Full-court press

Image:   Reflections magazine    Originally published   i n  Reflections , 2013

Image: Reflections magazine
Originally published in Reflections, 2013


Troy Chambers has played more than a couple rounds of hoops with the 2010 National Champions, the Seattle Storm, and he can tell you that playing basketball like them would indicate skills in the drills.

Troy’s a tall guy, towering over the average person at six feet four inches. He was built for basketball, and in a lot of ways, basketball has built him. Ever since he could lift a basketball above his head, he’s been tossing it in the hoop. “It’s been my passion my whole life,” he said.

He played center and forward in high school, and at the age of 14, the sport took him across the pond to the U.K. with NBC Basketball International Tours—an advanced summer camp that builds teams with players across the nation and takes them overseas to play.

He dribbled up and down England’s, Ireland’s and Scotland’s courts, even playing against the Scottish National team—against grown men. “Basketball has given me a lot,” Troy said. “It’s shown me the world.”

In college, Troy’s position was shooting guard, and he played for Edmonds Community College then Skagit Valley College for two years, moving to Cascade College of Portland for one year—the latter an NCAA Division II school. He still holds the all-time scoring record at Skagit Valley for 39 points in a game.

Troy made it back to the Eastside, where he now lives with his wife Jen of seven years and their two sons, Colby (5) and Mason (2). He’s involved with the Club’s basketball league (his team, the Legacy Group, won the summer 2012 league, among others), and he plays doubles with BC’s tennis team, the Honey Badgers, which went to Nationals last year. He currently works as a loan officer at the Legacy Group, though he pursued bible studies and psychology in college. “Go figure. I get to use the morals and how people think,” he said of how his majors relate back to his current job.

And knowing how people think, anticipating their next move, is something that’s kept Troy on the court as a serious competitor.

During the summer of 2010, Troy was looking for something to keep him busy. The summer before, he had trained hard and competed in a half Ironman. He needed to be challenged.

His friend recommended becoming a part of the Seattle Storm’s men’s practice team. After coach Brian Agler watched him play, Troy was asked to come back as a power forward to guard arguably the nation’s best female basketball player: Lauren Jackson. At six feet five inches, she has Troy beat.

What the Storm does is rare in the league. Many teams will simply scrimmage against each other. But each season, the Storm puts together an opposing all-male team to play the women three to four times a week. “I think they wanted a higher level of talent than what was in their league—bigger, stronger, more athletic—to put a lot of pressure on the girls,” Troy said.

For men to go into a competitive setting against women, hesitations about hurting the female players, or even losing to them, are normal. But Troy had other thoughts on his mind. “I think the fact they’re professional athletes and I was barely a small-time college player had me come in thinking I’ll be able to go as hard as I want to. It matched up really well.”

As far as potentially hurting them, “There was a lot of worry because I didn’t want to mess up their season! When I’m some Joe Schmoe who doesn’t mean anything and I go up against the best female basketball player in the world, who’s making money off of this, who has endorsements because of it…it could all hinge on me injuring someone.”

But that isn’t to say the women didn’t play hard. “They’re probably more competitive than most guys I’ve played with—throwing elbows and pushing.”

Coach Agler picks guys who usually played small-time college ball, and Troy thinks this is because the styles typically match up. “I’m not very fast, and I can’t jump high, but I’m a smart player and a good shooter, and that’s what they see in their league,” he said. “It’s not all athleticism, but more players who shoot well and play fundamentally sound.

“Smart players know where to be when the play is going on. They can anticipate what will happen next. They know how to find an open spot, and they’re very coachable.” That’s how the Storm plays.

The women needed some serious pressure to up their game, and Troy’s purpose was to give that pressure and push as hard as he could. “You got to play hard. They don’t mess around with that. They’re trying to get better. They’re trying to win a championship,” he said.

Although, there were just a couple rules.

Primarily, the men couldn’t hurt the players. They could go hard, but there was no dunking and no jumping to block a shot—both were too dangerous. “That’s the one thing you don’t do. You don’t hurt them. You push, push, push then back off—just because it is their career,” Troy said. “Other than that, get after them! We’d get yelled at if we weren’t playing hard enough against them.”

The players were rough, so the men had to keep up. Troy said there were a lot of high elbows and elbows in the back, which took him by surprise at first, especially Lauren’s style. “As a player, she’s rough, unfriendly on the court. Off the court, she was really cool.”

That season, Lauren was voted league MVP for the third time, and was also named WNBA Finals MVP. She’s the youngest player in WNBA history to score both 3,000 and 4,000 career points.

As far as how the WNBA matches up to the NBA, Troy said, [The WNBA] “is more running the plays properly and making the correct passes. It’s more the art of the game than it is out-jumping your opponent, or dunking on their head—that’s what the guys are like.”

That season, Troy became a fan of the team—a part of the team. He went to most home games, and watched the others. He has a lot of respect for their players and is thankful he was able to help during the practices. “To me, you can’t find true happiness unless you’re doing something for someone else.”

The men don’t get compensated for their time, but the Storm winning the WNBA Championship that season was a pretty sweet reward. Troy and the other men walked in the victory parade and got acknowledged at the award ceremony.

“Why was I there? I was simply there to make them better. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about me looking good on the court. I was there to make the girls better to reach their goal and win the championship. And they did! It felt really good. That year, I watched nearly every game. You feel a part of it.”