COSTA MESA - There are many reasons why playing sports at the community college level is vital for success of so many student-athletes from around the country. Maybe it's the perfect level for someone who's not quite ready for the four-year experience, on or off the court? Maybe it's the best economical option? Maybe it's the opportunity to play two years against high-level competition and garner attention of the four-year colleges and universities?
Or ... as is the case of Orange Coast College's Lea Adame ... it's the opportunity to simply reunite with a sport she's loved her entire life.
Adame, a freshman on the OCC women's basketball team, joined the Pirates after a three-year absence from the sport and it's been a reunion that has not only helped the 5-foot-10 forward, it's also helped kick-start the Pirate program under first-year head coach Sammy Doucette.
"I started playing basketball in the third grade with my dad as the coach in rec leagues," Adame said. "I loved the competition, the high scoring of the sport and just the overall environment of it all."
From there, Adame competed at the middle school level before moving on to her prep career at Great Oak High School in Temecula. As a freshman, she competed on the junior varsity team and loved everything about the sport and the experience.
But, following that season, things changed a bit for Adame. A combination of health issues and some negative experiences at the varsity level began to tarnish that love of the game.
"I remember the first game I got to play at the varsity level my sophomore year, I sat on the bench and I began to think about whether I wanted to keep going," Adame said. "My junior year, I had a heart arrythmia so I had to sit out that entire season. I tried to maintain my positive attitude and keep being a good influence to our team, but in the end, I just wasn't feeling the love for basketball anymore."
By the time she reached her senior season, Adame was out of basketball. She graduated from Great Oak and her family moved to Orange, where she attended Fullerton College for one semester, but the school wasn't a good fit for her. "Originally, I thought about going to Orange Coast right after high school, but since Fullerton was closer, I went there," Adame said. "I just didn't love it there, so I decided to transfer to OCC and continue my education."
That's where a simple survey changed the course of not only Adame, but the Pirate basketball program.
A late-hiring start for Doucette put the first-year coach in an early hole when it came to recruiting for the 2019-20 season. Basketball bodies were hard to find for this year, so Doucette began looking on campus and that's where she connected with Adame.
"Lea was already enrolled at OCC and when she first applied, there was an online survey that listed things she might be interested in and she put down 'Basketball' on her survey," Doucette said. "That information made its way to me and I immediately reached out to her. She told me she hadn't played on any team since her junior year in high school, but we still wanted to see if she could still play so we had her enroll in the summer basketball class."
Adame remembers that summer class and that introduction to Doucette and the Pirates. "I had tendinitis in both of my ankles and I was out of shape in terms of running up and down the court, but it was just so much fun to get back on the court again," Adame said. "To be honest, I had forgotten about that survey when I applied, so I'm glad it made its way to Coach Doucette!"
With the small numbers on the squad, Adame was a welcomed addition to the Pirate program and she has not only found her second wind in terms of endurance, but she has also become one of the top players in the Orange Empire Conference. Through 13 games this season, Adame is averaging 13.4 points per game (fifth-best among all OEC players) and 8.2 rebounds per game (fifth-best in the OEC), all while playing all but two MINUTES of the entire season.
"Lea is one special kid, that's for sure," Doucette said. "It's a rough year for us as far as wins and losses go, but you wouldn't know it by her attitude. She's having a great time and she's become a player the other kids can lean on for energy and just being positive."
Adame created a mantra for the team and it's something that's followed her entire life. "I tell everyone 'PVO', which stands for 'Positive Vibes Only' and it's something our team really tries to follow," Adame said. "It's not an easy task sometimes, but our whole team tries to stay upbeat at all times. We're a tight group and we try to all hang out together outside of games and practices and that's really helped us enjoy this season even more."
One of the older players on the team, Adame has been the type of player that Doucette can rely on as a leader by example. "I ask a lot out of my players when it comes to being an example off of the court when it comes to maturity and being on time and talking to professors and Lea has been a leader of all of those off-the-court responsibilities," Doucette said. "She does EVERYTHING I ask of her and that's all any coach can ask for from their players. I don't know where we would be without her.
"She's 5-10 and I think she's definitely capable of playing at the next level. She's an excellent shooter and she has the ability to get to the rim as well. She's not necessarily a 'post' type of player, but she's had to play down low for us this year and she's done a good job of doing that. She's talked to me about this being a two-year commitment and I definitely hope we can have her with this program for both seasons. She's a great example of what it takes to be a success at this level."
Making the move to Orange Coast College has been a great experience for Adame, both on and off the floor. "It's definitely been a blessing to be at OCC and playing basketball again," she said. "This place is very special and it's so great to be a part of a team environment again. I'm a bit of an extrovert so I love being around the team and this school and its professors are really inviting and inclusive. My grades have improved over time here and being with basketball again, it's really just given me a much better college experience."
So what will this second chapter bring to Adame down the road? "This season has really pushed me to want to play at the four-year level after my two years at OCC," Adame said. " I love playing for Coach Doucette. She's so organized and she's very relatable to us, which has been great. I'd love to just keep playing and playing for as long as I can. Having missed it for the past three years, just being on a basketball team is such a blessing, I want to appreciate every day that I get to play competitive basketball. I want to work as hard as I can and see if I can continue playing at the next level. Until then, I'll just keep working hard here at OCC and help this team get back to being a successful program once again."
(Tony Altobelli, Orange Coast Athletics)