Sonia UrsuFrom: Suceava Born on: 24 July 1993 Occupation: Professional Basketball Player
Sonia Ursu played basketball on two continents and holds the motto: Savage Mentality but Namaste! In addition to his remarkable activity in the sport world, Sonia has the rare quality of being truly a human. Both on the basketball court and in the everyday life.
She’s one of the most authentic people I’ve ever met, although her childhood could head her style to the austere’ relatives. To pass through the wickedness of children and to assume the traits, whether physical or regarding the character, requires a lot of force.
She told me at a soup of chickpeas, as she glanced through the glass walls of the restaurant, how she sees in people a source of inspiration. She thinks that every passer-by can teach you something, either by his attitude or by a simple gesture. Sonia doesn’t stop there and carry on this philosophy of life in her profession. Indeed, from experienced players you have the most to learn, but you can get lessons from anyone, regardless of their level. For a person who loves introverts and their attention to details, she is not far from loving oneself.
She invited me on the Saturday morning of May 19 to watch the 3×3 games scheduled on the University of Agronomic Sciences’s field. As a cliche for Bucharest, I took the 41 tram and sat down on a marble bench in front of the court once I arrived at the destination.
Wisdom should be louder, said an article title some time ago. I remembered it when Sonia appeared with the backpack on his shoulder, smiling and saluting her colleagues … noisy. In the ancient Greek, Sonia was the abbreviation of the name Sofiya, which meant wisdom – that’s where the synapse was inspired. But let’s not put so much pressure on a 24-year-old’s shoulders, and not because she cannot take it, but because it’s not fair play. Let’s play correctly, I say! And Sonia really does that.
Among the perfection of the basketball sphere and the studied moves, I expected to find idols on a high pedestal. They were and she took them down. Probably because she understood that she can put herself, with work and passion on the pedestal. And if there are things I want to be an accomplice, then here I want to be, at the heresy of comparing you with your best possible version.
MS: Did your parents tell you why they named you Sonia?
Yes, and it’s a whole story behind the decision. It all started after a phone conversation regarding my birth between my father and grandmother. Speaking in Korean, mother was unable to understand something in their dialogue, but she heard at one point the name Sonia. Revolted by the fact that my father had already given me a name without consulting her before, she waited to close the phone and asked: How have you already chosen a name? Confused my father tells her that he doesn’t know what she’s talking about and he did not say anything about a name. Mom insisted: But I heard when you said Sonia. In that moment my father made the connection between the identical pronunciation of the name and the word girl in Korean: No, I did not choose her name, I just announced my mother that she is the grandmother of a little girl.
And that’s how they got to my name, due to a slightly funny misunderstanding that I am retelling every time I have the opportunity.
MS: If you are thinking about your childhood now, can you choose a moment that you would like to relive?
Look, the first thing that comes to my mind is remembering the moments I was walking without any direction through Geoje, the port town of Korea where I lived for 5 years. If we relate to Romania, that area was kind of a small village. My mother told me how everybody knew me there, and I was asking everyone for food with the innocence of that age. I would love to relive those moments with that eyes, child’s eyes.
MS: And your journey, from 11-years old – when you hit the basketball ball for the first time, until now. how was it and how did it feel?
In middle school and high school, I played in Bucharest. Then I wanted to go to the University of Pittsburgh and I prepared for everything that involved that. But shortly before, I received a gift from my mother to visit Korea, considering that I had not seen my father for a while. I arrived there and through a family friend I have come to be evaluated and eventually accepted in the South Korean team, Woori Bank Hansae. But they have imposed the condition of starting the contract immediately. Because I wanted to go to the USA to college, I started a negotiation and I proposed to come back after a year. But there was no possibility of changing the conditions: they wanted then, without any further delay. And that’s how I spent a year and a half there, with that team. I returned to the country because my mother needed my support, going through some difficult moments, and I finally remained. Family is important to me.
Then, in recent years, I was part of the teams in Brasov, Alba Iulia and the Czech Republic. It all ended 6 months ago in Poland with Ślęza Wrocław and 2 months again in the Czech Republic.
