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Life of the semi-pro: For Tina Moen, it’s work on and off the court
CORK (FIBA Women's European Championship for Small Countries) – When money is not a factor, passion becomes an even bigger driving force – just ask Norway’s Tina Moen.
Ask any coach in modern sport: Scouting is a key fundamental to any success. But, what about, if there is no information available on your opposition? What if, your opposition has been off the international scene for the better part of a decade, their players coming from leagues that are not scouted? That was the unique situation that Ireland head coach Mark Scannell was presented with on the first day of action at the FIBA Women’s European Championship for Small Countries. It meant, some players, like Tina Moen, slipped through the cracks.
The 31-year-old, returning to international action for the first time since 2011 – when Norway last fielded a senior women’s team in FIBA competition – was making up for lost time. Before Coach Scannell and Ireland’s faithful fans in Mardyke Arena had woken up to what was happening, Moen had already picked up 11 points in the first four minutes. By the end of the night, that total was out to 30, and Norway were celebrating their return to the international scene with an 11-point victory.
"Not sure, probably not, it was kind of unreal," reflected Moen, when asked if she had ever previously started a game with such a hot hand. Perhaps, in some ways, unreal could also be used to describe the fact that Moen - and Norway - are here at all.
Unlike Europe’s strongest women's basketball nations, the majority of the Norwegian players can be, at best, described as semi-professional. In a nation where handball, soccer and winter sports reign supreme, basketball is not quite second fiddle, rather a distant cousin. This means, funding can be scarce, and fielding a senior national women's team every summer, is no given. One big advantage Norwegian basketball does have though, is a strong tight-knit community, offering hours of their free time – something Moen sights as being key to getting the national team back up and running.
“I was surprised when they said they were going to start it again, but people worked hard for it…a lot of people sacrificed their time just to get us going again – people that have a passion for basketball and want us to get going, and get sponsors. They are putting their hearts into it.
"Basketball has never really been very big in Norway. When they put down the senior national team, I was scared we would lose a lot of players, so I am really glad that myself and a few of the other players just kept playing,” says the 31-year-old Moen.
Just keeping playing was never a certainty for Moen. Following a national team debut at age 16, which incidentally included a trip to Ireland, the guard attracted attention stateside, attending Purdue Fort Wayne. A brief professional career would follow with stops in Switzerland – where she would play EuroCup Women – and Spain. But everything did not pan out as planned.
"I started having problems with my feet and started to think, ‘I need something to fall back on,' so I came home, applied for a few jobs, got my body in shape and got healthy. By combining basketball with something else and by not practicing every day, I was able to get healthy again."
That something turned out to be a job working as an IT developer in programming. "It was very different to basketball. That technical stuff is something I like so it's a good balance. It’s flexible."
Following three seasons playing and working, Moen knew she had more to give yet, so when an opportunity came to shift to Sweden to play in a stronger league, well-rested, she was ready for the move.
"Two years ago, when I had a really good season in Norway, I said 'OK, I need a new challenge, or I move on.' I enjoyed those years in Norway. It forced me to keep myself going. I learned a lot about setting goals, how to keep my performance at the top level even if the competition is not the best. [But] I wanted something more out of it before it was too late."
Then, another challenge would come forward. "When I found out the national team was coming back, that was the perfect opportunity for me to bring something back to the team and the younger players. I learned a lot the past few seasons and it is something I wanted to give back to the girls.”
Moen sees the return of the national team - for both men and women - as just the first of many processes required in order to make basketball grow in the Scandinavian nation.
"Right now, not many people in Norway know about basketball, but when I grew up, they did, it was on TV…NBA and European leagues.
"We are trying to change it, in the senior national team. We are trying to get younger people to see basketball, and not just handball. To just be role models. We have camps, we are trying to recruit…showing how fun it is, showing you can get a college education, like I did. We are also trying to create interest through 3x3.
"But we also have a job to do in creating an interest for the U18 and U20 players. We need to bring more up and give them experience. We are going to take this tournament and then see what's next."