Fifteen of the best, most talented basketball players from across the country are on the Canadian Women’s Senior National Team in Toronto in mid-August training for another tournament. There are almost as many people on the National Team as there are in forward Sarah Crooks’ hometown of Fife Lake, Sask. The population, according to Sarah, is twenty. That is not the most important number at this moment. The more important number is three; this 21 year old has only had three years of real, high caliber basketball under her belt. Yet in those three years, Sarah Crooks has gone from unknown recruit to budding star.
Coming to the University of Saskatchewan, Sarah was obviously not the player she is today. She was young basketball wise, and had not really been exposed to the game like many players her age. Despite that, Head Coach Lisa Thomaidis saw something special in Sarah from the beginning, “(Coming in) Sarah was raw, but athletically gifted.” As described by her coach, Sarah has good hands and excellent leaping ability and thrives in the transition game. This, plus the fact that she is 6-1, may have led Coach to believe that she was on to something with Sarah.
Under the Huskies’ coaching staff, Sarah has blossomed into one of the more dominant players in the country. Sarah attributes her vast improvements over her three years at U of S to the tireless effort that Coach Thomaidis has put into her development. She has worked hard to improve and to prove how hard she has worked in the last three years, you only have to look at her 2004-05 season accomplishments: 3-time Canada West player of the week (November 7, November 21 and February 7), CIS athlete of the week (February 9, 2005), Canada West First Team All-Star and CIS First Team All-Canadian. Along the way she managed to also finish second in the CIS in scoring (21.6 ppg) and lead the CIS in rebounding (12.4 rpg). Despite all that she has accomplished, Sarah still maintains that she had “played okay” this past season. This kind of comment shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows her. She has been called a “perfectionist” by her coach and feels that she still has improvements to make before she is the player she wants to be.
It’s safe to say Sarah’s on-court skills have developed immensely, but there has been a growth in her maturity level as well. Her outlook on the game has shifted as her role on her team has changed. Her focus has now moved to the team’s improvement with hers taking a small step back. She is now aware that being one of the senior players on the team, she may be the one that is looked upon for leadership and direction. It is in this aspect of her game that she is most focused. When questioned about her National Team experience, she states that she was primarily looking to learn to be a better player for her team: not necessarily a better scorer, or rebounder or passer, but in her words, she wanted to learn “to be a better teammate.” This is a true sign of her maturity as a player and a person.
Sarah is well aware that she is not a complete player yet, but a work in progress. The time she spent traveling to the tournaments with the Women’s National Team was all about learning. She was the silent observer of her more experienced teammates, trying to pick up what she could. At this point, the most telling aspect of her future is that she only played for three years. Coach Thomaidis had said that Sarah is the best player she’s coached yet, and that for her, the sky’s the limit. Just wait until she’s played for another three years.