Lady Jaspers Are Team-Building on and off the Court

by, Lauren Raziano & Pete Janny, Social Media Editor & Sports Editor

It’s not always easy to have service-related projects during the grind of the season. But in a time of great struggle in the world, the Lady Jaspers have grown more united by helping others.

Back in late January, the Lady Jaspers created gift bags for essential workers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to show their support amidst the ongoing struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic. The inspiration for choosing Sloan Kettering stemmed from its close proximity in the community, as well as senior guard Lizahya Morgan’s status as an intern there.

Pam Miceus is a graduate student on the women’s basketball team and participated in the effort of giving back to the healthcare heroes in the community. Miceus took a break from blocking shots on the court by assembling some of the gift bags, which contained an assortment of small items. Each helper even added their own personal twist to the bundles through the written word.

“Inside the gift bags we had personally written notes for our essential workers, our heroes, essentially,” said Miceus, who is seen as a leader on her team. “We put candles inside them, there was chocolate, There was a hand soap, a bookmark, and like a couple of different things.”

As an intern, Morgan knows the stress of being a frontline worker. As a result, her teammates wanted to do something that would impact the lives of essential workers without forgetting the immediate role Morgan is playing in the fight as well.

“She sees the problems they have in the hospitals and what they’re seeing on the front line so we thought of Sloan because we’re directly connected to them,” Miceus said of the team’s connection to the hospital.

The gift bags included items such as chocolates, a candle, bookmark, lotion, hand sanitizer, and a pair Manhattan Jasper socks. @MANHATTANWBB / COURTESY

Although the players have busy schedules, assistant coach Rene Wakama encourages the team to always remember that life is about more than devoting time to school and basketball.

“As coaches we make sure we instill in our players that it’s always bigger than basketball,” Wakama said. “So yes, our lives are crazy right now, our schedules are crazy. They’re always changing. But the bigger picture is life and things are going on outside of this campus, and how can we impact that.”

Because of the impact COVID-19 has had on the basketball season, Wakama and the rest of the coaching staff have organized other activities to build team rapport and keep everyone engaged, knowing that they won’t be able to weather the adversity of playing during a pandemic without the support of one another.

“We have to find creative ways of keeping them locked in,” Wakama said. “Like reading a book and doing different things to try to keep them together, and let them know that they are not alone.”

Some activities have even been centered on therapeutic techniques so that the players don’t feel marginalized in any way. After all, the pandemic has taken just as much a toll mentally as it has physically, and thus the program wants to leave no stones unturned during this time.

“We’ve had therapy sessions because we’ve been trying to go above and beyond,” Wakama said. “You want to make sure that our core is tight and they really feel the trust and the support from everyone.”

The COVID-19 restrictions have given the basketball teams no choice but to live in “pods” and have limited interactions with other students. This has impacted the players’ friendships with each other, while also teaching them lessons on how to manage relationships with others.

In January the Lady Jaspers made personalized cards and gift bags for the essential workers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to show their support amidst the ongoing struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic. @MANHATTANWBB / COURTESY

“We’re only really like in our own pods, so we’ve gotten to get to know each other a lot better, much closer than we’ve been in previous years so it’s been a great time,” Miceus said.

Wakama can also attest to seeing the relationships between players blossom thanks to all the time they spend together. It’s almost as if the players and coaches have another family outside of their blood families, and that’s what makes being a part of the program special.

“These girls spend a lot of time together, maybe too much time, but they love each other at the end of the day,” Wakama said.

This year is also special because of the number of seniors on the team who have been together for a couple of years already. Most coaches like Wakama would probably agree that there are few intangibles better than having veteran leadership in the locker room. They set the tone and the rest follow.

“We have seven seniors this year so these kids have been here from day one, so they know what to expect and it’s beautiful to see how much they’ve grown over this time and see how they’re pulling along the other girls,” Wakama said.

Miceus is grateful for the experience of being able to play more continuously than many other teams around the country who haven’t been as lucky with their own set of preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19. The strangeness of this season is best seen by examples such as Duke women’s basketball and the entire Ivy League — in both cases they chose against playing a basketball season.

“One of the things not only tough physically, and everything but when you go on pause and you have to be quarantined for multiple days like it is mentally tough,” Miceus said.

Given that reality, Miceus is aware of how important doing team activities is since there’s little else to do with non-teammates thanks to the restrictions in place. As a result, the players are grateful for the coaching staff’s undying commitment to making this season as smooth as it can be. It’s been a total team effort in the truest sense possible.

“This season has definitely been one of the most mentally draining just from only having a plan of wanting to win and wanting to be great,” Miceus said. “But also because there’s so much going on the outside and I feel like our coaching staff really has been there every day.”

By doing activities like the gift bags, the basketball players have the chance to take their mind off things while away from the court and in turn are able to feel re-energized when they take the court.

“There’s so much uncertainty around this year and last year,” Miceus said. “Our approach is day by day, just controlling our controllables. I’m sure it’s similar to how our essential workers work, you don’t know what to expect every single day. Tomorrow, something can be put on pause or they can cancel our whole season so that’s also the approach that we bring inside the weight room and on the court.”

While they may not be literally saving lives, Miceus and her teammates can be proud of the influence they hold on campus. Like the essential workers, they are simply trying to play a role in making the world a better place.

“I don’t want to compare myself to the sacrifice that essential workers are making because that’s more like a life or death type,” Miceus said. “But I definitely have an understanding of my position as like, it’s always been a situation where student-athletes are kind of leading on campus and kind of setting the example.”

The Lady Jaspers hope to continue to lead by example on and off the court with their service, sacrifice and dedication to basketball, Manhattan College and New York City. Thanks to teams like them, the blueprint is set on how to win both on and off the court.