (1.0). In 19 games Ross has gone over 20 points 12 times and over 30 four times.
“I feel like I knew I could be successful in Europe because in Europe you are brought to a team to be the best player, or one of them, and so you have to perform,” Ross said. “I was prepared for the style of play and felt like I could do some damage. I didn't know that I would do this well but I am definitely not complaining.”
However, while Ross has flourished, her squad is 8-12 and finished in seventh place. After coming off a Flyer season that ended with the team’s first ever appearance in the NCAA tournament, losing games has been tough to take.
“The dynamic is very different than at Dayton. Here, with the language barrier and age gap, there are things I just cannot ask of my teammates and so that has been very tough,” said Ross.
Part of that adjustment has come from the set up of the European leagues. There are no high school teams, so young players will compete for the clubs. If they are good enough, they play in the top league. Ross has one teammate who is 15.
Another part of the adjustment has been the language barrier. Ross admits to having a decent grasp on French from growing up in Canada and claims to be getting a “pretty good grasp” on Portuguese as well.
“As long as it is spoken slowly I can pretty much keep up and carry on a conversation although it is somewhat broken Portuguese I am sure,” Ross said. “My coach speaks mostly Portuguese in practice and only translates to English when it is something he really wants to make sure I understand. I understand pretty much everything he says in practice though which is pretty exciting for me.”
The language barrier is just one of the adjustments Ross has had to make.
Practices begin at 8 p.m., pushing dinner back to 10:30 p.m., stores close for three hours a day for lunch and life is much more laid back.
“I have always loved being immersed in a different culture,” Ross said. “Seeing how different things can be, but still work, is fascinating for me. Portugal is also famous for its beautifully tiled buildings, sidewalks and roads. We are just a ferry ride away from Lisbon so we are lucky to be in a great area. Plus, you can't walk more than three steps here without hitting a bakery or pastry shop and they make the most amazingly delicious treats here that are a normal part of every day. I haven't minded making that adjustment.”
While she is enjoying her time overseas, Ross admits that she still gets homesick and misses celebrating birthdays and Christmas with family, she does had someone to share the experience with… her fiancée Mike Anderson.
Anderson, a former cross country runner at Dayton, proposed in the summer before making the move to Portugal. He is still competing and got Ross to run 17.5 km. race in Sintra with him.
“Mike is an amazing person and has made my experience in Portugal. Travelling is wonderful on it's own but having someone you love with you really makes it. I know this journey would not have been easy without him. I am reminded of that when I come home after practice frustrated with some drill we did for half of the time. Instead of sitting on the computer wondering what everyone else I know is doing I am greeted by him and life is just better,” Ross said. “(The run) was absolutely beautiful and getting to have experiences like that and sharing them with him has really been incredible.”
Despite being five hours ahead of Dayton, Ross still followed the Flyers online this season.
“I got pretty excited when they had an afternoon game,” Ross said. “You would think it is the Super Bowl the way my fiancée and I celebrate with pizza and chips huddled over the computer screen. One of the hardest things about being in Portugal was not being able to be in the stands supporting my favorite team.”
It is the team that Ross misses the most about UD.
“The amount of work that the UD coaches put in is unmatched by anywhere else I have been,” Ross said. “The camaraderie of the team is something I also know will never be the same. I wont ever again, spend four years with the same team and girls. It is a lot easier to have deep and meaningful conversations with people when there is no language barrier. I have grown close with my teammates here but I don't think I will ever be able to build relationships with teammates like I had at UD.”
Ross knows she owes a lot of what she is as a player to Jabir.
“He taught me strong work ethic and to believe that I can accomplish anything with that,” Ross said. “I came to UD with a goal and he helped push me to achieve it and I now know that if I work hard enough I can be successful.”