It was a nice and difficult journey, especially at first when I was pretty young and I played with girls much older than me. Plus, I was different with Asian features. There were moments when they actually made fun of me and I did not even realize. Later I understood that they were going through unpleasant periods and a way to deal with was to spread their problems around.
And in Korea it was extremely difficult. I can say now that I would come back anytime, because I feel I have not faced all. I am aware that life without pain doesn’t exist. And there I learned to take care of my body, I learned basketball discipline and how to defend myself, how to use my body in defence. You see, in Europe, basketball relies heavily on tactics, where you stop and analyze what’s happening on the ground. Instead, there was and is a very fast game centred on the basket.
If I look back, I can say that from every experience I had a lot to learned and that I had a great deal of luck with people who believed in me and supported me. And that makes a path much more pleasant and gives it a different meaning, beside its own.
MS: But when was the biggest challenge in your career?
Surely in Korea. There was a very large building, downstairs were the offices, and then progressively: the bedrooms, the recreation rooms, the fitness and the restaurant. The top floor was the basketball court. We had 3 exercises a day for 3 hours each. So there was your whole life. It was hard to adapt to their somehow limiting style and rules, given that in Europe I had a fairly large freedom. Plus, that culture was very strict. I mean, I had to address the older girls with the word sister, if I was arguing, I was not allowed to look at that person, but it was necessary to lower your head, put your hands back and listen. It was extremely strict and the girls’ rags also appeared.
I think I have formed a self-defence mechanism over time and all the less pleasant things I let them pass by, but not entirely because I live them deeper and filter them through dream.
MS: How does it make you feel and what does this sport means to you?
I feel free!!! Every time I went through a personal thing, I went to the basketball court and stayed there until I was exhausted. That’s how I release myself. It means a lot to me, from escapade to creativity, but I do not want to go to the extreme and say that I cannot live without basketball, because I can. I have life outside basketball. I do not want to dedicate myself all my life to basketball without having a family. I am aware that it is my life today, but it will not always be so.
MS: But is basketball a job where the pressure is always on the player?
First of all, it is a job. And yes, it is heavy in the situation where you have a reputation and people have expectations from you. And depending on the money you earn, you must present a certain quality of the game, regardless of the moment. You can represent a particular club or country and you have a responsibility. For example, even at 3×3 games, although there are 10 minutes of play, you can train for hours during the year to be able to make a good game in those minutes.
And there are times when a decision of yours decides the victory or defeat of your team. And when you have the ball in your hands and a few seconds of reflection on the next move is really a great deal of pressure.
MS: I think there are many techniques in basketball; do you have a particular one that you like most or do you master very well?
Yes, I have a move that I consider my signature move. It is named spin move – a movement of direction change in which the body of the dribbler is always held between the ball and the opponent. This movement is used to avoid the enemy, to protect the ball, but also to create a better crossing angle. To be able to properly perform the spin move you need a good balance, but also a precise legs coordination. And I also love to go offensive rebound. There are moments when you have to take the ball from your opponents and there is a kind of “fight” under the basket, an activity for the team’s taller and stronger girls. Although I am smaller than what the recovery position means by definition, I like to go after the ball. I also have the advantage of seeing the ball and jumping after it. I feel that offensive rebound is in the critical situations, when we were entitled only to one more attack, a second chance of life. I love to take advantage of these opportunities.
My preparation and constitution have led me to the shooting guard position of the existing 5 (point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center). But now the basketball evolves a lot and there are no fixed positions anymore.
MS: In the basketball what do you have to work permanently? I think there are some sports where psychic and mental discipline is the same or maybe more important than physical training …?
From my point of view, it is very important to work a lot with your body. And I do not necessarily mean raising weight, although in Korea I was doing squats with 130 kg. I say this in the idea of becoming comfortable with it and doing exercises without predisposing it to injuries. Your knees and ankles are vital; you protect them as much as you can. And as a technique, shoot, because in the end: You have to put the ball in the basket, darling. It is also primordial to” misleading” your opponent and defending.
And yes, the psyche is an essential part of the equation. You know, you do not have to take the words of reproach, for example the coach ones, personally. You do not allow yourself to stay on the ground, so you have to build a strong psychic. And I do that by focusing on my strengths and by staying HUMAN on the basketball court. You feel from your opponents, even when you give hive five, respect for a good and fair game. A slight beat on the shoulder worths a lot.
