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Izzy Anstey recovers from hip surgery to get back on-court for UCLA … – Code

It’s not every day you walk into a gym and come face-to-face with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Though there have been hurdles for Izzy Anstey, she’s right where she needs to be, writes PETER MITCHELL.
It’s not every day you walk into a basketball gym and come face-to-face with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It’s also not common for most to have regular chats with NBA stars like Russell Westbrook or billionaire tech gurus and other captains of industry.
It’s common for Izzy Anstey.
The 193cm tall Melbourne 21-year-old is a star recruit for UCLA, one of America’s elite basketball and academic universities. Nestled along Sunset Boulevard near the mega mansions of Bel Air and Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, the UCLA campus is a magnet for famous faces from the sports, business, science, technology and entertainment worlds.
“It was a shock to walk into the gym and see Kareem,” a wide-eyed Anstey, recalling the unplanned brush with the Los Angeles Lakers great, civil rights legend and UCLA alum, says in an interview with CODE Sports.
“It happened the first week I was here at UCLA.
“I always run into Russell Westbrook as well. He’s the nicest guy.”
Our interview took place on a recent Sunday morning inside UCLA’s Mo Ostin Basketball Center. While Anstey’s UCLA squad was battling in a spirited scrimmage with a men’s team, Anstey was tucked away in a corner just off the court with the team physiotherapist.
The Australian is recovering from two hip surgeries and is scheduled to return just after Christmas when the team will be making a run to grab a top seed in college basketball’s all important NCAA Tournament.
“I tore both my labrums,” she says.
“It was a gradual thing. Last season I started realising my hips were not pulling up after games too well so when I was on the bus coming back from our last game, we decided I should get them scanned.”
Anstey, the daughter of Australian basketball great and CODE contributor Chris Anstey and Olympic swimmer Linley Frame, is upbeat despite being forced to sit the first few months of what will be her second season with the Bruins.
Some may think because Anstey is the daughter of Australian sporting royalty, she travelled an easy path to UCLA. But she’s faced challenge after challenge including type 1 diabetes, the pandemic and legal barriers placed by Donald Trump’s administration, to name a few.
Raised in Melbourne and a student at Caulfield Grammar School, Anstey’s life took a major turn when she was 13 years old and diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. She refused to let it alter her life and manages the necessary daily insulin injections, including as a teenager travelling the world with Australia’s under 17, 18 and 19 basketball squads.
“I kind of blow it off as not a big deal because I‘ve been doing it for 10 years, but I know what I’m doing and it’s just about management,” she says.
“On a typical practice day, I‘ll check my blood sugar level before breakfast and I give myself insulin four times a day to stay on top of those numbers, but it’s kind of become second nature to me. One of the other girls on our team is a diabetic as well, so it’s been nice knowing somebody else knows the way I feel, and we can talk about it.”
Anstey is an advocate for the diabetes community, using her experience to help other families. Parents of recently diagnosed children often reach out to her via social media for advice.
“I think it‘s very important to speak out because people often believe diabetes is something that only older or overweight people have, so when you are diagnosed you can feel alone,” she says.
“When I was diagnosed, I didn‘t know anybody that was younger or played sports and I used to be really shut off about it and wouldn’t want people to know, but I then realised that if I could positively impact just one person then it will be worth it.
“My mum has always given me the mindset that you embrace what you get given in life and regardless of what you‘re going through, someone else is always going through something that is worse. So, if you can make one person smile and help one person in a day, it makes that day so much better.”
One of Anstey’s great life moments was in 2019 when she was offered a basketball scholarship to UCLA. She would become part of an elite group to play for the Bruins, with Abdul-Jabbar, Westbrook, Natalie Williams, Ann Meyers, Jordin Canada, Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes, Reggie Miller and Lonzo Ball all suiting up for the Bruins in past decades. But her UCLA plans also endured disappointment and what appeared to be insurmountable roadblocks.
Her plan was to fly to Los Angeles in June 2020, spend the US summer with her new UCLA squad, enter the pre-season in top shape and then make a run at the NCAA Tournament. However, Covid hit and sporting leagues across the planet shut down.
