basketball

Amelia Sandie staying positive on the comeback trail

For most players, the 2019-20 season came to an abrupt end in March due to the coronavirus pandemic but for rising star Amelia Sandie, that fate came even earlier.

The 2002-born guard endured an injury-riddled campaign; suffering a torn ACL in February, just months after recovering from a partially dislocated knee.

These setbacks curtailed Sandie’s final year at City of London Academy having announced her commitment to NCAA Division 1 school Nicholls State University, back in October.

And, while the sporting world comes to terms with the absence of basketball action, rehabilitation continues for Sandie.

“It’s awful that basketball has had to stop, but this is a global thing and health has to come first,” she said in an interview with Hoopsfix. “I was really looking forward to the WEABL final – even though I couldn’t play – because we had another shot after coming up short last year.

“For me, the lockdown is allowing me to focus on rehab and getting back to full fitness. I’m also enjoying spending my time with my family after being away.

“My other goal was to learn the piano but it is much harder than I thought. I think most people are only good at one or two things and basketball is definitely mine.”

Growing on-and-off the court

Sandie is currently back home in Brighton – where her basketball journey began – after living in London for the past two years as part of the Southwark-based academy. The 17-year-old took to the sport almost a decade ago and would go on to play for local side Brighton Cougars.

The love of basketball stemmed from her father, Hugh Sandie, who played semi-professionally in Australia before becoming an agent and would also put his experience into coaching the Cougars’ youth side.

“I went along and was terrible at first,” Sandie admits. “But I loved it. It was a bit of a hobby going on a Saturday. I would even dribble a basketball to school and then getting a hoop in the garden was the best thing ever.”

Sandie would rapidly progress; moving onto the counties level as captain for Sussex as well as the South-East regional side through the age groups, prior to representing England Under-15s on their trip to Copenhagen in 2016.

In Year 11, she made the decision to pursue basketball further and Sandie opted for a move to the English capital and join CoLA. The academy side missed out on the WEABL Championship last season with the squad featuring the likes of Megan Haines, Maya Hyacienth, Esther Oluade and Ashana Hinds.

With those players departing to the States, Sandie would take on a different role with the team and CoLA would eventually go on to make it back to the final before the season was cancelled.

“We had such a good team last year, we just came up short,” said Sandie. “This year, I felt like one of the leaders with my experience so that allowed me to work on those different skills.

“We were growing together through adversity. I’ve learnt so much as a person from my time at CoLA, particularly with dealing with different challenges.”

Sandie hoped CoLA would push her in the right direction of fulfilling a dream of making it to the States and paid tribute to academy head coach Jackson Gibbons for his role in her development on-and-off the court.

“CoLA have a great track record of getting players scholarships but it isn’t sold as a guarantee,” she began. “Coach Jackson doesn’t get enough recognition because what he does goes beyond basketball and is just incredible so I will definitely miss him.

“We are all connected, though – both past and present players. It’s the family values of the academy that makes us all work so hard and there’s definitely that sense of togetherness.

“We all love getting better together and always pushed each other along.”

A goodbye to basketball

Sandie still received recognition from the coaches around the league with a place on the All-WEABL first team in the Southern Conference, despite being limited to just five games, with averages of 12.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

“It was a special feeling still making the All-WEABL first team because being recognised gives you that reassurance.

“Even when I couldn’t play, it was still good to help the team in other ways with the knowledge I have to give.”

The first of Sandie’s aforementioned injuries this season came against Barking Abbey in November and she worked to return to action over the next couple of months before a bigger blow was struck.

Having helped inspire CoLA to an impressive win over previously unbeaten John Madejski Academy, Sandie’s next game ended prematurely with an innocuous collision in a league game resulting in a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

“I felt a pop and immediately knew it was my ACL,” she explained. “It was really hard to deal with and I took it rough at first.

“I love playing basketball, so I still struggle now and then but you have to put your health first and realise sometimes these things happen.

“I’m so grateful to Aaliyah (Samuels-Campbell) who has suffered both ACL and meniscus tears and has been the biggest support and inspiration to me.

