I have spent each of the past three Thanksgivings with a new family. While most Yalies are home for the break, I have been on the road with my basketball team.

Each year, we play in a Thanksgiving tournament that is near a team member’s home so that a team member’s family can host our Thanksgiving dinner. My freshman year I played a heated game of “Trivial Pursuit” in Atlanta with Meg Simpson’s ’02 cousins. Sophomore year, we traveled to Lily Glick’s ’01 hometown of Claiborne, Texas, where the mayor made us honorary citizens. Last year in Colorado, we had a huge after-dinner snowball fight that included our coaches, our trainer and Helene Schutrumpf’s ’03 younger brother. For all of these experiences I am thankful.

But I am most thankful that playing basketball at Yale has given me a bond with a group of amazing women. During my first practices with the team, I remember being in awe of many of the older girls. Not only was Alyson Miller ’01 a tremendous basketball player, she spoke Japanese and had worked the past summer at Fuji Bank. When you were having a rough day on the court or with classes, no one could make you laugh faster than Lily.

These were not the types of star athletes I had known back in high school. There was much more to them than what they accomplished on the court. These girls were strong, smart, and successful. This was the type of person I hoped to become.

I believe that when you are surrounded by talented people, people you respect and admire, you will push yourself to achieve more. Your expectations for yourself will increase just by being around them.

I have found that the better I get to know most people at Yale, the more privileged I feel to be among them. But the bond you have with your teammates is stronger because you truly understand the strength of their devotion to your sport and to your school. They are with you running wind sprints after you stayed up all night writing a paper. They are pulling for you and cheering you on in victory and consoling you during the long bus ride home after a bitter defeat.

There will be moments, usually when you are sore and tired and struggling to finish all of your work, when you’ll wonder whether or not it’s worth it.

People say Ivy League athletes play for the love of the game because we don’t have scholarships and are free to quit at any time without repercussions. There is no denying that my teammates and I love to play, but our commitment to Yale basketball is deeper than that.

We are committed to each other. I learned this as I sat on the sideline injured most of last season, desperately wanting to run each and every suicide, even the ones at the early morning practices. No, I’m not crazy — I hate running suicides just as much as anyone else. But seeing how hard my teammates were working gave me a tremendous feeling of admiration. I was proud of them, and it made me want to be a part of the team even more.

I love hearing about an older teammate who has already started accomplishing amazing things beyond Yale. But I am not surprised. I have a great amount of respect for the alumnae I didn’t get a chance to see play. I understand some of what they went through, the sacrifices they made, and I am proud to follow them.

Our team workout shirts this year simply said “Pride.” And for me, that is what being a Yale basketball player is all about.

Maria Smear ’03 is a junior in Branford College. She will be the captain of the women’s basketball team during the 2002-03 season.