Ducks women hoopsters pass their tests, on the court and off

UO sophomore Erin Boley

Playing for the UO’s powerhouse women’s basketball team is not all three-pointers, fast breaks and NCAA Tournament bids.

There’s also the whole school thing.

As with other student-athletes on campus, the Oregon women face a demanding schedule. The Ducks are in the home stretch of a season that began in November and included 33 games and 11 road trips, including five days in Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament.

If they continue their winning ways, the Ducks (29-4) will play up to six more games in the NCAA Tournament over the next three weeks.

On the basketball side, demands on the athletes include daily practices, weight-lifting sessions, physical therapy and of course, games, home and away. On the academic side, there’s classes, labs, homework and exams.

“There’s almost not enough hours in the day to get both of those things done,” said sophomore Erin Boley. “I have to stay really organized. I keep multiple schedules to make sure I’m keeping up with everything.”

The competing demands require the student-athletes to be smart about how they use their time, she said. Boley finds studying is easier to do after practice and after games because she can focus her attention on her studies.

“Especially with traveling, with road trips, I really have to plan ahead, figuring out what I can do on the road, what I can bring with me and work on while on the plane or in the hotel room,” she said.

The hard work has paid off for the sharp-shooting forward. She’s excelled on the court, where she averages 13 points a game and led the Pac-12 in three-point shooting — sinking 95 treys for a 45.7 shooting percentage — and in the classroom, where she maintains a 3.66 GPA, earning her a spot on the conference’s all-academic second team.

Boley, a Kentucky native who transferred to Oregon from Notre Dame after her freshman year, is majoring in product design and minoring in architecture. She said she’s particularly interested in spatial design, an emerging discipline that examines how people move through interior and exterior spaces. She wants to work as a designer after college.

Even with the planning, studying on road trips can be a challenge, Boley said.

“We don’t just show up to the court and play. We have to study and scout the other team,” she said. “But once you’re a couple years into college basketball, it gets a little easier. You get used to the schedule.”

And the demands of basketball ease up in the offseason, leaving more time for a social life and a heavier academic load.

Coach Kelly Graves said creating a team culture that values academics begins with the recruiting process.

“We recruit good students,” he said. “We prioritize academics.”

To help the players with time management, the team schedules meetings, rehabilitation sessions, film study and practice in a single block of time, rather than spread things out through the day, he said, “so they can really manage their day.”

This year’s team was under a lot of pressure because expectations for them to excel were so high, he said.

“We talk to them all the time — prioritize your time, get as much work done as you can early in the quarter and stay off social media; it’s a time waster.”

Sophomore Satou Sabally, an All-Pac 12 player, said staying on top of her studies means sacrificing in other areas, like a social life, at least during the season.

“During the term I barely hang out with friends,” she said. “I barely do anything outside (basketball) and if I do, it’s like I’m always tired.”

Sabally owns a 3.5 GPA and, along with fellow Ducks Lydia Giomi and Ruthy Hebard, earned honorable mention recognition on the Pac-12 All-Academic team.

She’s studying international studies but may change her major. She’s thinking of attending law school and has a particular interest in social work and helping people in need, such as the Syrian refugees who have landed in her native Germany.

“I love my law classes,” she said. “I love learning things about the law that are not just, but are supposed to be just.”

It’s not easy balancing academic and athletic demands, she said.

“It’s just one mental thing and one physical thing and both require rest, focus and concentration,” she said. “You are not able to give 100 percent to both things. You really have to balance it out.

“I want to be the best player I can be. I want to be on the court and put extra work in, but it barely works if you work a lot for school, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Missing class time and exams on road trips means it’s critical to establish good communication with professors, she said.

“I encourage every professor to be understanding because it’s super hard,” she said. “We do not feel good about missing all these classes, because we know we have to catch up.”

Jennifer Jackson is the academic adviser for women’s basketball, as well as for acrobatics and tumbling, soccer, and about one-third of the football team. She played basketball at Kansas and understands the rigors facing student-athletes.

She said she helps the women schedule their classes, tracks their progress toward their degrees and schedules tutors if needed.

While on the road, the women study on the plane and during downtime in their hotel rooms. They make sure to go to professors’ office hours while on campus. And they get over to study at the Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes whenever they can, she said.

“What’s interesting is, a lot of the athletes will say the structure helps them get things done,” she said.

The Jaqua Center is a great resource, especially for women’s basketball, since it’s just across the street from Matthew Knight Arena, where they practice and play, she said.

“They’re constantly in here, stealing an hour here or there, checking with a tutor or learning specialist and making sure everything is good,”Jackson said. “The fact they’re very proactive helps a lot. These are the true definitions of student-athletes.”

By Tim Christie, University Communications