“Looking back on the win against JMA, it was like my goodbye to basketball for a bit – almost like I knew. Nobody expected us to beat them and I remember throwing the ball up in the air at the end of the game when we won because we had worked so hard.

“And that turned out to be my last proper game.”

The next chapter

One concern that followed was how the injury would impact her pending move to Nicholls State.

But Sandie revealed how she was ‘blown away’ by the support received from the coaching staff, which is something that had played a vital role in securing her commitment.

“I obviously had to let them know about my injury and I was nervous. But the response I got just reaffirmed my decision that I made.

“From my first Skype call with coach (Dobee Plaisance), I just knew I wanted to be there. Her energy was infectious and is someone that just loves life.

“I waited a little while before my commitment, but I knew straight away and I signed as soon as I could.

“I did it off a gut feeling but I spoke with a lot of people as well. [LMU freshman] Esther Oluade is like a sister to me – my mum and I have been sending her care packages – and hearing how she’s dealt with the experience and being in a different country has been really helpful.”

Sandie had weighed up the option of heading out to Australia – as she holds citizenship – but ultimately wanted to recreate the family atmosphere found in CoLA that resonates with the Colonels.

Uncertainty remains around an exact arrival date for Sandie at Nicholls State given the current global pandemic, as she is prepped to not just be flying the British flag, but also being the sole international representative on the 2020-21 roster.

Mental challenges

Sandie has already racked up a number of junior caps at international level, representing both England and Great Britain. At the Under-16 European Championships in 2018, Sandie was the leading scorer for GB with 8.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per game with a best of 19 points against Ireland.

Image credit: FIBA

The following summer, Sandie was back in GB colours but making the step up with the Under-18s as they went through a tough Division B campaign in Skopje off the back of a limited preparation.

“It’s a sisterhood,” she explained. “The friends you make will stay with you from being in an intense environment. Nobody else can experience it and you have to be physically and mentally ready.

“From training camp and fighting for your spot to then battling for minutes on the court – it’s a challenge but it’s not meant to be easy.

“With the Under-18s, we were disappointed where we came because we had worked so hard.

“You have to make the best out of a difficult situation. When you put on your kit and see your name and number, you realise you’re playing for everyone back home and I was also playing for CoLA and my mum and dad.

“The results didn’t reflect what we went through and it was mentally harder than expected.

“There are still some great moments, singing the National Anthem together and just learning to come up against different styles of play.”

A level playing field

Prior to the testing international competition, seven of GB Under-18s’ final 12 – including Sandie – took part in the first-ever women’s game at the Hoopsfix All-Star Classic.

The two rosters at the Under-19 contest were stacked full of talent and the game was the main feature in kicking off the two-day event at the Brixton Rec in South London.

Sandie looked back on facing challenges within the game growing up and hopes to see things continue to progress for the girls’ game within British basketball.

“That game was so important,” reflects Sandie. “I feel like it was a pivotal moment within women’s basketball.

“The fact we were recognised in equal measure to the boys was a big thing, especially seeing so many people turn up and take notice.

“Even now, you will see people turn up to watch the boys play but then not watch the girls. It’s better at CoLA because we are a tight-knit community but there’s still a way to go.

“An all-girls team wasn’t really a thing when I first started so I had to play with boys at my club.

“When I attended basketball camps, there would only be maybe one or two girls. It can be pretty hard for a young girl when there’s not really an option.

“It can knock your confidence when you’re not being passed to or whatever.”

She added of her HASC selection: “Honestly, I was shocked. To be on the same court as players I looked up to and being recognised for your talent is an amazing feeling.”

“The talent was crazy with the Class of 2019 with the likes of Holly (Winterburn), Loren (Christie) and the CoLA girls, so bringing it all together was amazing to see.”

Sandie is desperate to continue her basketball journey but must remain patient like so many others during the current lockdown. Whilst still recovering from a serious injury and not being able to make use of any facilities, Sandie believes there are other ways for players to improve.

“It’s important to have goals,” she concludes. “And, not to dwell on what’s gone on or going on. All I’m thinking about is that I cannot wait to get back playing.

“Even now, you can still improve your basketball IQ by watching tape and continue to improve your skills by working out. There’s lots to work on and get better for when basketball is back.”

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