We had a chance to catch up with Jenny Evans (formally Reisener), mother of one of Queensland’s prominent basketball families, with daughter Teyla being awarded QBL Women’s U23 Youth Player of the Year. Jenny is a member of the Cairns Basketball Hall of Fame and competed in the 1990 World Championships in Kuala Lumpar. We ask Jenny about her basketball career highlights and how she passed on her passion for basketball to her family.
1. When did you first start playing basketball and why?
My reason for playing basketball? I played representative hockey for a while as a kid in primary school and when I entered in high school I continued to play, but had lost interest. When I was 15, Dad decided he didn’t want to pay for my hockey fees anymore because he felt hockey was too dangerous a sport, and pushed me towards playing basketball because it was a non-contact sport (yeah right!). Plus, we lived down the road from the home of Cairns Basketball, so I had no choice but to play. Dad was paying the fees too! I loved playing sports from a very young age so it didn’t matter what sport, as long as I was competing in something.
Fortunately for me, I had a family – Kiwis Basketball Club (Coaches Patsy and George Elarde) who became my mentors, and took me under their wings. I owe a lot to them, they provided me a grounding of discipline, a strong work ethic, commitment, and instilled all the required attributes with an attitude of confidence (I was shy and had low self-esteem) and surrounded me with positive people. I am still in contact with the families whom I grew up with – ‘My Basketball Family.’
2. When did you know that you wanted to be an elite basketball player?
As soon as I started playing I was hooked. The team aspect was what attracted me to the game, the people and friends, particularly high school friends. It was where I could socialise and have fun and also where I noticed my future husband, Steve Evans. We eventually got married and now have 6 beautiful, gorgeous kids (5 girls, Jordenn 24, Teyla 22, Eqxelle 20, Summah 15, Rivar 14 today (boy) and Saje 10.
My interest at the elite level was motivated by watching the NBA, admiring players like Julius Erving (DR J) and Magic Johnson, they were like the Michael Jordan’s of today. They were artists of the game, and they looked so unbelievable out on the court, performing magical moves that we kids were so in awe of. The Harlem Globe Trotters were also a major source of inspiration. I had a poster of DR J on my wall and wanted to be just like him – a female DR J, just not athletic enough to dunk the ball though! Little did I know at the time, had set myself a goal of wanting to go to America and watch the NBA. What and how the hell was I, a young black teenage girl, living in Cairns going to get to America!!??
I had attended the U16 State Champs representing Cairns, the Nationals representing QLD, been selected for Junior Identification camps and then the U18 Nationals and attended more camps.
As I got older (17), I started to lose interest in basketball, but because of my mentors; Patsy and George (Elarde) who always believed in my abilities, I had gone to great efforts to apply for a scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra. It was there that I knew I wanted to play for Australia. I had a 1 year scholarship, which then turned into 3 years. This was the turning point of my basketball career. I started to understand the game. It wasn’t all about being a physical sport requiring athleticism, running up and down the court rebounding, you also had to be mentally tough and smart! When you reach the heights of all those peaks of understanding the game, basketball becomes so much more than a sport. It becomes your life.
So, my goal of going to America was achieved 3 times over, all through basketball and representing Australia. Later in my career, I even got to watch the best of the best, Michael Jordan, with my husband Steve (who is also an avid fan of basketball) and our 3 older girls in Chicago in a double overtime with Michael Jordan shooting the winning basket!! It was such an incredible experience. Through basketball, I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world, including; Australia, Europe, Japan, China, Malaysia, Canada, New Zealand, America and many others.
3. Your daughter Teyla is already following in your footsteps in her own basketball career, how did she, and your other children come to be involved with the sport?
It was a natural progression for our kids to play basketball. Out of all the sports they were involved with, basketball provided the best atmosphere. Kids encouraging their team mates, supporting each other and the feeling of comradery regardless of your skills. They loved it, and that’s how it came to be. Teyla, Jordenn and Eqxelle were very good junior basketballers. As they got older they went on different paths, whereas Teyla still is interested in playing.
Teyla, under the guidance of Andrea Worthington (nee Donovan), coached her with the U12 Cairns Dolphins through to I think the U18s going through undefeated at State Champs. Teyla had a taste of representative level attending the Nationals. Unfortunately, Teyla had injured her back 2 weeks prior to attending the U17 National Squad training and had no choice but to pull out. This was when she started to lose interest, however then in 2013/14, Teyla moved to Melbourne to live with Andrea, Mark Worthington and their boys Axl and Taz. Teyla became the boys’ nanny, and was part of the Dandenong Rangers as a Development player. It was a great experience for Teyla. She was fortunate to meet and play alongside some of the best players in the world. The likes of Penny Taylor for one, and one of my favourite female players in the WNBL, Cappie Pondexter. Teyla then returned home to Cairns and under the guidance of Mark Worthington (coach of Cairns Dolphins and myself, as his assistant). Mark spent a lot of time with players including Teyla, focusing on individual training sessions, which was the reason why Teyla had one of her best seasons, with her being awarded U23 MVP in the ABA.
4. How do you motivate your kids in their basketball careers?
Our advice to our kids is for them to first focus on enjoying the game, that’s important to us. Challenge themselves to become better players by doing the little things which require a lot of hard work. Respect your team mates, your opponents, your coaches and all who are involved. Treat people how you like to be treated. It’s a message we instil in our kids both on and off the court.
5. What are your proudest moments as a basketball mum?
My proudest moment as a parent is watching the smiles on our kids’ faces when they’ve realised they’ve done something they never thought possible. I am proud of all the smallest and greatest achievements we have shared with them along the way. That’s what it’s all about isn’t it?
6. What would you recommend to families wanting to get their kids involved in basketball?
My advice to all kids/families, no matter who you are, where you’re from, race, gender etc, believe in your dreams, set yourself short and long term goals and go for it. Positive self-talk. Don’t concern yourself about things out of your control, focus on asking yourself what it is that you want. Aspire to be the best you can be on and off the court. Always remember who you are and where you came from. The reward will come when you apply yourself, and it becomes real.
My advice to the parents wanting their child to be involved in any sport; please, believe in your child regardless of their capabilities. Enjoy the moments you have with them, encourage them to be the best they can be, it’s not about winning. Also, make sure they thank their coaches, managers, team mates, opposition, refs, score bench, teach them to be a team player and appreciate everyone who has crossed their path. Appreciate and be grateful for all that they have.
If your family is passionate about basketball and would like to be featured in our Basketball Families blogs, please email us at [email protected]