Teenager McCarthy’s basketball talents has secured a four-year scholarship at East Tennessee State University
‘Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.’
The above quote from Muhammad Ali could have been written for 19-year-old Paris McCarthy. There’s a desire in her, a steeliness, a determination.
When I spoke to her on Saturday, she was travelling to the southside of Cork to play Fr Mathews in the MissQuote.ie Super League with her beloved Garvey’s St Mary’s. This was after doing a 60-minute field session with her Gaelic football club Castleisland Desmonds, where McCarthy was the last to leave the field. She knows that the work on the training ground leads to greater reward when a match comes around.
This work ethic goes a long way towards explaining why Paris McCarthy will be heading to East Tennessee State University (ETSU) in August to take up a scholarship with the prestigious Division One school. McCarthy has amassed 25 caps for her country at underage level so far so there were other offers on the table, but in the end the NCAA Division 1 Southern Conference side won out.
There was never a doubt that Paris would go anywhere else bar a Division One school. It would be a lot easier to settle for a Division Two side where court time would be guaranteed and minutes more attainable. But this isn’t how her philosophy on basketball or life in general works. In McCarthy’s world you either aim for the top or you don’t go to the rodeo.
“At the end of the day I always believed that I could get to a Division One college and that God would help me on the way. If it was His plan, then it would happen,” she told The Kerryman. “Along the way people were saying to me, ‘Oh I don’t know, it’s a high division and it might not work out’, but at the end of the day you won’t know unless you go there and take that jump.
"In my head I was determined to do it and I believe that, even though the competition over there is high, I feel that our competition over here is every bit as high. I mean, the level of basketball that we are playing at the moment in the Super League is unbelievable. I feel that it will work out at the end of the day.”
ETSU had a trump card in their ranks as their new Head Coach Simon Harris played Super League with Moycullen back in 2009 so he knows and understands the mentality of elite Irish players. From the moment they spoke, McCarthy could feel a connection as he stressed how much he wanted her on his roster. Allied to that were the state-of-the-art facilities and some chats with other girls over there, and that quickly made her mind up after a sit down with her parents, John and Ann.
A stint with the South-West representative side when she was 13 gave Paris a taste of what could be in the future. For the first time she saw a pathway to a career in the game and suddenly players from other counties didn’t seem as good as she expected them to be. In fact, she found that she was better than most of them. The seed had been sown and she was determined to see it bear fruit.
Irish caps soon followed and playing elite sport seemed like the most natural thing in the world for the young Castleisland woman. Trips to far flung places like Bulgaria and the Czech Republic helped to copper-fasten her determination to succeed in the game as she mixed it with the elite of European basketball. Behind it all though she knows that without the help of her parents it would never have been possible.
“The experiences abroad were amazing but at the end of the day I can’t thank my parents enough for bringing me everywhere because the sacrifices that they have made for me to get there is just crazy. Definitely the European Championship and all that gave me a taste of the competition around the place so I kind of realised what I have to be doing to play good there.”
Natural talent will only get you so far, and like all the best sports people, McCarthy puts in the hours behind closed doors when no one is watching. She reckons that she takes 400 to 500 shots with the Molten basketball on any given day. She starts by shooting on the inside and works her way to the outside, constantly striving for improvement in her home back yard and sometimes at Castleisland Community Centre. She has a simple mantra that she borrowed from one of her coaches: Whoever works the hardest will win at the end of the day and you can’t get better if you don’t work hard.
And some of those coaches have played a huge role in helping to take Paris on her journey to the top. She name checks Liz Galwey and Bríd Kenny as being hugely influential, whilst Tommy ‘Dom’ O’Connor and Conor Brosnan are two mentors that she says pushed her all the way and believed in her.
McCarthy can go back to players that she started out with at underage. “Gemma (Kearney), Emma (O’Regan), Aine (Sheehan), that was the team back in the day and now I’m playing with the best players that I’m so lucky to get to play with on the Super League team because not only are they great basketball players but they’re great role models as well, every one of them. I’m in awe of the way they approach every one of our games.”
McCarthy will board the plane to Tennessee in August and it is something that she’s hugely looking forward to. It won’t be just basketball over there, she will also have a choice to make between studying business or physiotherapy in her four years in the university. It’s at the end of the four years though that McCarthy has set out her stall. She’s not content to just complete her degree and move on. There are bigger plans on her mind.
“I want to play in the WNBA. That’s always been the dream and that’s what I’m aiming for. There will be bumps on the road and stuff – like even last year I had lost a bit of form and confidence and thought that I mightn’t get a scholarship, but after speaking to mom I worked harder and prayed to God and things turned around and that’s what I aim to do again. I’m determined to get there.”
In the meantime, McCarthy is facing into an All-Ireland semi-final with Castleisland Desmonds when they take on Castlebar Mitchels next Saturday at the Mayo venue. Equally as talented at Gaelic football as she is at basketball, McCarthy will line up at centre half forward, and despite injuries to some key players she firmly believes that “we have the players to get us to an All-Ireland Final. That’s the complete focus at the moment”.
She won’t be leaving the O’Neill’s football at home either as she plans to have it in the suitcase when she takes off in August. She has already told the coaches in ETSU that she plans to introduce Gaelic football to the team when they have a day off, and they will be heading down to the American football fields for a bit of a scrimmage and a coaching lesson from Paris.
As for last Saturday night's game against Fr Mathew’s, McCarthy popped up with ten points and a number of assists as her club agonisingly went down by 84-79 in overtime against the Cork side. Not a bad day’s work for an athlete who is steadily heading to the top.