Talk about hard to make a hoop. After traveling thousands miles to Australia as part of a U.S. team, Evening Shade Lady Tiger basketball player Mary Ellen Nix got a couple of surprises.
"We had to play with a boys ball (which is larger than the girls ball) and the hoops were much smaller than ours (in the U.S.)," she said. "It was twice as hard to make with a boys' basketball and shooting on smaller rims. Although I personally liked playing with them, it threw my shot off pretty bad."
Nix's team did pretty well, though. Her team played seven games, reaching the 9th Annual Down Under Hoops Classic finals in Queensland, Australia, before falling 44-39 in the championship game.
"It (the opponent) was an Australian college team," Nix said. "We won second place in the tournament."
Nineteen teams from around the world competed. The event was organized by International Sports Specialists Inc. The "mini Olympics" competition includes not only basketball, but also cross country, wrestling, track and field, golf, baseball, football, soccer, swimming and free-style wrestling.
ISSI's goal is "to provide athletes who excel in their sport the opportunity to experience the culture, beauty and grandeur of the land down under ... using the common language of sports to bridge continents," according to an ISSI news release.
"They had one two-and-a-half hour practice after we got there, and then the tournament started," Nix's mother, Sharp County Tax Assessor Kathy Nix, said.
Nix and her mother, serving as a chaperone, left Little Rock on July 19 and returned 12 days later. They flew to Denver, then to Los Angeles, New Zealand, then to Brisbane, Australia, and on to Queensland.
The 16-year-old Nix, at 5-feet, 4-inches, played guard during the tournament, a slight change from the wing position she plays at home for the Lady Tigers.
The gym in Australia was about like gyms at home, except for those smaller rims, she said.
A 2004 Arkansas all-state player, Nix was nominated for the U.S. team by Sloan-Hendrix basketball Coach Jared Richey, who coached Nix during Arkansas 2003 Amateur Athletic Union competition.
After the tournament, fun stops were made at Surfers Paradise, Australia; Sydney, Australia; and Honolulu, Hawaii.
"We stayed on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii," Nix said. "That was just a part of the trip that was fun. While we were in Australia, we visited Dreamworld which is like an amusement park. It was really fun.
"I posed with the tiger (statue) at Dreamworld. There was a tiger show in the park and we went and saw it and then had our picture taken with the statue of the tiger."
"We also visited a wildlife park and other interesting places. There were very many unusual things. Their food is a lot different from ours, some in a good way and some in a bad. They also eat baked beans for breakfast.
"Things are a lot more expensive over there," Nix said.
"They do have McDonald's over there, though. It was a lot different from here. Some of the people were really friendly but then some were not."
At the wildlife park, Nix was allowed to hold a koala bear, which park officials do not let everyone do because the animals are delicate. "I loved holding the koala bear. It was so cuddly. If you hold koalas a certain way it can endanger their lives."
She also got to go parasailing, sit in the cockpit of a large airplane while wearing a pilot's cap, and see the famous Sydney Opera House.
Nix's teammates included girls from Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, Tonya Dotson from Idaho and Tara Larue from Arkansas.
"My coach was Kari LaFata from Ohio. We played against two different Australian teams, a Texas team, a Minnesota team and a few more. I just can't remember them all.
"We all had our own experiences like birds landing on our heads, and then all of our close calls on walking because we always tended to look the wrong way because you know they drive on the opposite side of the road as we do. That was pretty scary. Australians don't stop for pedestrians either."
"I had a great time on this once-in-a-lifetime trip," the Evening Shade senior said. "I would like to say a special thanks to everyone who made it possible for me to attend."