CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Over the past eight months, seven University of Miami women’s basketball alumni have been dominating the hardwood overseas across several professional basketball leagues.
But, like the rest of the world, their work was directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were very isolated this season,” forward Emese Hof said. “We didn’t have fans the majority of the season and could barely have any friends or family visit from home.”
Hof, a 2019 Miami graduate, spent her second straight professional season playing for Perfumerias Avenida Salamanca in Spain. Avenida participates in both the Spanish Liga Femenina de Baloncesto (Liga Dia) and the EuroLeague.
The forward is averaging 7.9 points and 4.7 rebounds this season, while shooting 55.6 percent from the field. For Hof, the highlight of the season came when Avenida streaked their way through the playoffs for a chance at the EuroLeague Women’s title.
“Playing the EuroLeague final was very surreal and absolutely amazing,” Hof said. “When we won our semifinal game, it was great to see the joy of the team over what we had accomplished.”
Hof was not the only Cane on the EuroLeague circuit this year as 2017 graduate Jessica Thomas competed for TTT Riga during the 2020-21 season.
“This season is one for the books and one to remember because of COVID and everything that happened,” Thomas said. “My main focus coming into the season was to try and be more consistent as a professional. I wanted to be a leader and consistently come to work with the right mindset.”
The 2020-21 season was special for Thomas in that she got to play in the EuroLeague, against some of the best women’s basketball players in the world.
“At one time, I am on the floor with Brittney Griner, Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Jonquel Jones,” Thomas said. “It was a great experience because, as a young girl or even in college, you hear about all these big names. Playing against these women was a great opportunity and I really felt like I belonged with the best.”
It was an up and down season for Thomas, who sometimes struggled on the basketball court, but she continued to grind and preserve, something she learned to do while at Miami.
“There was a point in the season when my shooting percentages weren’t high and I remember talking to my best friend and my mom thinking, ‘What am I doing? Is this where I am supposed to be?’” Thomas said. “Sometimes you just have to ride the wave. Mentally it is important as a player to just adjust and adapt. If you’re not shooting well, you can still ‘Okay, get to the rim or to the free throw line. Sometimes, it’s just your teammate’s time and you have to support them, be positive about it and keep pushing. You have to know that your time is going to come.”
Thomas’ time came in the Baltic Basketball League (BBL) championship game when she dropped 34 points on 10-of-16 shooting to lead all scorers in the game. She added six rebounds and four assists to her stat line and shot 4-of-6 from 3-point range, highlighting her best game of the season.
TTT Riga was named BBL champions and Thomas earned most valuable player honors following her outstanding performance. After the long hours in the gym and the isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, taking home the title meant the world to Thomas.
“Winning that championship and going out the way that I did, made it feel like it was all worth it,” Thomas said. Like, I couldn’t ask for a better ending. It was the cherry on top after everything we went through as a team. Through the ups and downs, I learned a lot about myself and who I am as a woman this season, and I think that I can take more away from that than just the success and accolades from the game of basketball.”