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Getting to know your U SPORTS student-athletes: Maddison Penn, UBC Thunderbirds

U SPORTS Staff

Throughout the 2017-18 season, U SPORTS sits down with one key athlete, coach, and staff member of each U SPORTS athletic program in our new interview series Getting to know…”

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Name: Maddison Penn
School: UBC
Sport: Women’s basketball
Position: Guard
Year of eligibility: Third
Program: Kinesiology
Hometown: Avoca Beach, Australia


  1. What attracted you to UBC?

I’d say it’s a long story - I played originally at Virginia Tech for a year and a bit and unfortunately had to come home to work on my mental health at the time. I took some time off basketball and then wanted to get back into it again. Unfortunately again, I found out I needed spinal surgery which took me out for obviously quite a while.

Finally, when my mind and spine were both ready, or as ready as they could be, I looked into going back into the NCAA. With the insane rules and regulations it made it too difficult to go back, so I focused on coming somewhere in Canada. My boyfriend lives in Brandon so I thought being in Canada would be a good idea. I emailed a few places and UBC were good enough to get back to me!

  1. What’s your favourite memory, and your greatest athletic achievement as a U SPORTS student-athlete?

I don’t actually have anything super specific but I enjoy being over here in Vancouver and anything I do is a pretty special memory. I am very lucky to be in such a beautiful place.

Achievement-wise, I don’t have anything objective I can say I achieved. I just think continually being open to learn in such a different basketball environment than what I’m used to is an achievement in itself. I recently did really well in a math exam which is a huge achievement for me, seeing as the last time I took math was in Grade 12 in 2012.

  1. Where are you hoping your path will take you after university?

I’d just like to be able to say that being okay at basketball has taken me all over the world and so far I’ve been able to visit some amazing places. So I’d like to go play pro in Europe for as long as I can. After I do that I’d like to still play back home in Australia in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) and teach as my other job.

  1. Who’s had the greatest influence on your athletic career?

Probably my mom and dad. When I was younger I was a swimmer and the only way I was getting up and going swimming five mornings a week at 5 a.m. was with the help of mom and dad.

I was always super competitive so I participated in every sport under the sun, from rugby, track and field, cross country, swimming, Ironman, netball, basketball and rowing. I finally chose basketball to pursue. In terms of the greatest influence in basketball I’d like to thank my childhood friend Nick. His mom Carol asked me to fill in on the U6 boys’ team one Wednesday afternoon. If it weren't for her I wouldn't be here today because my parents had no basketball history or connection. I would've been stuck swimming!

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  1. Who is someone in the sports world, past or present, with whom you’d love to have dinner with? Why?

I love sport and basketball but I’m not the kind of person who has someone to constantly look up to or have photos of on my locker. I don’t even know most of what’s going on in the NBA but I could tell you irrelevant facts about music or something else trivial.

In saying that, I would probably have dinner with a female basketball and football player from Australia - Jess Bibby. She is a really inspirational woman. Jess had a similar spinal issue to me and has come back to play professional basketball as well as professional football in Australia. She’s had so many setbacks, yet she is so successful. I find that really inspirational.

  1. What is your pre-game ritual? Do you have any superstitions/idiosyncrasies around preparing yourself for a game?

I don’t really get too caught up in being nervous and having an actual ritual. When I was in the U.S., however I listened to the same song (alt-j - Fitzpleasure) right before I ate four Swedish Fish (eating the last one as I ran out through the smoke) and then wearing the same pair of odd socks that were my friends from back home. Now I just try and have fun and take it easy. When I am back at home in Canberra, I go to the same cafe and get an iced coffee usually with a teammate.

So maybe I am slightly superstitious.

  1. What’s your go-to song to get pumped up for practice or a game?

For a game it is Warren Zevon - Johnny Strikes Up the Band, or Tom Waits - Big in Japan. Both those artists are more likely to be the choice of a 50-year-old man. If I pick something more recent, it’d be something by Parquet Courts or the Growl. It was a mistake asking me about a music question…You could say I like music more than I like basketball.

  1. What’s your favourite social media account to follow?

Kookslams.

It’s basically people who send in videos of wipeouts at the beach or surfing etc. The captions are hilarious.

  1. If you could try another sport, what would it be and why?

Volleyball. I think I have raw, untapped potential. I recently learned how to do the Superman, Batman, Robin Hood thing. I believe it’s called the approach. I can’t really connect well with the ball yet, but I’ve got time.

  1. What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you as an athlete?

In a game against Boston College a couple of years ago, I stole the ball down one end on defence and sprinted down the court for a fast break, which took about eight seconds and 10 dribbles. I felt like I was going in slow motion. I scored but my friends have never let me forget how slow and un- athletic that play was. It’s not a classic embarrassing story, but it’s very humiliating deep down, especially when they always bring it up.