March 22, 2013
'Dores Arrive in Connecticut
The most peaceful time at Memorial Gymnasium is late at night. Long after the crowd has filed out after games or basketball practices have concluded, the six-decade old building sits quiet. Only the buzzing sound emitting from the lights, mixed with the occasional creaking noises that come from all corners and crevices of the SEC's oldest arena can be heard.
It is during these times - long after the sun has set - that Vanderbilt guard Christina Foggie can often be found at Memorial Gym. The peaceful silence inside the gym is shaken by the bounce of a ball and the swish of the net as the ball sails through the center of the rim. She then retrieves the ball and repeats the process again and again and again.
On each of her attempts, her elbow is cocked at the perfect angle, the release point is in the proper location and each flick of her right wrist guides a ball that floats silently through the quiet gym before the silence is interrupted by the sound of the ball going through the net and settling on the court.
Somedays, Christina will shoot for hours. During each shooting session, she has a routine where she must make 10-of-15 three-pointers from five different spots around the perimeter. Starting near the baseline and working her way around the arc, Foggie begins hoisting up three-pointers. Most of them go in, but when she fails to make at least 10 of her 15 attempts from a specific spot, she starts over.
"I want to make a high percentage to get to 10 so that in a game, if I am open, I am most likely going to hit the shot," Christina said.
Christina was first introduced to the shooting challenge when she was in high school. It typically takes her no more than two tries from any given location to make it around the arc now, but she vividly remembers her initial struggles with the routine.
"It took me forever the first time I tried," the Vanderbilt junior said. "It was awful. We had a contest where I trained in high school and whoever could do it the fastest would get their name on the website, and I always wanted to do that. Finally, my senior year, I did it and ever since then I've been pretty good at it, but it took me at least three years to beat out some of the other players."
Christina's dedication to her craft has paid dividends. She is regarded as one of the most lethal three-point shooters in the country and already ranks 25th in school history with 1,144 points. In three seasons, Christina has 194 three-pointers and is very much in range of surpassing the current school record of 256 treys.
Her numbers would be significantly greater had it not been for head injuries limiting her as a freshman and a knee injury that forced her to miss four games down the stretch of the 2013 regular season. The year between her injuries, all Christina did was earn first team All-SEC honors and lead the league in score at 17.9 points per game.
Healthy again after her late season setback, Foggie will and her teammates will return to the court Saturday when the Commodores open the NCAA Tournament against St. Joseph's in Storrs, Conn. For Christina, the game will be a homecoming of sorts. Born and raised just outside Philadelphia in Mount Laurel, N.J., Christina's hometown is just 222 miles from Storrs, where the winner of Saturday's game will face either top-seeded UConn or 16th-seeded Idaho in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Monday. \
In addition to being in close proximity to her hometown, Saturday's game will be against a program she is very much familiar with. The home in which she grew up is located just 10-15 minutes from St. Joe's Hagan Arena in Philadelphia, and as a child she attended a number of games in the building with her father, James. Her AAU team practiced across the street from Hagan Arena and Christina was even recruited by St. Joe's Head Coach Cindy Griffin.
"She really respects the coaching staff at St. Joe's," James said. "She knows them well and knows they are a tough-minded team. She knows what type of challenge they will present."
"St. Joe's was one of the earliest schools to recruit me," Christina said. "I've known them since I was 14 so it will be interesting to play against them."
Just as she is familiar with the coaching staff and program, Christina is also familiar with a few players on the team.
As soon as the NCAA selections were announced on Monday, Christina and teammate Stephanie Holzer were exchanging text messages with Natasha Cloud, a redshirt sophomore guard at St. Joe's. Cloud and Holzer were high school teammates, while Foggie has been going head-to-head against Cloud in AAU since she was 10. "It was interesting when we saw that come up," Christina said. "We texted each other and said, 'See you Saturday.' "
Christina has been waiting for opportunities like she will be presented with on Saturday for a long time. Her basketball career began at the age of 6. At that age, she would watch as her father guided her brother through basketball drills. Even though she was mostly observing, Christina was already learning, and learning quickly.
"I didn't even see it to tell you the truth," James remarked. "I was focused on the boy's team and I had to have other parents and coaches tell me that I had a gem in Christina."
