In many ways, Hena Spahic is an everyday teenager, but the Bosnian exchange student is on another level when it comes to playing basketball for Community Christian School in Mineral Wells.
Playing since she was 9 years old, Spahic knew from the age of 5 that she wanted to come to the United States because of the opportunities offered here. With dreams of attending TCU and becoming a sports doctor, the straight-A student appears to be well on her way.
When the news spread through the halls at CCS that a student from Bosnia was potentially coming to study and play basketball for the Lady Warriors, there was some admitted worry among team members of how the “new girl” was going to affect the chemistry of the squad.
“We had a rough year and had some problems bringing the ball up the court,” Coach Kayla Buchanan said.
Things were shaky because the team had lost games over the last part of the season and had returned from an unsuccessful out-of-state trip the Lady Warriors had been expected to win.
Just how was this new girl going to fit? Was she going to be able to play American-style basketball? Would the team have to change?
The answer was Spahic’s leading by example.
“Get up off the floor there’s no crying in basketball,” Spahic calls out to a teammate who has taken a rough tumble and landed on her knee. Spahic’s tone is half-joking, offering both encouragement and a hint of “if your leg hasn’t fallen off, let’s keep playing.”
Spahic’s English is easily understood, and that’s because she has studied her country’s second language since the third grade, which was also just about the time she picked up a basketball and began showing a knack for the sport.
As she got older, Spahic’s talents began to shine, and she received an invitation to join the Bosnian junior national team at age 14 and again at 16. Despite all of her basketball talents, it was who she knew rather than what she could do on the basketball court that landed her in Mineral Wells.
“It was through my cousin who was playing at Nazarene where Coach (Brian) Rodricks was coaching that he heard about me,” Spahic said. “Coach Rodricks (now the athletic director at CCS) saw some of my tapes, and things started working toward Spahic attending school in Mineral Wells.”
In addition to having a hot hand on the basketball court, Spahic is also an ace in the classroom and lists physics and biology among her favorite subjects. While she is making a high A in her government class, she admits it’s a hard subject for her.
“In Bosnia, we don’t study our government, so I am a little lost trying to learn about another country’s government,” Spahic. “But my friends and teammates are helping me. They love me, and I love them and my coach. We are a big happy family.”
It’s a little bit of a different environment than the one Spahic has encountered while growing up in her home country where youth basketball is taken very seriously, much like elite or club level basketball in the United States. The sport isn’t for everyone, and those who take part had better be prepared to put their nose to the grindstone, or someone will soon be taking their place.
Spahic’s regular workout routine outside of basketball includes getting up at 5 a.m. for early morning runs before school. Other workouts include weight lifting and exercises that focus on her core.
Knowing the need to keep in top shape, Buchanan encouraged her to join the Lady Warriors volleyball team (a sport she dislikes), and Spahic’s athletic ability carried her to postseason all-district honors.
With today’s world of cell phones and the internet, Spahic isn’t far from her Bosnian coaches who go so far as to demand video proof of her workouts.
Perhaps it was such intensity and scrutiny that caused Spahic’s fears of being sent home to Bosnia only one game into the season when she went down with a broken ankle.
It was a fear Buchanan worked to snuff out immediately, and once Spahic realized she had nothing to worry about, it only reinforced that family feeling. It also made Spahic realize her new friends cared more about her as a person than a basketball player.
“The way my teammates are treating me is wonderful,” Spahic said. “They care about me, and if I am sad or maybe crying, they want to know why and want to help cheer me up.”
There was some sadness when Spahic went down with her injury, but it also was a time for her to display her character as a person.
“She’s become like an assistant coach on and off the bench,” Buchanan said. “She was there encouraging the girls and pointing out things to do all the time.”
There are some differences in playing basketball in Bosnia and Mineral Wells to include
you can’t take two steps and pass the ball in the United States as you can in Europe, and early on, Spahic got into lots of foul trouble due to “chesting.”
Chesting involves upper-body contact while playing defense in Bosnia and is a standard part of the game there and in the U.S. will quickly draw five fouls and send you to the bench. So Spahic has had to adapt her game and learn about hips and thighs on defense.
