Redshirt-freshman forward Oksana Gouchie-Provencher goes for a layup at Island Federal Credit Union Arena. Gouchie-Provencher looks to make her mark on the court after an illness kept her from playing last season. ARACELY JIMENEZ/THE STATESMAN

Overcoming adversity is often a challenge faced by athletes, and their response can make or break their career. In college athletics, a player must juggle classes while staying mentally tough enough to compete at a high level. Sports are the ultimate test of will and overcoming adversity is how greatness is measured. 

Greatness has always been the goal for redshirt-freshman forward Oksana Gouchie-Provencher.

Before her 10th grade season, her family moved five hours west so she could attend Bill Crothers Secondary School, a sports-based high school in Ontario, Canada. At Bill Crothers, student-athletes have access to a wide range of specialized programs as part of the general curriculum. There are specialized physical education classes oriented around weight training and endurance to help student-athletes reach their full potential.

“When she came to us, she hadn’t played much organized basketball,” Bill Crothers Women’s Basketball Head Coach Jodi Graham said. “We saw what she could be, she had a really soft touch, she had to learn how to use her size.”

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Gouchie-Provencher’s resolve will be tested in Stony Brook’s upcoming season. The 19-year-old missed her true freshman season with an undisclosed illness, which forced her to redshirt the 2016-17 season. The illness kept her off the court, but it gave her a bigger perspective as a competitor.

“It really was a bummer at first,” Gouchie-Provencher said. “But I was able to take it as a positive and come at things from a different place and focus on college first.”

For the redshirt-freshman, this season will be about learning and getting confident in her game at the NCAA level. The forward’s small amount of playing time came in the final minutes of a 31-point win over Florida A&M on Jan. 20. She scored a single point and grabbed a rebound in four minutes of game time.

“If the team can push through obstacles, and do our best, I think we can pursue anything,” Gouchie-Provencher said.

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With a full summer of practice behind her, the redshirt-freshman is ready to get into her first full college basketball season. As a stretch four forward, her game revolves around exploiting mismatches because of her ability to shoot on the perimeter. 

At 6-foot-3-inches tall, Gouchie-Provencher is able to play down in the post against most players, but she also has an outside game that can draw post players away from the rim. Drawing post players to the outside allows a stretch four to create better quality scoring chances for both themselves and their teammates. The more high quality scoring chances a player generates, the more efficient a team’s overall offense can be.

Gouchie-Provencher spent the summer working on her jump shot, to create a mismatch no matter who is defending her. If a wing player is guarding her, she can use her size to force her way to the basket. The best players in this role are the focal points of an offense, creating offensive chances through the mismatches they generate.

“She’s different than a lot of other post players,” head coach Caroline McCombs said. “She can shoot the ball, we want her to be confident on that end of the floor.”

Gouchie-Provencher’s time away from the game allowed her to focus on the mental aspect of basketball. Being sick, she was only able to watch practice, which allowed her to get a better grasp on the systems the team deploys. However, watching practice and playing in a game require different approaches. Learning what works in a game requires trial and error, and Gouchie-Provencher cannot be afraid to mess up. A young player learns by making mistakes.

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“We have a lot of rookies this year, so I think just continuing to take coaching, to get better everyday, to learn through practices and games,” McCombs said. “I think just competing at the highest level, because this is a high level of basketball.”

On a very young team, with nine underclassmen on the roster, the stretch forward will not be held back. If the team’s scrimmage lineups are any indication of her potential playing time this season, the three-star recruit will be involved in the offense out of the gate. She most recently played 15 minutes, scoring five points and grabbing two rebounds in a 73-49 win over Hofstra University Tuesday evening.

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