GREENVILLE, S.C. — A media room in the bowels of a college basketball arena is an odd place to be reminded of how small the modern world is.
I’m covering the South Atlantic Conference basketball tournament for the Charlotte Observer this weekend, an assignment I always enjoy — not just for the basketball, but for the under-the-radar stories you encounter.
Saturday’s women’s semifinal game between Wingate and Newberry at Furman University’s Timmons Arena was entertaining enough, with the No. 3-seeded Bulldogs making up for some regular-season frustration against the No. 2-seeded Wolves with a 61-54 victory to advance to Sunday’s championship.
Wingate won its 20th game of the season in part thanks to a work woman like (that’s the best I can do as autocorrect — mired in the 19th century — keeps wanting to change it to “workmanlike”) performance from 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Marta Miscenko, a transfer from Texas-El Paso by way of high school ball in Fayetteville, N.C., and her native Riga, Latvia.
She scored 14 of Wingate’s 19 points in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 24 points and five rebounds.
“I told myself and my teammates that I wasn’t going home today and neither were they,” Miscenko said in the post-game presser. “I wanted to make every shot I took.”
I liked the confidence in that, and it was as quotable as anything any American athlete who’s grown up watching ESPN could come up with.
But as great as that win was for the Bulldogs, as I often tell my students, I often find the losers more interesting, as the emotions can be more “real.”
But what caught my ears in the Newberry portion of the post-game was the accents — the kind you don’t expect from folks from a tiny Lutheran school in the middle of South Carolina. Eight of the Wolves’ players and their coach, Sean Page, are Australian.
Page seemed to bristle at the request by SAC sports information people to make an opening comment: “What do you want me to say? They won. We lost. They outplayed us.”
But turns out that the coach’s sense of humor is a little quirky and he quickly warmed to the task of praising his team for its 12th straight winning season — which Page says is a record for women’s college basketball in the Palmetto State.
“I want to make sure we get some credit for that,” he said.
He also talked about the team’s four seniors, including forward Samantha Creed, who scored 15 points.
She’s from a suburb of Melbourne and her journey has included a pair of knee surgeries which limited her college career to three seasons. She still finishes as the No. 3 all-time women’s scorer for the Wolves.
I asked her what she planned to do next, which appeared to be a question that she didn’t expect.
“I’m probably going to go home and spend some time with my family after graduation, because I ended up spending five years here rather than the four I had planned on,” Creed said. “Then I hope I’ll have some opportunities to keep playing basketball.”
I started to ask her if she had ever tried the hash and rice at Wise’s, an iconic BBQ joint near Newberry that’s a must-stop if you like that sort of thing. But I figured that would be pushing the meeting of cultures thing too far.
It is indeed a small world, after all.