To help teach his son and daughter about basketball, James armed himself with instructional VHS tapes and DVDs. His sport of choice was running, having been cut from his high school basketball team as a freshman, and he did not profess to be an expert in hoops. So instead, he turned to others to provide the necessary instruction. They would watch instructional videos together and eventually Christina began working with a trainer. It was through the instructional tapes and the help of her trainer that she developed her smooth shooting stroke.
"At 6 or 7 years old, she learned her release and that was what everyone keyed in on," James said. "All I heard over and over again was how beautiful of a release she has. Not only was she shooting for long periods of time, she was shooting the proper way, which is key."
By the time she was 9 years old, Christina was playing on an AAU travel team. When Christina turned 11, James began to hear from others that she had the potential to play Division I basketball. At the time, James thought the talk was just that, talk. After all, she wasn't even a teenager yet.
Although Christina was dominating the suburban leagues and doing very well on the AAU circuit, James knew there was still another level of competition she had not yet been tested against. So one day, James and Christina hopped in the car and he drove to the inner city.
"We walked into the gym and she had never experienced anything like this," James recalled. "It was just a raw, smelly gym in Philadelphia and she held her own. All the directors there said, 'Hey, bring her back.' She didn't show any fear when she was playing, but when we got in the car, she said, 'Dad I don't want to go back. I thought this was a one shot deal.' But I said, 'Christina if you give me three months in this program, I will let you walk away. You really need to play at this level at 11 years old and she gutted it out.
"There were six girls on this team in a boys league in Philadelphia and they went .500. I'd never seen anything like that in my life ... to have six girls win half of their games in a boys league. To me, that's what set the tone for her competitiveness and from that point on her game just kept elevating."
To get better at home, Christina and her brother, James, who played collegiately at Rowan University, would play one-on-one on the back patio. James would typically overpower her with his size and strength, but it didn't keep Christina from trying. Losing to him all the time infuriated her because of the competitor she is. But the losses made her better.
Christina recalls defeating her brother maybe two times out of the hundreds of times they have played. It just so happens that that second time is also the most recent time when the two played this past summer. "Both of us were home together and we played outside and there were actually some of his friends there to see it when I beat him, so I have witnesses," Christina said. "If I didn't have witnesses, he would deny it."
As a child, no matter how much she played against her brother or practiced with her teammates, it was not enough to fill her appetite for the sport. During the week, she would look up the schedules for local college and high school teams and ask ask her dad to take her to games just so she could be around the sport and watch others compete at a high level.
"I went to games with my dad a lot," Christina said. "Literally, my dad and I would just get in the car a lot and go to the games. It was something we had a habit of doing."
Through the years, the Foggie's held season tickets to a number of different colleges and James and Christina would travel the city going from gym to gym to watch the action on the hardwood.
"It was definitely a bonding experience for myself and Christina," James said. "Those years, we spent a lot of time in the car and in gyms and that is when we developed that father-daughter relationship that I cherish."
When she wasn't watching others play basketball, she was busy improving her own game on the court. Her drive to get better was relentless and it saw no limit.
Before many of her games growing up, Christina and her father would head to the local YMCA to get in shots before the game.
"Our ritual was that before games, we would go to the YMCA and do maybe 30 minutes," James said. "I would talk about Kobe Bryant, I'd talk about Diana Taurasi, who was one of her idols growing up. I'd tell her that Diana Taurasi is good, but what makes her great is dedication to her weaker skills. She was like a sponge."
"I always said that when I had kids, I would make sure that they competed at the highest level early on and that they got the proper training to give them a shot to make a high school team. That's all I wanted out of that. It just so happens that Christina took it beyond that."
Where basketball ends up taking her remains to be seen. That drive to get better remains with her today at Vanderbilt, and she has no intentions on settling.
"I've been practicing my shot and my game for so long that my dedication has remained," Christina said. "I shoot after practices and come back later at night and shoot some more."
And each time she arrives for one of her late night shooting sessions in her laboratory better known as Memorial Gym, the once quiet building is filled with nothing but the sweet sound of the ball swishing through the net time and time again as it has so many instances in her career and will for years to come.