By: Monty Mosher
What Paloma Anderson did for the Acadia Axewomen basketball program is legendary. But what her team and community did for her might be greater.
Anderson, a native New Yorker who grew up in Phoenix, came to Acadia in the middle of the 2014-15 season and went on to set the school record for career scoring, 1,446 points, in only 73 games. A five-foot-one point guard, recruited by former Axewomen coach Bev Greenlaw, had the ability to control a game from anywhere on the court.
She will conclude her official duties as a member of the Axewomen when she attends the BLG Awards on June 4 in Vancouver. The awards honour the top eight student-athletes – four men and four women – from across the country.
The other women in the running for the award are Calgary rugby player/wrestler Temitope Ogunjimi and volleyball players Theanna Vernon of Ryerson and Marie-Alex Belanger of Montreal.
This will be second appearance at the event for Anderson. She was also nominated in 2016.
Future in sports management?
In March, the 23-year sociology graduate became the first Axewomen player to be named the most valuable player in U Sports women's basketball. She averaged 18.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game to lead the Axewomen, now coached by Len Harvey, to the AUS title.
Anderson remains in the Annapolis Valley for now, plotting her next move. If she gets a professional basketball opportunity she will leap at the chance. If not, the scholarship money that comes with the BLG award might make her think about furthering her education. She aspires to work in some aspect of sports management in the future.
"It would be awesome to win the entire thing – the trophy and what comes with it," she said of the BLG Award.
But there's far more to it than that. The event has allowed her to meet fellow athletes from around the country, and from many different sports.
"Going again for a second time … I would be astonished if I won," she said. "At the end of the day that would be a huge goal to achieve, but just even being there is more than enough. I'm surrounded by athletes that are just amazing within their sport, and their conference, and just to be around them is a great experience."
Targeted every night
Harvey watched Anderson forced to scrap every night on the floor.
"You're the hunted one, the targeted one, so she took everyone's best shot," he said. "You have to raise your level every game, and Paloma did just that. I don't think people realize how difficult it is to play when you're Paloma, (Alison) Keough or (Kiera) Rigby and everyone is throwing the kitchen sink at you every game. Her adjustment and development year in and year out has been extraordinarily impressive."
But there was so much more to Anderson's story than scoring records and Harvey saw it all first hand.
"That is the surface stuff that is easy for everyone to see, but she is a hard worker, and she loves basketball, which is something that often gets undervalued when people talk about her," he said.
"Her love of basketball took her to the gym for her normal team activities, but it also took her there an hour and a half before every tip off to get shots up to get ready to play, it took her there to play pickup basketball with other Acadia students in the evenings after practice, it took her to the local community schools to watch young kids play, it took her to numerous camps around Nova Scotia to help as a clinician during her free time."
Took root in Nova Scotia
Anderson's teammates, coaches, the university and surrounding community will join her in Vancouver, at least in spirit. They gave her a place to take root and grow after some turbulent times earlier in her career in the U.S.
"If you are going for an award, or you are out on the street just walking the dog, you represent them. When you go to this award weekend, it's a huge collaboration of what they've done for you, what your team has done for you and what you've done for yourself. I will represent all of them and represent myself for what I have achieved."
It won't be easy to say goodbye to a community and school that embraced her. That said, she's ready for the next challenge.
"I'm ready to move on if I get the opportunity to go play at the next level," she said. "My goal is to make another impact there. I'm not going to make an impact at Acadia and then just die off. I want to continue to achieve individual awards and achieve team awards. I think that competitive mentality will carry on with me.
"Part of me is sad. I always have the what ifs. If I would have come here for five years … could I have been even a better player than I am now. It's a different vibe when you leave a team-oriented atmosphere to go on to the next phase. But it's not like I've never been on my own. I'm pretty confident I'll be fine in my next chapter of my life."
'There's been a lot of positive'
By her own admission, Anderson's immaturity and ego led to more blown chances in her home country than she cares to remember. Her last stop at a college in Iowa might have been the final chapter in her basketball career if Acadia hadn't offered a lifeline.
Life in Nova Scotia has been Anderson's promised land. Well, not exactly. But it's been pretty good.
"There's been a lot of positive come out of it," she said. "I can't say I came to Wolfville and it's all been positive experiences. You go through adversity wherever you're at.
"It's changed my life for the better. It helped me realize a few things about myself personally. I've met some people who will continue to be a part of the rest of my life. That was the real award coming out of Acadia and coming out of Wolfville in general."