“I had my bags packed and was ready to go,” Anstey recalls.
As the pandemic spread, then-US President Trump’s administration began increasing restrictions for non-Americans entering the country. Izzy was in regular contact with her UCLA head coach Cori Close and they realised instead of arriving in June 2020, it was more likely going to be a few months later.
“When it got to September they said, ‘You can’t come’,” she says.
UCLA had shut down all in person classes, with students only attending classes virtually. Anstey was also not classified as a “returning student” because she was yet to start classes.
The Trump administration ruled that international students taking online courses could not enter the US.
Another Aussie on the team, Chantel Horvat, was allowed to join the Bruins because she was a returning student. Anstey and a third Aussie recruit, Gemma Potter, were blocked from flying to the US.
UCLA and Loyola Marymount University joined forces to break the red tape by launching legal proceedings to allow Anstey, Potter and 13 other student-athletes entry. The court case slowly moved forward, and UCLA’s season finished before it was resolved.
Anstey and Potter kept in touch with the team via regular Zoom calls, phone calls and messages from the coaching staff, Horvat and other teammates. They would watch the Bruins games on TV and see how coach Close would show the team’s support by placing two stuffed toy bears on the bench wearing Anstey’s and Potter’s jersey numbers.
Adding to the two Aussies’ woes were Australia’s strict pandemic laws. It made practising at home difficult. While Potter elected to stay in Australia and not join UCLA, Anstey eventually realised her dream of walking on the UCLA campus.
“When I finally arrived in June of last year I quickly got into the swing of things and it was great,” Anstey says.
However, instead of smooth sailing new challenges emerged. She was also looking forward to her dad and brother visiting Los Angeles for Christmas. It was going to be the first time in six months she would be with them in person, and they were planning to attend a couple of her UCLA games.
“Then I got Covid,” Anstey, shaking her head, says.
The UCLA team shutdown again, Anstey went into isolation in a house with four of her Covid positive teammates and her dad and brother flew home without watching her play for the Bruins.
“It was really sad because I wanted to spend time with my dad and brother,” she says.
“It was also sad for my teammates because they couldn‘t go home to spend Christmas with their families, but we made the most of it. We had what we called ‘Covid family dinners’ and one of the girls had a birthday in isolation so we had a big birthday dinner for her.
“The team also delivered food and other things we needed to our door, so we made the best of the shitty situation.”
It would be nice to announce that was the last of the hurdles Anstey had to overcome, but the tough times continued. Soon after shaking off Covid and getting back on the court, Anstey encountered some physical play.
“I got two teeth knocked out in one game and then the next week I had my head split open and was concussed and forced to miss a couple games,” Anstey, laughing at her misfortune, says.
Then, of course, she has had the two hip surgeries and months of rehab. Anstey says the toughest thing is not being able to start the season on the court with her team, which includes a star-studded group of new recruits.
UCLA was named the top-ranked recruiting class for 2022-23, with freshmen guards Kiki Rice and Londynn Jones and forwards Gabriela Jaquez and Christeen Iwuala choosing the Bruins over America’s other top colleges.
“What keeps me going is wanting to be back on the floor with my teammates,” Anstey says.
“I haven‘t even played with my freshmen yet, which I’m so excited for.”
For most players in Anstey’s situation, a professional career in the WNBA and other elite leagues, as well as putting on an Opals jersey at the Olympics and World Cup, would be their ultimate goal. Anstey is level-headed about it. She would love to continue in her parents’ footsteps and represent Australia at the highest level and she would like to play in the WNBA and WNBL.
She aims to complete a four-year history degree at UCLA and is contemplating a masters. She’s also aware of the UCLA alumni network that will assist her in whatever direction her life takes her.
“UCLA sets us up for so many things, whether it is playing professional basketball or for my life after basketball,” she says.
“Putting the green and gold on is something I was able to do a few times in my junior career and I would love to do it at the senior level. I streamed the Opals’ games at the recent World Cup and thought they were incredible.
“My mindset is, as long as I put 100 per cent into whatever I‘m doing, I’ll have many doorways open at the end of this experience. It’s exciting to know that.”
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