Being a leader on a university basketball team can be a tough gig. In addition to setting an example at all times — on the court, in the locker room and in the classroom — the individual has to provide motivation and guidance for their teammates. And when that team mostly consists of young players, the job becomes even more difficult.
However, it’s a role that Leigh Stansfield, Doug Plumb and O’Brian Wallace have been able to fill nicely this year on UBC’s men’s and women’s basketball teams. All three have not only provided veteran experience for their respective squads, but they have also led the way with strong play on the court. It has been evident all year, but even more so this past weekend, when all three were honoured for their time at UBC.
Stansfield is the lone fifth-year on the women’s team this year, but has embraced the role of leader. Stansfield has been a key reason why the young team is 14-4 and second place in the Canada West Pacific division.
“There’s a lot of leading by example, but also a lot of leading verbally, and I think it takes a while to get comfortable with that.… I think there’s been a tremendous growth in Leigh over the past couple years in her ability to do that,” said Deb Huband, head coach of the women’s team.
Stansfield performed up to her usual standards this past weekend during UBC’s sweep of the Mount Royal University Cougars. The forward racked up 14 points and five rebounds during the Thunderbirds’ 70-56 win over Mount Royal on Friday night, and then added 17 points and six rebounds in Saturday evening’s 79-40 triumph. It wasn’t far off her season averages of 14.6 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game. She’s also 11th in the conference in scoring and sixth in field goal percentage, thanks to her .541 mark.
Stansfield is also an adept student. The geography major has been named an Academic All-Canadian during her first four years at UBC, and she plans to go into environmental law.
The two fifth-years on the men’s team have been equally impressive this year. Neither played a full five years at UBC: Wallace transferred before this season from Brandon University, while Plumb transferred three years ago from the University of the Fraser Valley. But their play so far this season is a key reason why UBC is 16-2 and first place in the Canada West.
“In order to be good, your fifth-year seniors have to be good for you, and I think they’ve been really focused [over] that last little bit,” said UBC head coach Kevin Hanson. “We brought in O’Brian with one year of eligibility left, which is something you don’t normally do, but we knew we needed a starter, and he’s come in and I’ve been impressed [by] what he’s done for us with the leadership and confidence.
“They’re playing their best basketball.… They want it bad, and that can take you a long way.”
The two guards weren’t scoring at their usual rates this past weekend during the two wins over Mount Royal, but their influence on their teammates was evident. Plumb and Wallace — who average 16.0 and 11.2 points per game, respectively — led a balanced scoring effort, as six T-Birds scored in double figures in each contest. During Friday’s 96-71 win, Plumb scored 14 points and Wallace chipped in 11, while Saturday’s 95-68 victory had Plumb pour in 13 and Wallace contribute nine.
The two guards came into this year expecting to be a voice for the younger T-Bird players, but it was an unfamiliar role at first. There were four fifth-years on last year’s UBC team, meaning Plumb didn’t have to play as vocal a role, and this is Wallace’s first and only year as a Thunderbird. However, both said they have enjoyed shouldering the responsibility that’s expected of veteran players.
“It’s always a work in progress; there’s no book of how to be a leader,” said Plumb, who leads the team in points per game, three-point percentage, total assists and total steals. “[It's] just, try to come every day and do the right things.… If you’re telling guys to do things and you’re not doing it yourself, it’s hard.”
“Everybody respects you and looks up to you, so you just have to work hard every day and prove that you’re a leader,” said Wallace. He added that this year’s T-Bird team is the best team he’s played on in terms of both skills and chemistry.
It’s a bittersweet time right now for all three veteran players, as they know that their time in blue and gold is coming to a close. But thanks to their efforts on and off the court, both T-Bird teams are headed for at least a couple playoff games — and possibly the goal of playing in the CIS championships this March. It’s by no means an easy place to reach, but leading their teams to great things is just what these fifth-year players do.