April 19th, 2023 | NEWS
The 2023 basketball intervarsities really put into perspective how special this past year of my life has been. It also highlighted how something as simple as an 8 oz ball can make a significant impact. This year I have had the opportunity to do some really spectacular things. To name a few; I have been able to continue playing basketball at a high level, obtain a master’s degree, work with young people and also travel Europe. The most remarkable thing I can take away from this year, however, is the way basketball brings people together.
Over Easter weekend, the UL sports arena in Limerick became the melting pot for all things basketball in Ireland. More than 30 men’s and women’s basketball teams competed in the Intervarsities tournament. Everyone there embraced the atmosphere and made the weekend memorable.
From the moment I walked into the gym on Friday, I could sense that there was something great about this weekend. The sound of shoes squeaking and balls bouncing at 9:00 am reminded me of the energy of an AAU tournament and really brought me back. From the earliest games on Friday, all the way to championship Sunday, the competitive fire was palpable. Everyone was competing hard and having fun. Although there were rivalries on the court, they never spilled beyond it. It was impossible, considering you might run into the opposing team in the hotel elevator later.
(Freeman, receiving recognition for his selection as an NBCC All Star during inter-varsities)
As a team, our goal was to do our best and put Waterford on the map. We were determined to win a gold medal and hoist the cup, especially after coming in second to a really good Trinity team in the league final. Unfortunately, we fell just a few points short in the championship to Trinity again; major props to them for their victory. Bringing back a second silver medal definitely leaves a sour taste in the mouth, but I’m sure the Waterford guys will do great things next year. I am proud of our team; we fought incredibly hard and we can still hold our heads high. We definitely had our fair share of fun and success over the weekend, winning 4 out of the 5 games and earning a promotion.
A couple of particularly special moments actually came from off the court though. A little while after our team’s first game of the weekend, we made our way over to support the Waterford women’s team, who also had a great run in the tournament. As we get to the game I see nearly the entire Victory Scholar program there to cheer on Maggie, the other VS from Waterford. To my right was my basketball team which I’ve been able to call family this entire year. And to my left, was the scholar family.
It was surreal to see all these people in the same place with the same goal; supporting one of our own. This wasn’t a rare occurrence either, at any given time you could hear Victory Scholars and teammates cheering and supporting each other, regardless of whether they had just won or lost (they had usually just won though). This lasted all the way until the very last game of the weekend. Head to head in the men’s A varsities championship was 2 Victory Scholars Zach from NUIG and Johnny from ATU Donegal playing against and guarding each other. There to support and watch a great game was, of course, the Victory scholars who have clicked since day one of the program. Back in September, we arrived in Belfast tired and groggy after a long day of travel from our respective places in America. Then, we were hardly able to understand the Irish accent and had no idea what the year in front of us had in store. Now, we’re finishing our seasons and master’s degrees and are starting to get our plans in order for next year. This year is a springboard into our careers and we all have our own unique success stories to look back on, and some new Irish lingo as well. It was bittersweet to reminisce with both teammates and friends that we can now call our family. And here we all are on Easter Sunday getting to watch a pair of them go head-to-head one the last time. Seeing this group excel and embrace its environment has been awesome. For some of us, this was our last time playing competitive basketball, and for others, this is likely the start of a long professional career. But regardless of where everyone ends up, I know they’ll be hearing myself and the other Victory Scholars cheering them on from the sideline.
(Freeman with his fellow SETU Victory Scholar Maggie Meehan)
As much as I wanted to bring a piece of gold home, I can gladly say I’ll be leaving basketball, Waterford, and the Victory Scholar Program with so much to be thankful for. I’ve gained a new worldview on how sport can really change lives and bring people together. I also built lifelong friendships with scholars and teammates that I know will go on to do great things. Besides, 2 silver medals shine brighter than one gold medal.. Right?