In this gritty reboot of our continuing series of interviews with Columbia’s athletic stars, we sat down with women’s basketball forwards Tori Oliver (CC ’17) and Amara Mbionwu (CC ’15). They joined basketball baron Ross Chapman to discuss hoops, teamwork, and Netflix.
Bwog: What would you say is the best thing about this team?
Tori: We’re all really close-knit, it’s almost like a small family. There’s no tension ever, there’s no fighting ever, we can just go on the floor, and if we’ve got problems there, we can fix it.
Amara: We just have more fun. I know my first two years here, it wasn’t as fun, only because we weren’t winning. But now we’ve grown more, learned more in practice, practiced harder, so the game just comes more naturally to us, and it’s more fun and exciting.
B: Amara, What do you credit the team’s improvements to?
A: First of all, it’s Coach [Stephanie Glance]. You cannot doubt that. It’s definitely Coach, and also our mindsets have changed a lot. Like, I come back stronger, and I played a lot more over the summer to prepare myself for the games this year. It’s our mentality, our mindset.
B: Tori, what sort of leadership roles do you find yourself taking?
T: Since my freshman year, I’ve adopted more of a leadership role on the team. Sometimes I’m looked to for scoring, and I help lead the defense on the floor. But we have four team leaders (we don’t use the word “captain”), and I’m one of them. The other captains are Campbell [Mobley], Miwa [Tachibana], and Sara [Mead].
B: When did you start playing?
A: Eighth grade, actually, so pretty late. I walked in the gym once and the head coach was like, “You’re tall enough, do you want to play?” And I was like, “Nooo, not really.” He actually coached me in order to play. I played soccer until eighth grade, and then he saw me. But I keep playing because I love the sport.
T: I’ve been playing since I was two. I mean, just playing with the ball. Basketball offers you many opportunities, for example, getting to come to this school. You get discipline, you get a team-oriented atmosphere, skills – you get a lot out of it.
B: How would you describe the team atmosphere, on a trip or anywhere else?
A: We always find a way to have fun. We joke around and stuff. Going to games, we’re more serious, we think about what we have to do to mentally and physically prepare. After road trips, after we win or lose, we still have to be in the mindset of, “We have a game tomorrow, we need to prepare for that also.” Or if we’re coming home, it’s like, “What can we do in practice to prepare for our game for next week.” So it depends on the game. We’re very focused.
T: We’re always laughing or joking with each other. Sometimes on bus rides, though, it’s a long ride and we just came from class, so we’re knocked out. Or some of us have a lot of classes together, so we do homework and study.
B: What do you do to relax in between school and sports?
A: Personally, I don’t have that much time, but I find time. I like to watch a lot of Netflix (I’m watching Nikita right now), I’ve already watched a lot of seasons and episodes of a lot of TV shows. I have to find time, because with basketball and school, there pretty much is no balance, or any time to even breathe or eat. So I find an hour or two in a day to sleep, or read a book, any book besides, like, Aristotle.
T: We do have two off days, we have Wednesday and Sunday off. Wednesday we’re in class. I know a lot of us take four to five classes, so class normally takes all day. And on our off days we still come into the gym and shoot. Normally, when we have time off, we eat and sleep. Sleep is the most important thing.
B: If you could have a lot of fans show up to one home game, which one would it be?
A: I think the Pink Game. That’s in two weeks, on Valentine’s Day against Dartmouth.
T: Probably the [Play for Kay] Pink Game. It’s really special to us, especially because our coach worked with Coach Yow. [Coach Kay Yow was the head coach at North Carolina State for 34 years. She earned over 700 wins, and coached over half of her career while diagnosed with breast cancer. Coach Glance acted as the interim head when Coach Yow was in the hospital.] It’s really important to stand up for things, it’s for a good cause.
B: Do you have any message you want to get out to the Columbia community?
T: We’re a group of really hard-working girls. We love our school, we play for our school every game. We’d really appreciate it if everyone came to support us.
B: Which is more pressure or stress, a game to decide the Ivy League championship, or finals week?
T: Probably a championship.
A: I’m definitely gonna say finals, I’m trying to graduate! No, probably a championship. I’ve never been in that position, so it’s of course more pressure. Being in a game where we could actually win that, oh, heck yeah.