Grayslake North sisters find hoop happiness in Canada
Brittney Thibeaux made sandwiches all day but hungered for something else.
She craved basketball, still.
"I never wanted to stop playing," she said. "But situations happened where I had no choice but to take a year off. It crept into my mind some hard nights. I was like, 'This could be it. I could possibly be done playing basketball.' "
Thibeaux was three years removed from having graduated from Grayslake North (Class of 2014), where she helped the Knights win 46 games and consecutive Fox Valley Conference Fox Division championships as a junior and senior. But after playing two seasons of junior college ball at North Dakota State College of Science, she was back home in Lake Villa, holding her own while holding the mayo at Penn Station East Coast Subs in Grayslake, where she became a manager.
Her phone rang that summer of 2017. It wasn't someone ordering takeout. Rather, it was Peter Sambu, an assistant coach at some place called Olds College in western Canada. Sambu had coached Thomas Dryburgh, who was Thibeaux's coach at NDSCS.
"I'd never heard of Olds a day in my life when he called," Thibeaux said with a laugh.
But through Dryburgh, Sambu had heard of Thibeaux, a 6-foot forward who could dominate in the post. Dryburgh told Sambu that Thibeaux would be a great fit for Olds. That August, for the first time in her life, Thibeaux journeyed to Canada. She enrolled at Olds -- 1,500 miles from home.
A new journey
New country, new life.
"I just wanted to get back playing and finish up school, so I jumped at the opportunity," Thibeaux said. "My mom was scared, but I told her it was going to be fine and things were going to work out."
Located an hour north of Calgary in icy Alberta, Olds was just the place that Thibeaux needed. The small town allowed her to focus on school and basketball.
This past season, the fifth-year transfer student capped her career by being named Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association All-Canadian for the second year in row. She was named All-Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference South First Team for the third straight year and nabbed Player-of-the-Year honors after averaging 25 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. She finished with her career with an ACAC-record 130 blocks.
Best yet for Thibeaux this past season was that her kid sister delivered passes to her. Brandi Thibeaux, a 5-6 point guard, started for Grayslake North's varsity as a freshman and sophomore (after Brittney had graduated), before finishing up at St. Joseph in Westchester.
In her first season for Olds, Brandi dished out an ACAC-record 149 assists, while also leading the conference in steals (84) and averaging 16 points per game. The all-conference selection had played two seasons for Johnson County Community College in Kansas before joining her big sister in Canada.
"Being up here is definitely different," Brandi said. "It's beautiful. There are a lot of mountains. We've seen a lot of things.
"The cold," she added with a laugh, "is something else. It's crazy."
At last, as their parents had always hoped, the Thibeaux sisters were on the same team.
"We did a lot of good things," Brandi said. "We know each other's game, we know how we work, we know what we need to do to stay focused, and we push each other to play as hard as we can. Brittney is somebody that I've learned a lot from. Playing with her and having her there to coach me through different things made it easier for me as a player."
"It was a dream come true," Brittney added of playing with her little sister. "We had been talking about getting on the same team since we were kids. She said she learned a lot from me, but I also learned a lot from her. Even though we played two different positions, we learned how to maneuver in the game and how to approach the game. We know each other's weaknesses and strengths. It was just so much fun. Even though we had never played with each other, you could just see our sisterhood and our chemistry on the floor. We enjoyed every game, every practice. It was just a great experience, and it's something that I'll never forget and I'll cherish forever."
Think their parents beamed? Dad Troy made it to Olds' home opener, a night the Broncos and head coach Avery Harrison celebrated their 2018-19 CCAA national championship with a ring ceremony. Brandi's birthday was the next night. Mom Angela made it to Olds for Senior Appreciation night and saw Brandi set the assist record.
"They've been wanting us to be on the same team since we started playing," Brittney said.
Brittney might not be done playing. Equipped with a degree in business management, she's hoping to play professionally overseas.
She's proved she can adjust to life in a new country.
"I think about it almost every day," Brittney said of her and Brandi's journey. "Just to see how far we've come and to actually be here (in Canada), it's crazy."