MS: I think basketball needs a lot of psychological skills.
I really thought that after finishing my basketball career, I will become motivational speaker. I think I would enjoy it and be successful in this activity: working with the mentality of the children before becoming athletes. Maybe in basketball; why not? As a coach I do not see myself.
MS: But why?
Because I do not like it. And to be a good coach is very difficult and exhausting. You have to know basketball very much, be patient to analyze, to identify the signs and roles of each player and to make strategies. For example, in Poland, game schedules changed once a week, and you also needed to know your schemes and the schemes of your opponents.
MS: I read at one point an interview given by Elena Delle Donne, where she said that: Focus is not on itself, but to make everyone around you better. It’s about how great a team can be … So, how do you realize you have to focus on the team and not on your own?
There are periods in a team where you are not involved in the game and you sit on the bench. They’ve been to me as well, and you’re initially angry and frustrated and you cannot see the big picture. And then you realize that: Honey, it’s not all about you. Only in such situations see what kind of player you are: if you have the power to encourage your colleagues and become a better teammate, not just a better player. Because a coach is easy to judge, but it is not easy at all to have the ability to confront with intelligence the sitting on the bench.
MS: Short time ago you have published on your platform soniaursu.com an article about the role of coaches in the life of any athlete. There was also a message: If you are a coach and you are reading this, I hope you understand my message. The obsession for winning and success can sometimes blind us, hurt others and have a negative impact overall. What do you think is the first step that needs to be made for things to change in better?
I strongly believe that whatever your job is, you must be human. And before you act, think about a hundred times, because it’s important to react, but the way you do it is just as important. I think that’s why I do not like to communicate through messages. I feel that the information is incomplete and I do not have the interlocutor’s reaction to see exactly how my words have affected him.
And no matter what you do in life, as I have written in the article, it seems vital to think about the reasons behind your decisions. There it seems to me that your true nature is hiding. And that’s just coming from you. If you’re not ok with you, you’ll have your reflection on whoever’s around you.
MS: Women’s National Basketball Association launched an empowerment program for girls. And for each ticket purchased, WNBA will donate 5$ to an organization, along with a ticket to send a young woman to a game, in the idea of being inspired by the power, talent and leadership of WNBA women. Do you think it is an initiative that is needed or is it just following trends with empowerment and the new wave of feminism?
I am a feminist, and the most powerful people in my life are my mom and my aunt. In principle, I think it’s about promoting, in addition to the charity gesture. But, indeed, there is a need for such initiatives to bring young people into the world of basketball.
MS: And do you think that in Romania is possible to have such initiatives?
But these exist. For example, we will now create a basketball association for Romanian players in order to obtain more minutes for the game. And I am positive, because Romania takes attitude and seeks solutions.
MS: What do you want in the next period, or, to formulate otherwise, what is your next step?
Well, this month I want to recharge, but still do sports, run, go to the gym. That is, a recharge in motion. That’s how I am after the end of each season (7/8 months), I want a break with my family.
And then will start the individual training, followed by the national and so on, including the 3×3 games. You know, I’m the kind of person who hardly connects with anyone. And when I was not able to make this connection with a coach I felt bad. Now I understand that it’s okay and that I can work alone until I find the right person, eventually also specialized in basketball. But, when I work with all the team and with the associated coach, things are much more simple. There is another rhythm and atmosphere.
I’m going to sign a contract with a team at the beginning of September at the latest, because it’s a planning of activities and you’re called by the Basketball Federation to set up a program.
MS: I know that at one point your dream was to play in WNBA; has something changed in the meantime?
It was. It is no longer because I became realistic. If I had wanted so much, I’d certainly go to America. But I reached an intermediate dream – to play in the EuroCup, now I go after the EuroLeague.
I think the most beautiful thing in the world is a human satisfied with himself. And obviously you are not born like this, but you are constantly working on this aspect, but when you see that a human being is well, content, happy with himself is wow.
We live some times in which most of us have the power to choose. So if you have the power to leave an environment, a better life for the next generations, why not do it? I don’t give examples of what to do or not, because everyone knows. Everyone knows and feels what have to do!
Photo: Pawel Kucharski