By CLAUDE SCILLEY
As Bridget Mulholland Thursday prepared to commit herself formally to play basketball for the Queen’s Golden Gaels, among the interested spectators in the back of the room were half a dozen of her future teammates.
As Mulholland put pen to paper at the front of the room, one of them, Robyn Pearson, turned to the others. “Now she can’t go anywhere,” she beamed.
Mulholland, the multisport star from Regiopolis Notre Dame, is not unfamiliar to the current members of the Queen’s women’s varsity. She’s participated in training sessions with the group for some time—and she made some impression.
“She’s a great athlete in that she comes and works her butt off,” Pearson said. “It’s really great to see other athletes like that because our team works like that every day and we want people who want to work hard, every day.
“She also brings a great attitude to everything that she does. You never see her complaining, you never see her with a frown on her face. She’s just so confident and we love having that around.”
Gaels coach Dave Wilson remembers one of those sessions.
“Last August we had a training camp before we started our season,” he said. “We had our recruits in and Bridget was playing. She’d just graduated Grade 10 and nobody knew that she wasn’t a university player. People would come in and watch and I’d say, ‘OK, pick out the ones that aren’t university players right now.’ Nobody picked her. She can play.”
That’s not just Wilson’s opinion. Mulholland was involved, the recruiting euphemism for being wooed, with 50 schools in Canada and, she guesses, about 40 in the U.S., including Villanova, Seton Hall, Indiana and Virginia Tech. That’s a lot of phone messages to return, a lot of emails to which to respond, and that’s largely the reason Mulholland chose to make her decision known almost as soon as possible. She made a verbal commitment on the first date she could do so, Sept. 1, and signed her letter of intent on Thursday, ending the Bridget Mulholland sweepstakes before it really had a chance to begin in earnest.
“She was inundated,” Wilson said. “She’d been doing all of her research, all of her homework, and she said, ‘I want to have a decision made at the end of the summer; I want to know what’s the earliest that I can sign.’”
Mulholland said that once she was sure where she wanted to go to university, there was no sense in prolonging the drama. “I knew that Queen’s is where I wanted to be,” she said. The second reason was to say thanks but no thanks to the American schools, who are approaching their recruiting nitty-gritty. “Also,” she said, “it alleviates a bit of stress.”
“It’s a fun process but at the same time it’s really time consuming … which gets in the way of a lot of stuff. Grade 12 is a big year. I really have to focus on academics and talking to coaches can take time away from that.
“It’s always tough saying no to coaches, especially if you’ve built up a relationship with them, so that’s also not great. Once you’re sure you know where you want to go, I think it’s the best way to go with it. It just makes your life a little bit easier.”
Mulholland said it was flattering to find herself at the centre of such attention.
“It’s a weird feeling, to all of a sudden have coaches coming up to you, telling you the best parts of your game, pointing out what you do well,” she said. “When you’re first meeting coaches, they always want to point out your good side so it’s never a bad feeling.
“It’s always fun at first, when everyone’s trying to smooth you over, and I love getting to know people and schools and programs, but after a while, especially once you have a feeling for where you want to go, and you know it’s a place you love, and you know it’s where you’re going to go, it gets tiring.”
In an athletic dossier that’s filled with tremendous achievements, Mulholland can list among them three straight county high school championships at Regi, “MVPs and all-stars galore,” Wilson said, three medals in provincial club competition and a Hazel Miner award in 2013, given by Ontario Basketball to female athletes “who uphold the finest qualities of sport in their pursuit of athletic excellence.”
She was also captain of the Ontario team that won the gold medal at this year’s Canadian under-17 championship tournament in Edmonton, where she was selected a tournament all-star.
For Wilson, Mulholland was simply “the best available player in the country.” What makes her so, he said, is her determination. “Her commitment to being better, I haven’t seen,” he said.
“It’s a rarity. She is just so committed to being better, and (to that end) does whatever she possibly can. That’s what distinguishes her. She has very good skills, but we’ve had other people around the country that had very good skills but didn’t have the determination.
“It’s like the Kobe Bryants and Michael Jordans of the world: other people have their talent but they took their talent and pushed it because they weren’t willing to lose. They wanted to be the best they can be. That’s what we see in Bridget. It’s unparalleled.”
Tim Orpin, a former assistant coach at Queen’s, and the man who will coach Mulholland this winter with the Kingston Impact—“my job now is not to mess her up”—said getting a player of her calibre is a coup for the Gaels.
“Most of the great Kingston basketball players, and there have been a lot, have gone south,” he said, listing people such as Taryn Turnbull, Jen Cunningham, Stacey Dales and Nana Robinson. “To keep a player home that’s had multiple offers (from U.S. schools) is a real tribute to Dave and (assistant coach James Bambury).
“All the great teams are built on keeping the best players around, not losing those players. Look at Carleton. All those kids who played on Carleton’s men’s team could have gone south, but Dave (Smart) managed to convince them to stay.”
It’s also great for Kingston basketball, Orpin said. “She’ll draw so many fans to see her play. Look at how many people came to watch Jenny (Wright) and Liz (Boag) play. It’s great for kids, young girls. To see Bridget play will be an awesome experience.”
Not to mention Mulholland may pay dividends for the Queen’s program before she even plays a game. For one thing, Wilson chuckled, it takes the recruiting pressure off. For another, it instantly raises the Queen’s profile in the recruiting milieu.
“She will attract other players,” he said. “It sends a message to kids across the country. We’re talking with a lot of very good players who want to play with her and to have the official signing says, ‘OK, if you want to play with Bridget, this is where you’re coming.’
“That’s what happens when you get great players. When you put LeBron James on your team, other people want to play with LeBron James. People want to play with Bridget.”
Among them are the women with whom she’ll be playing starting in the fall of 2016.
“It’s going to be fun,” Pearson said. “I love the way she sees the floor and she really communicates well for a young player, which is awesome to see. She brings so much experience that even players like myself haven’t had, playing on those all those high level teams. I never got to do that when I was (that age) and it’s really fun to see her bring that experience to the table.
“She’s also very funny. She makes us all laugh a lot. She’ll say things and you can’t help but laugh.”
Mulholland will be studying kinesiology at Queen’s, not necessarily with an eye to a particular career in the profession—at least, not yet. “I want to play pro after I’m done here,” she said, “and then come back to coach.”
Perhaps one day she’ll find herself chatting up the Bridget Mulhollands of the future.
“It was exciting,” she said of the recruiting experience. “It was fun, but now that it’s over (I’m glad)—definitely.”