[ WAHINE BASKETBALL ]
Show of strength
At about the time basketball entered Brittany Grice's life, so too did cancer.
Rice at Hawaii
When: Today, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Live, KFVE, Channel 5
Radio: Live, KKEA, 1420-AM
Tickets: $7 adults, $6 seniors. UH students, children age 4-18 free.
Notes: Pam Tambini (sprained foot) and Callie Spooner (sprained ankle) are expected to suit up for UH after being sidelined with injuries.
The Rainbow Wahine center first played basketball when she was 10. That was also around the time cancer began the first of five attacks on her mother, Dianne.
Basketball and cancer have been a constant part of Grice's life for nearly a decade. Dianne Grice has fought colon, lung, ovarian and skin cancer. She has had a lung and heart tissue removed. On two of Brittany's birthdays, Dianne was in the hospital undergoing surgery.
Last fall, Dianne's colon cancer recurred. There were days when Brittany struggled to keep it together. At a time when most freshmen have plenty to deal with in a new environment and playing college sports, Grice had more than the usual adjustment issues.
"It's really been tough. My mom is my rock," said Grice, who wears No. 53, because it is Dianne's birth year. "She's the rock in our family. So leaving her I just felt completely guilty. Here I was starting this new stage of my life. I had so many new things to focus on. I really wanted to be home, but I know my mom wanted me to be here. I considered going home, and my coaches would have respected my decision, but I know my mom wanted me to get settled into school.
"She ended up being all right. She did her treatment and now she's in remission. It ended up working out."
That was a relief for Grice, who had always intended to go away for college from her hometown of Redondo Beach, Calif. She spurned local colleges and focused mainly on the East Coast. Besides winning three California Interscholastic Federation basketball titles and finishing runner-up in the state tournament in 2002, Grice also scored more than 1,300 on the SAT. She was recruited by Dartmouth, Brown, California and several other Division I schools.
Hawaii entered the picture late, but once Grice visited she knew Manoa was where she wanted to be.
"I felt like the team was a lot more like a family, which is what I was used to in high school," Grice said. "I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to go somewhere it embraced you. Even though you have a job, Hawaii is a beautiful place.
"I needed to get away. I felt like I needed to grow up, and Hawaii develops you as a student, a player and, most importantly, a person. It seemed like a good fit."
But being around the basketball ohana didn't make life any easier when Grice felt like she needed to be with her family in California. Grice remembers one particular practice in fall conditioning in which she couldn't stop the tears.
"I was having trouble doing everything. Every time I ran down the floor, I wanted to tear up," Grice said. "I'm a very sensitive person. I cry easily.
"I use my frustration sometimes as an outlet. I channel all my frustrations, some days into practice. Those are probably some of my better practices. There is a limit. If you are too mad to play, you don't do any good."
There are few limits for the 6-foot-4 Grice, who has an upside as high as she is tall. The 18-year-old wants to double major in political science and marine biology so she can practice environmental law. Eventually, she would like to be the tallest woman elected senator.
"She's extremely bright," Hawaii associate coach Da Houl said. "She has quick feet and she catches on really fast. That carries over from the classroom. With Grice, sometimes I have to carry around a dictionary to have a conversation with her.
"Once she puts her mind to do something, she's hard to stop. If she's going to get that rebound, you better watch it. Your head will be under her armpit easily."
Grice has been crashing the boards lately for the Rainbow Wahine. She is coming off back-to-back double-digit rebounding performances against Texas-El Paso (12) and Boise State (12).
She has played in all of Hawaii's games and started 10 of 16, averaging 4.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
"She loves passing the ball," Hawaii coach Vince Goo said. "She doesn't have to be the big-time scorer, but she'll defend and block shots. She'll go get rebounds and make the outlet pass. She's definitely an unselfish player."
Grice's willingness to do anything for the team can be seen on her body. She has taken a lot of tumbles on the hardwood. Her scabbed knees and the rainbow of bruises on her legs shows that hardwood hits back.
She shrugs off her colorful markings, saying "when you're 6-3 and you dive on the floor, it's a long way down."
With twice as many losses as they have wins, the Rainbow Wahine have a long way to go, but Grice hasn't given up on her team. It's just not in her nature. Not with her mother in the stands for every home game. Last Christmas, after seeing cancer go into remission for the fifth time, Dianne Grice got a plane ticket that allows her to travel to Hawaii any time to see Brittany's games. It's a show worth watching.
"We are an exciting team to watch. I'm not giving up on this year," Brittany Grice said. "We can turn it around and start doing some great things if we keep working and playing consistently like we know how to play. We have so much talent. The next four years here, people will want to start watching."