Rode

Rode: Red Deer product Janai Hubert a nice fit for RDP Queens

Coming out of Lindsay Thurber High School Janai Hubert wasn’t sure what her future may hold, at least on the basketball court.

She knew she wanted to play at the post-secondary level, but that was where it ended.

That’s where LTCHS Raiders veteran girls head coach Kathy Lalor stepped in.

“In the spring (of 2019) after we were shut down by Covid I didn’t really have a plan, but Kathy texted me and asked if I was going to play and if so I should email Mandy (RDP Queens head coach Botham). I did and it went from there.”

It’s worked out for both parties.

At five-foot-11 Janai is filling a key role with the Queens, who are one of the shorter teams in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.

“I’ve been really impressed with her skill level,” said Botham. “I knew she could play before she even contacted me, but she is very coachable and always asking how she can improve.”

Janai was fortunate to finish her Grade 12 season prior to the Covid shutdown. Last year, like everyone she didn’t play but did get an opportunity to practice with the Queens.

“That was a cool opportunity for me to practice with high-level girls prior to playing any games,” she said. “It certainly helped, but it’s also different in that I’m not really a first-year player but not in my second year either.”

You can still see it on the court where Janai does things better than a lot of rookies, but she’s also still learning. One aspect of the game the 19-year-old is consistently working on is going up against bigger and at times older and more experienced players.

“In high school, there were some big girls, but here it’s different f0r sure. I need to work on being able to get around them and learn how to use my body against them.”

She began to learn that side of the game under Kathy and Dwayne Lalor.

“I miss them, they were great to play for,” she said.

“I think the Lalor’s do a great job, as the girls come out of Thurber so fundamentally strong,” said Botham. “They have great basketball IQ and can make the jump from high school to college.

“Janai has that, plus she’s worked hard at getting stronger and being able to handle bigger players.”

Despite getting some practice time in last season, Janai says it’s still a learning process.

“I think the biggest thing is confidence,” she said. “It was good to practice, but still weird not getting any game action.”

Janai comes from a basketball family with her dad, Justin, having played college ball. She got into the sport in Grade 5 and never looked back.

“It was my game. I didn’t play volleyball, only competed in track and field.”

She was in high jump, which certainly helped her vertical jump, and qualified for the provincials once.

She also played club basketball for the Queens.

“That also helped in my development,” she added.

Janai is part of a younger RDP squad that’s working on coming together as a team.

“We did practice together on and off last year but it’s great to be able to come to the gym and play with other people,” she said. “It’s good to get to start playing games and learning and connecting with my teammates. We’re starting to click and the more we’re together the better it gets.”

Botham agrees.

“I think we were all rusty, even myself,” she said. “We needed these preseason games to iron out what roles we’re all playing.”

One of the key holes to fill is point guard where the Queens lost outstanding import Sandra Garcia-Bernal. Second-year Keanna Richards and Sylvan Lake native and rookie Sadie Jeffries have been asked to fill in.

“They’re young but I’ve been pleased with their progression,” said Botham.

Janai has already proved she can play at the college level and will be on hand for at least two years.

“I’m taking kinesiology and I stretched it out so I’ll be here for this year and next and then have to transfer to the U of A,” she explained.

She may not be the only Hubert to play for the Queens as she has a younger sister who is into basketball.

“I have a younger brother as well, but he’s more into volleyball.”

The Queens open ACAC play at home Nov. 12 against Lethbridge and with fans in the stands. In fact, RDP opened up last weekend.

“It’s good … it brings up the energy and pushes us more … it’s a lot better than an empty gym,” Janai concluded.

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at danrode@shaw.ca

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