“We knew we’d win that game.” Michelle Wilson’s confidence unnerves me. The head coach for Hackney White Heat oozes assurance. Speaking after her side’s last victory in the London Metropolitan Women’s Basketball league, she says: “The first quarter was a bit tight, but we clinched it by halftime. They just couldn’t catch up.
“Southwark Storm had been winning more of their games, so we weren’t sure what the club had done to improve – whether they had added to their squad or if they were just playing better as a unit.”
But, once the Hackney team got into a rhythm, the match was theirs for the taking.
Hackney White Heat, though currently placed third in the league table, have three games in hand on the teams at the top of the league, and Michelle was not surprised by her team’s 67-38 victory on Friday night.
“If you look at the table, Southwark have played more games than us. But if you look at the statistics, we’ve only lost one game. That’s why they’re at the top of the league – because we haven’t played our games yet,” she says.
“We’ve played everyone once, so now we just need to think, let’s go out and beat everyone again. We’ll know by next week, after our back-to-back games, whether we’ve won the league.”
Hackney White Heat also smashed Southwark Storm Women 78-29 in the quarterfinals of the Cup last month, and are set to face Westside Senior Women in the semi-final.
The team – mostly unchanged since 2012 – are raring to achieve the unknown in women’s amateur basketball. The team hopes to retain both the Cup and the League this season, for the third year in a row, cementing their dominance in women’s basketball.
Hackney White Heat has taken 40 points so far and has a staggering goal difference of 384 – the highest goal difference in the league by over 200 points.
“We are a high scoring team. We’re not just winning these games by a small margin; we are continually getting a big score on the board. The goal difference is probably lower than last year, but it’s a decent scoring record,” Michelle says.
All the women who play for White Heat are aged over 21. Michelle has one student in her team, but the rest are all working, and half are mothers. “It’s really inspiring. Particularly when a lot of people say ‘now I’m pregnant, my sporting life is over’. Instead, these women say ‘I can get fit again; I can come back to basketball, and play, and win’.
“There’s no sense of baggage with these players. Because as hard as it is for them, they play basketball well.”
Michelle founded the team in 2004 with a group of local women after she realised there was nowhere near where she lived for women to play basketball.
“I was first inspired to play by Joe White. I was training with him and his team but he didn’t have a ladies’ team. He inspired me to play. So, I said to him, why don’t you start a girls’ team? And he said, ‘yeah, in due time’. But then, it never really happened because he passed away. That’s when I decided to start the club,” says Michelle.
In 2009, the team – originally called East Side Heat – merged with White Heat’s Men and have got bigger and better ever since. The team has one training session every week. But Michelle wants to increase the number of training sessions.
Her next plan is to get teenage girls interested in basketball. “It’s going to be a tough project. If you give a boy a ball and a hoop, then they’re sold. But girls are a bit different, it’s harder to keep them interested. It’s going to be challenging, but I’m going to give it a good go.”
Should schools do more? “Well, for boys, that works. You get them at a young age and they just continue. But with girls it’s different. I didn’t start playing basketball until I went to college. I played netball. I got bored of netball, and thought, I want a bit more action and moved across to basketball. I’ve loved it ever since.”
So could Hackney White Heat do it this year? If Michelle’s confidence is anything to go by, it certainly looks possible.