“You’re late!” basketball coach David Ancrum jokingly yelled from across the gym. A group of Lab-goers had been doing dribbling drills in the center of the court.
Because of a broken toe, I’d be watching the two-and-a-half-hour basketball grind that is Ancrum’s famous “Lab” from the sideline today.
The group was made up of the usual bigs and littles. Throw in some high-school players and returning overseas professionals, and that’s a solid group of 18 players.
I talked to sophomore Yasmin Gupta about the game that was about to start as Ancrum matched up the teams.
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “I finally get to match up against her.”
She was referring to senior Julia Owaidat, the only other girl there.
Ancrum runs the Lab seven days a week in the school’s gym. On any given day, the Lab could be filled with all high-school and middle-school students or packed with professional players and other friends of Ancrum.
The Lab started when Ancrum would hold summer camps for kids. Ancrum decided to bring in professionals to accelerate the growth of his campers’ skills.
“The only way these kids would get better is if they played against bigger, stronger competition,” Ancrum said.
According to Ancrum, the first professionals to come to play were former Sacramento Kings forward Francisco Garcia and SK Knights (Korea) forward Aaron Haynes.
After that, the word spread that the Lab was a place where pros could go to get away from the spotlight.
“No one would ask them for autographs or sneakers,” Ancrum said.
“(It’s) a place where they come and get their free throws and shots in and just play.”
Ancrum chose the name because it fit all the characteristics he wanted the Lab to have.
“Being in a laboratory, you invent things and try new things,” Ancrum said. “It just caught on.”
Before Owaidat, there were only two girls who attended the lab regularly: Mary-Clare “Candice” Bosco, ’13 (who played basketball at Pomona College as a freshman), and Spencer “SP” Brown.
Junior Alexa Mathisen said the small number of girls at Lab is due to the physicality.
“Physically, the guys are stronger,” Mathisen said. “Girls’ basketball is different in the sense that it’s not as physical.”
Mathisen also said that although the physicality is a beneficial aspect, it may be intimidating if girls are not used to it.
“A lot of girls go to Lab so they can get that physical aspect that you need to prepare against better teams,” Mathisen said.
“It can be really intimidating if you only go once in awhile because you aren’t used to the environment.”
Owaidat agreed, saying that intimidation doesn’t affect just girls.
“It’s younger players in general,” Owaidat said. “But it’s for all those reasons. The guys don’t want to play down to our level, so we have to play up.”
But Owaidat said that the intimidation just separates the weak female players from the strong ones.
“You have to be able to take criticism and apply it immediately,” Owaidat said.
“Lab players assume that if you’re in there practicing with them, you want to continue playing after high school. So they get you ready for that, not just playing in high school.”
And because the bigs don’t want to play down, Owaidat has improved her game in other ways to continue contributing to a game.
“I’m not always going to be able to get the ball passed to me,” Owaidat said. “I learn to contribute to the game by making plays. (Lab) has really improved my basketball IQ and my ability to see the floor.”
Mathisen isn’t the only one that thinks physicality is a factor. Ancrum, Owaidat and Gupta all said that physicality was the main reason for the lack of girls.
Even Ruthie Bolton agreed with her fellow Lab-goers.
“A guy can do nothing and be strong,” Bolton said. “I grew up playing with guys. I have eight brothers.”
Bolton led the women’s Olympic basketball team to two gold medals (1996 and 2000). Bolton used to attend the Lab five days a week when she was still playing professionally in the WNBA with the Sacramento Monarchs.
“It’s a privilege to go (to the Lab) and compete. You have to play the best to be the best,” Bolton said.
Other professional women who have attended the Lab over the years include WNBA star Demya Walker, Bolton’s teammate on the Monarchs.
Walker attended the Lab while she played for the Monarchs from 2003-09.
Although Ancrum agrees physicality is a deterrent to girls, he thinks girls with the right skillset would have no problem going to Lab.
“If you can play, you can play,” Ancrum said.
“Game recognize game. It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl. If the skills are there, they will show.”
Ancrum said the Lab also accelerates the pace at which girls improve their game.
“Night and day,” Ancrum said. “When they go back to playing against people their own size, it’s a wrap.”
Despite the Lab being intense and physical, Bolton said the biggest takeaway is Ancrum’s nicknames.
“He makes the game we play even more fun,” Bolton said. “I can go and ask anyone of my friends who go to Lab what their nickname is and we can laugh about it.”
The tradition of nicknames started, just like everything else important with the Lab, when Ancrum ran summer camps.
“I had so many kids, I couldn’t remember all their names,” Ancrum said. “So I started to call them by their favorite things or the color of their sneakers or a shirt they always wore.”
Owaidat’s nickname is Purple because in seventh grade, she dyed her hair purple. And Mathisen’s is Braids, well, because she always wears her hair in braids.
But Haynes and Bolton don’t have nicknames. Everyone simply calls them by their first names.
Maybe one day, I’ll be good enough at the game of basketball, for Ancrum to forgo my nickname (Feud).
—By Jake Longoria