WAXAHACHIE — Rather than spending her summer at southern Texas beaches, Southwestern Assemblies of God University's Ebony Colbert decided it was time to step outside of her comfort zone.
Nearly 5,000 miles outside of her comfort zone to be exact.
Colbert, a senior Lady Lions guard, spent part of the summer before her senior season training for and competing in the June 3 to June 13 Spain Basketball Tour.
It wasn't only the first time she'd been to Barcelona Madrid and Valencia. Outside a summer vacation in Mexico, it was the first time she'd stepped foot outside of the continent.
“I decided to take the opportunity to play overseas because I made up my mind while I was in high school to continue to play basketball after college," Colbert said. "Getting the opportunity to travel overseas to play this summer gave me a perfect chance to see how it is to play outside of the country.”
The opportunity arose after Tiffany Phillips, the SAGU women’s head basketball coach, received an email from one of the coaches with Beyond Sport, a global organization that promotes, supports and celebrates the use of sport to address social issues in communities around the world.
According to the website, the organization accomplishes its mission through convening, supporting and advising the worlds of sport, business, government and development on how sport can be used as a tool to achieve both social and business objectives. To further that goal, they scoured the U.S. for players to play against professional and club teams in Spain.
Colbert joined some of the best NAIA players throughout the country, girls from the sweltering interior and corners of Texas, the sunny shores of California and the bitter cold of New York and Wisconsin. Brian Morehouse, the team's and Michigan's Hope College head coach, was American-based, too.
The lone SAGU senior and her teammates learned not only the difficulty behind conquering the language barrier, but also handling the light-speed pace of overseas basketball.
Though she didn't know it, part of her Spanish re-education in basketball required adjusting to a faster shot clock and pace of the game. She said the pace was so fast that centers were sprinting up and down the court like collegiate guards.
Unlike teams in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which adhere to a 30-second shot clock, FIBA teams use the more traditional 24-second clock used by both the NBA and WNBA.
A simple six-second adjustment, though, was not as easy as it seemed at first.
"They were going and going and going. I learned really quickly I need to be quicker and in better shape to run those types of offenses," Colbert said. "It wasn't only guards that were flying up and down the court. It was the bigger girls, too It took a few turnovers and violations for us to catch up and get used to the rules, but we finally kept pace in our second or third game."
Colbert, whose stats and coaching recommendations bolstered her resume, was one of the few the tour's big wigs zeroed in on — which aligned perfectly with her high school dream — if only just a taste from the sample platter of international basketball.
“I knew when they reached out to Ebony that she would have interest,” Phillips said. "I didn’t know how passionate she would be about it. She really showed me a level of commitment that I want to have in a leader on our team."
That passion led 21 people to donate $1,300 of the tour's $3,500 price tag to the SAGU senior. Phillips noted she told Colbert that she would be relying on her to be a vocal leader for a young Lady Lions' team.
According to Eurobasket.com, a website created to track American-born female basketball players abroad, there are 6,717 players, who have been playing pro basketball overseas in last five years. Ninety-seven reside on Spanish teams and 178 and 54 more are rostered on respective International Basketball Federation (FIBA) German and Portuguese teams.
Colbert said she believes the experience in Spain helped her grow in that area.
“I tend to lead by action and not as much with words," she said. "I had a previous coach tell me I was a ‘silent killer’ once. I have always stepped up for my team if I needed to, but now I am really ready to step up and positively lead this team so we can go higher than we have ever been.”
The journey from Waxahachie to Spain has seemingly helped Colbert jump into the leadership pool feet first. Since returning from Spain, Phillips said she's witnessed a completely different player, noting an uptick in her work ethic.
“Since she has been home she has been at the gym every day working on her game," she said. "Her passion seems to have been ignited. I think that this is a great jump start for her senior season.”
With the eve of her final season in the Gingerbread City on the horizon, the unexpected overseas basketball experience has added a multitude of benefits to a budding star looking to help SAGU make a lengthy step into the women's basketball spotlight.
She said that the experience playing against some of the best female international players Spain had to offer not only provided a jump start for her senior season and it was a step towards a dream fulfilled. It also gave her a taste of what it could be like continuing her basketball career overseas after graduation — and following in the footsteps of Florida State point guard and small forward Leticia Romero and Maria Conde.
The Seminole duo is the only two American-born players competing for the Spanish national team.
"I had a chance to meet some new people and pick up some really good things that I can bring back to SAGU and during the next season," Colbert said. "I also learned to be a little bit more vocal. That's my biggest challenge because I usually lead by my actions. That's not what this team needs, though. Coach Phillips wants us to run the ball, too, and now, I know first hand what that looks like. With my experience, I can lead our team and help push the pace so we can be more effective. Our conference is tough and we can't afford to wait to be ready. Why would we wait? We have to start now. We have to start working hard now until the first practice until the last game of the season."
Background, reference and statistical information provided by Waxahachie Daily Light Sports Editor Marcus S. Marion contributed to this story.