Local players still livin’ the hoop life

SNOHOMISH — Through high school and college, they played basketball most days. They often spent more hours with teammates than anyone else, and the feel of a basketball in their hands and sneakers on their feet was as familiar and comforting as old friends.

And then, quite suddenly, it was over. The last college game was played, and it was time to graduate and get on with life.

But a life without basketball? C’mon!

For Amanda Dunbar, Daesha Henderson and Randi Richardson, the game they love became the game they couldn’t leave. So this spring the three onetime Western Conference standouts — Dunbar played at Marysville Pilchuck High School, Henderson at Snohomish and Richardson at Arlington, all of them 2006 graduates — became teammates on the first-year Everett Elite women’s semipro basketball team.

“I love the game of basketball,” said Richardson, who played a year at the University of San Francisco before transferring and playing her final three years at Wyoming. “Soon enough, my life is going to get crazy when I start a career.” But for now, she added, “this is fun.”

“We all love it,” agreed Henderson, who played four seasons at Seattle Pacific and was the Great Northwest Athletic Conference player of the year in 2009-10. “This is something you’ve done your whole life and to have that stop is kind of like, ‘Now what do I do?’ So this is a great way to still compete at a high level.”

Dunbar, who played at Western Washington and led the team in scoring all four years, serves as the Elite’s general manager. The players initially paid a fee to join, but the team has since picked up a dozen sponsors to help defray costs.

Everett is part of the Women’s Blue Chip Basketball League, which has divisions and teams across the country. The Elite is part of a four-team Evergreen Division that includes teams in Seattle, Tacoma and Lakewood.

Everett’s coach is Ken Roberts, who is also the longtime girls basketball coach at Snohomish. Opportunities for women to play after high school and college “are a lot more limited than for men,” he said, and a team like the Elite gives these women “the chance to go out and play and enjoy the game.”

The team is fun for other reasons, too. Richardson played all her college basketball out of state, “so it’s great to come back home and play after being gone for five years,” she said. “A bunch of people that didn’t get to see me play in college can come and watch me play.”

Another benefit is being teammates with players who were longtime rivals. Dunbar and Henderson, for instance, were opposing high school players for four years and then foes again at competing colleges.

“We played against each other for all those years,” Henderson said, “and now to finally play together, it’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to guard you. It’s nice to have you on my team.’ This is a great group of girls to get to know and to be part of a team together.”

The Elite, which plays its home games at Everett Community College, is halfway through a six-game regular-season schedule. Everett dropped to 2-1 after a 76-66 loss to Seattle on Sunday night, but the team also hopes to qualify for the upcoming national tournament.

Though the crowds are modest and are mostly family and friends, that could change as the team gets more exposure.

“I think we’ll be fine without a fan base,” Dunbar said, “but obviously we want to try to get as many fans as possible.”

After leaving Western Washington, Dunbar returned to Marysville and spent this past season as a varsity assistant coach at Marysville Pilchuck. She wants a coaching career someday and thought that being around the high school team “would keep me involved and maybe take away that itch (to play).”

“But it didn’t,” she said, “so I’m really blessed to have this opportunity.”

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