Men's Basketball: HCC's Chisholm chooses a trail past boundaries

February 12, 2012|By BOB PARASILITI |
  • HCC guard Alister Chisholm chose to leave Canada to expand his his game and his horizons while becoming an important cog for the Hawks.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Alister Chisholm has never encountered a boundary he couldn’t cross.

In most cases, those boundaries are usually just invisible borders for fenced-in limits and standards.

The sophomore on the Hagerstown Community College men’s basketball team has proven things can be so much better if you take a chance to hop the fence. In his case, that fence was an actual border to ultimately improve his life and his basketball game.

“Nothing good comes easy,” Chisholm said.

It takes only five basketball minutes — the final five on any scoreboard — to show Chisholm’s improvement. Those last 300 seconds are what HCC coach Barry Brown calls “winning time.” Brown turns to Chisholm to erase the boundary between winning and losing as the Hawks’ version of baseball’s closer.

“Alister gets out there and makes things happen,” Brown has said.

In the process, Chisholm convinced himself the grass is actually greener on the other side. Boundaries are just the suggestion of a stop sign.

Chisholm’s biggest hurdle may have been coming to HCC, since he elected to cross the Canadian border to come to the lower 48 to test the limits of his game. He left his home and family in the Greater Toronto area to push personal boundaries.

The most confining one was his perspective, which may have been bigger than changing his address.

“Grades were a big thing for me in high school, but I didn’t take basketball seriously,” Chisholm said. “Education and basketball go hand in hand. I didn’t know it could take me this far.”

The statement is a twist from the norm. Players at junior colleges are usually labeled as high on talent and low on grades. They latch on to the importance of their game while ignoring the books.

Chisholm was in role reversal.

“I lacked focus,” he said. “If I take basketball more seriously, it will give me the opportunity to do more things.”

The beginning of Chisholm’s defining moment came after scoring 51 points in a high school game. The performance became his calling card.

“In my last year of high school, I got a letter inviting me to play at a Junior Nationals camp in Detroit,” the 6-foot-3 guard said. “They said they saw that game and told me that they would love to have me come. It was the wakeup call that someone thought I was a good player.”

The invitation provided clarity for Chisholm.

“I started to take basketball more seriously,” he said. “I started to do more things to take care of my body and watching what I eat. It gave me the wakeup call to put forward the effort and start looking for a college.”

Chisholm knew that he needed to lift the level of his game. He was good in Canada, playing high school and the Canadian version of AAU ball, but that wasn’t good enough. He needed to come to the United States.

“It was a tough decision,” Chisholm said. “I felt like I was defying my mom. She didn’t want me to leave. I looked around. I had three siblings that had made choices and got with the wrong crowd and ended up on the wrong side. I wasn’t going to do that. It hurt me to hurt my mom, but I needed to go.”

With the help of his high school coach, Chisholm started contacting junior colleges in the United States. He sent primarily to Missouri, Florida and Maryland, looking for a school that fit his style of play. He found HCC in the process.

“We talked to HCC and we did some did some research on Coach (Brown),” Chisholm said. “I felt comfortable with the offense and Hagerstown welcomed me like family. This was where I wanted to go.”

Both Brown and Chisholm tell how the player sold his intentions. Chisholm visited HCC during a loss to Allegany.

“I promised coach that when I came here, we would beat Allegany and that we would win a region championship,” Chisholm said. “And we did it last year.”

But Chisholm had to wait to deliver his promise.

He graduated from Sandalwood Secondary School in Ontario, Canada in 2008, but had to sit out a year because of a problem processing the paperwork to get to HCC. The grand plan was put on hold.

“It was hard, but I was excited,” Chisholm said. “This was going to be a drastic change. I’d have to be here by myself. My mom wasn’t going to cook my meals and it was a different atmosphere. The toughest part was I was always raised to obey my parents and my mom didn’t want me to go.”

The waiting was the hardest part of the year off. Chisholm was too old to play AAU and didn’t have many outlets to play.

“I had to stay in shape,” he said. “I did weights and stayed focused.”

Chisholm finally got to HCC and found a new boundary. He had to adjust to a new life.

“It was hard. The first couple of months were the toughest in my life, learning to be alone,” he said. “It was my teammates who were there in my time of need. They were family. They showed me how to love where I am.”

Chisholm has been riding on a learning curve in the fast track with HCC. After getting used to his surroundings in the beginning of last season, he became one of the keys for the Hawks as he helped fulfill the promise to defeat Allegany and win the region title. But HCC fell short in district play, the last game before reaching the NJCAA national tournament.

“I realized I could play here and I didn’t have to do as much,” Chisholm said. “I had players who helped and would give the ball back. I had to make more decisions. I have to lead by example.”

This season, Chisholm is a starter and that finisher Brown relishes. HCC is 22-4 and the Maryland JuCo Conference regular-season champions with the league and Region XX tournaments on the horizon. Chisholm is the Hawks’ third-best scorer, averaging 13.3 points along 6.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.

The big risk of coming to HCC has been rewarding, but it leaves Chisholm wanting more.

“Education and doing everything right are key,” he said. “A lot of people have dreams. I want to keep playing basketball. I want to get to Division I school — hopefully somewhere warmer — and I want to play pro ball when it’s done. They just started a professional league in Canada.

“You have to study to get the goals you want. In college, you have to work for everything you want. There are no shortcuts.

For Alister Chisholm, there isn’t any room for shortcuts, especially in a life without boundaries.

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