Nothing But Net

March 11, 2014

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By Sarah Sherman

ORLANDO, Fla. ( -- Yanique Gordon, a junior women's basketball forward, grew up in Hanover, Jamaica - where the Caribbean sea is the perfect shade of aqua, the sky is a cloudless blue more often than not and the beaches are a pristine white.

Gordon, like most of her friends, thought that if she could just get through high school, she could start working and raise a family.

That is, however, until she was asked one simple question as she stepped foot on Green Island High School's campus on her first day as a freshman.

"Do you play netball?"

From there, the hard work she has put into the opportunities presented to her has paid off tremendously. Those opportunities have taken her down a path she never thought imaginable.

Gordon may play basketball now, but she certainly has the game of netball to thank for that.

Standing at 6-foot 4-inches tall, Gordon can easily be picked out of a crowd, which is exactly how her career as a netballer began. Green Island's netball coach noticed Gordon's stature and pulled her aside to see if she would be interested in joining the team.

"I never knew anything about netball," Gordon said. "Coach Crooks told me to bring my gear the next day. That is when I started playing."

Netball's development derived from the early forms of basketball. It is a non-contact sport and is predominately played by women with a ball about the size of a volleyball, but heavier. Gordon started out as a shooter but quickly realized that she made a better defender and became a goalkeeper.

"After I learned how to catch," Gordon explained, "I got the hang of it and got really good."

The opportunities started pouring in for her, including the chance to try out for the national team.

"I traveled to Montego Bay," Gordon said. "At the end of the day, four people got picked, and I was in the four."

She promptly quit her month-old job as a waitress at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. But Gordon hadn't quite made the national team just yet. She had to attend practices in Kingston, roughly 140 miles from where she lived in Hanover.

Travel time, however, was not going to stop Gordon from missing her chance. She was dedicated enough to travel to Kingston twice a week for three months. It wasn't an easy trip, either.

The trek included five cab rides and a two-hour bus ride. All the while, she was fighting to survive weekly cuts.

"I would leave early in the morning," Gordon said. "The sun would be setting when practice was starting. But at the final call, I was in it."

Gordon and her team were successful enough to make it to the 2009 World Youth Netball Championships in the Cook Islands. But her excitement was almost short-lived after being denied a visa to leave Jamaica.

"We had to appeal to the Prime Minister and fill out paper work," Gordon said. "The Prime Minister got us a one-entry visa. It was for the World Championship and to come back home."

With the visa controversy behind them, Gordon played tough through the tournament. Her shining moment was re-entering one of the games after injury and swiping three steals back to back on a swollen ankle.

She was not going to lose her focus. Gordon and her teammates made their dedication pay off.

"Most people said we weren't going to do well, and we got the bronze," Gordon said.

After Gordon and her team proudly represented their country, Gordon's netball experience became rather beneficial. She was offered a scholarship and continued to play the sport for JC Foster College.

Still, Gordon wanted more.

She heard talk about an opportunity to be involved in an all-star camp that could give her the opportunity to leave the country. There was one catch -- the camp was for basketball, a sport that Gordon knew nothing about.

Yet another hurdle. But with determination like hers, obstacles are only challenges that Gordon gladly accepts. At the time, her scholarship was only applicable for one sport, in this case netball.

"I went to the basketball coach," Gordon said. "I asked him if he could teach me how to play. I told him that I had heard of a scholarship and that I wanted one overseas to finish my education."

How could anyone argue with that? He took her for a week and taught her the basic principles of the sport, how to use the backboard and how to dribble.

After one week at the all-star camp, Gordon found herself accepting a scholarship to one of three schools that offered her the chance to play in America.

"The schools that offered scholarships to me were in Indiana, New York and Tallahassee," Gordon explained. "My mom lived closest to Tallahassee, so I picked Tallahassee Community College."

Unlike the first time Gordon left the country, she was now a basketball player and was well on her way to furthering her education. This time, she had no problem getting a visa to leave Jamaica.

The interdisciplinary studies major did not take the path expected of her. She says the majority of her friends never went to college, and that they are at home working and raising their children.

Gordon is grateful for every step that has gotten her to where she is today.

"I'm happy for this opportunity," Gordon said. "Not everyone has this, to be able to further my education and afterward have a career. I'm really looking forward to that."



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