She’s more than adapted and instead blossomed into the type of player that is going to get noticed at the next level of basketball. Lightning-fast hands that produce steals, the quick court reads on offense, bounce passes, and the ability to beat players two-on-one are the standard pieces of Spahic’s arsenal – and then there is her passing.
Sometimes there are those unique players who can lead a team to wins, and then there are truly rare players like Spahic who can lift a team and make it better with their physical abilities and drive.
During practice, Thursday afternoon at the Mineral Wells First Baptist gym, Spahic’s ability was on full display as she whisked the ball away on defense and made a beeline for the basket. On the next possession, she made another steal, worked the ball down the court and pulled up for what looked like a short jump shot only to flick the ball left on a no-look pass.
Her teammate missed the shot, and a quick stop of the action was called by Buchanan to explain what went wrong on the play that caused the miss. The coach also mentioned how Spahic shouldn’t have passed up the open shot she had created.
If there is anything wrong with Spahic’s game, it is perhaps oversharing which comes from the strict role-playing athletes undergo in Bosnia. As a point guard, Spahic is expected to pass the ball to the team’s scorers and rack up assists and not points.
“It’s been awesome getting to drive the ball inside and score,” Spahic said. “I get to shoot three-pointers, and I never get to do that in Bosnia!”
With Buchanan’s game plan, Spahic can run the offense or go for the basket and her teammates are catching up on the fact they need eyes in the back of their heads, or they may get a basketball in the face.
“We keep getting better with each game and learning from each other,” Spahic said.
CCS students were anxious to learn about Spahic and her home country as soon as she arrived, there were a variety of questions. Some that Spahic found most amusing included if her home had running water and did her country have animals like cows and horses?
“I told them we had all of those things just like here do here in the United States, but my country isn’t near as big as it is here,” Spahic laughed.
While Bosnia may have horses, it was in Texas that Spahic got to ride one for the very first time, and it’s one of her favorite things she has relayed home to family and friends about her experiences here.
Popping into Chick-A-Filet is another thing you can’t do in Bosnia, and it’s one of Spahic’s favorite places to go and eat. She’s also discovered she likes Dr Pepper, but Spahic has given up the drink when she is playing basketball.
Spahic has become one of the family at the home of her teammates Halee and Samee Petrie, where a once-worried Halee admits the two have become like sisters and Hena is a closet hog.
“When the news that Hena was coming to play, I called Coach Buchanan and asked her about how it was going to change the team,” Halee said. “I was the one person who was bringing the ball up the court at the time.”
Buchanan has been coaching long a enough to know that highlight films don’t tell the whole story and she encouraged Halee to take wait-and-see because girls high school basketball has many dynamics.
What happened was Spahic pitched right in to help the Lady Warriors volleyball team and her teammates immediately noticed her ability to pass the ball in basketball practice. When she went down with her ankle injury rather than mope about Spahic pushed her teammates from the bench during games.
“Hena’s passing opened up scoring opportunities for all of us,” Elaina Buchanan said.
Without Spahic on the court, the Lady Warriors still started on fire and established a 7-1 record that has stretched out to an area-best 18-1. Of course, her 15.9 points and 5.4 assists per game are always welcome. Elaina is averaging 10.3 points, and Emilee Reed is scoring at a 12.2 rate.
After learning about Spahic’s drive, it should come as no surprise that she is goal-oriented and very mature about how the process needs to proceed.
When questioned about her plans for the future during Thursday’s interview, she began explaining about the need to win a district championship, and Buchanan pointed out the question was more “about her college plans, etc.”
“I’m getting to that coach,” Spahic explained. “But first, we have to win a district championship and win state. Then I want to be back here next year and do it again. Then I would like to study at TCU and play basketball where they play on a different level.”
Who knows, perhaps the accomplished cellist could play the Horned Frogs’ fight song during part of the interview and recruiting process and also land a music scholarship.
After earning her degree, Spahic has hopes for being a sports team doctor.
“I love sports all kinds of sports the WNBA and everything sports-related,” Spahic said.