Toledo Threat features some of area's top former prep basketball players
By Steve Junga
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The Toledo Threat women’s basketball team has selected its 2018 roster as it prepares to participate for a second season in the Women’s Blue Chip Basketball League.
The Threat, owned and operated by former Start High School and University of Detroit Mercy basketball player Sandi Brown, is one of 39 women’s teams competing in one of the WBCBL’s nine regional divisions across the country.
Toledo again will play in the North East Division, along with the Cleveland Crush, Detroit Dodgers, and Grand Rapids (Mich.) Galaxy. The Threat returns seven players who were part of their 4-5 finish in 2017. The team currently has an eight-game schedule from May through July, with home games to be played at Springfield High School.
Back for the Threat are former Waite All-Ohio guard Shareese Ulis-McBrayer, who later played at the University of Cincinnati, Janelle Reed-Lewis (Toledo), Kenya Middlebrooks-Bauer (Waite/Youngstown State), Riana (Miller) Hensley (Northview/Akron, Davenport), Precious Hands (Scott/Cincinnati State, Lourdes), Karis Hood (Start/Tiffin), and Miriah Haynes (Waite).
The WBCBL, which bills itself as “the premier professional development basketball league for women,” is designed to provide exposure for former college players seeking to earn spots with professional teams.
Players in the WBCBL who dream of landing a contract in the WNBA might be dreaming. But those more talented players hoping for opportunities in professional women’s leagues overseas have better odds.
After the 2017 season, 21 WBCBL players signed contracts with pro teams in England, Germany, Poland, France, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Greece, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, Cameroon, and El Salvador.
In 2016, 24 players went to pro teams overseas. Since the league began in 2005, 170 WBCBL players secured pro contracts.
As for the Threat and its roster — which also includes newcomers Jessica Minnfield-Lewis (Central Catholic/Michigan), Nicole Brown (South Carolina State), Kristen Sienicki (Penn State Behrend), and Asia Woodson (Bowsher/Ohio Christian) — the pursuit of a pro contract basically is non-existent.
These women, many of whom starred at local high schools more than a decade ago and are now near or over 30, love basketball and wanted another chance to compete at a high level.
“There’s so much talent in Toledo, and all these ladies still have game,” Sandi Brown said. “I really think the big motivator, as far as the older ladies still wanting to play, is just to get back on the court for the love of the game.
“If I could play, I would. It hurts me that I’m not playing. They just have that passion for the game, and they still have talent and skill, so why not?”
Brown did play for the Threat last season, but she found that running the team and playing on it was difficult.
“For me to be a player and the owner, especially on game day, I couldn’t really focus on the game,” Brown said. “My hands were into everything, right down to the last seconds before the games starting. There were some games I didn’t even get to warm up. I sat on the bench and then just went in and played.
“It was difficult for me and a distraction for the team as well. I just decided to focus more on the business end. That way, I provide more opportunity for these ladies. I’m OK with making that sacrifice. This is my dream, something I’ve had a vision about doing. I’ve got to put in the real work to see it happen.”
While at Waite, Ulis-McBrayer was a two-time Blade player of the year and led the Indians to three consecutive City League championships (2005-07). These days, she is just looking for a place to play the game she loves.
“The first reason I’m playing is passion,” Ulis-McBrayer said. “Although it’s been six years [since she’s been away] from college basketball, I still have the passion to play as well as coach. So when the opportunity came [last year], I wanted to be a part [of it].
“The second reason is to inspire the current generation of players. Comparing now and then, the City League is really not the same.
“So to come back and play in front of the kids who are currently playing, for them to see the people who came before them, and the passion they play with, hopefully it inspires them to want to get better and want to further their careers after high school.”
Minnfield-Lewis, whose husband is St. Francis de Sales boys basketball coach Travis Lewis, is taking to the court for the first time since concluding her Michigan career.
“But I work out on a daily basis, and I got shots up with my husband over at St. Francis,” Minnfield-Lewis said. “But I never have any game feel, so this will be the first time doing that since graduating from Michigan in 2009.
“I’m playing just because I miss it so much. I tried coaching for a few years, but that didn’t fill the space. Now that I’m done with school I have a little more time on my hands, and I just miss the game. I’m excited to try to play this year.”
Minnfield-Lewis said not playing basketball left a void in her life.
“It’s just fun,” she said of getting back to the game. “It fills that space for the people who miss the game so much. I started playing when I was 4 years old at my dad’s practices. There’s nothing like it. Basketball is what I grew up on, and it’s what I dream about still to this day.
“I had an opportunity to play overseas, but there were some things going on over in Israel at that time and I was just too scared to go over there, so I missed out on that opportunity. I miss it so much, and anybody who was ever a real athlete would understand why.”
Hensley, who played on Northview’s state final four teams for coach Jerry Sigler in 2005 and 2006, has tried to stay in the game since her college career concluded. She coaches eighth graders at Ottawa Hills, and she works as a substitute teacher and at Pizza Cat.
“I have always had a passion for the game, and even though I’ve had several supposed endings to my career, there’s always been another opportunity to play,” Hensley said. “As long as I still have the ability in my body, I’m still going to play. I love the game.
“I figure I’ll be coaching longer than I’ll be playing, so as long as I can continue to learn [as a player], that will help me become a better coach.”
Like Ulis-McBrayer and Minnfield-Lewis, Hensley has had trouble letting go of the game she loves.
“I’ve been playing for 20 years now,” Hensley said. “When you do something for that long, it’s kind of instilled in you. It’s kind of always been my reason to stay active. If basketball goes away and working out goes away, you lose those endorphins. If you get up and move it makes you feel better.
“Basketball has always kept my spirits high throughout everything in life. It’s definitely reminded me what it takes to be mentally healthy and to be where I need to be. And, my wonderful teammates are like a family.”
Another thing that all three players have in common is that they are each the mother of two children.
TOLEDO THREAT 2018 WBCBL SCHEDULE
May 12 — at Cleveland Crush
May 19 — Grand Rapids Galaxy
June 9 — at Detroit Dodgers
June 10 — at Atlanta Monarchs
June 23 — Cleveland Crush
June 30 — at St. Louis Surge
July 7 — at Charlotte Invasion
July 14 — Detroit Dodgers
(Home games at Springfield High School)