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Full Court Hoops: More Than Just Basketball

On the court, the girls of the Full Court Hoops program learn about fundamentals of basketball.

Off the court, they learn about the fundamentals of life.

Cara Gustafson started the Full Court Hoops program with only three teams that we’re getting blown out. Now three years later she has helped the program double in size and become one of the top AAU girls’ basketball programs in Western New York.

“We started with seventh grade girls getting killed like 60-4,” Gustafson said. “Now we’re competing in big tournaments and winning games.”

But basketball isn’t the only thing the girls in the program learn. They also learn skills needed for life such as confidence, toughness and leadership.

The girls volunteer quite a bit at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf, leading clinics for the students and helping fundraise for the school. The older girls are also tasked with leading clinics for the younger players in the program.

Full Court Hoops also teaches their players confidence. Gustafson always schedules tougher opponents for her team so her players learn to go for things for and to not be worried about making mistakes.

For Gustafson that’s what sets Full Court Hoops a part from other AAU programs.

“We have a huge passion for basketball, but we realize that most of these girls are done playing after their high school careers. So, what are we going to provide for them?”, Gustafson said. “We’re trying to teach them leadership, confidence and toughness.”

Gustafson is originally from Omaha, Nebraska and played basketball at St. Bonaventure. A few years after graduating, she came back to WNY and began giving lessons and clinics to girls in area. Then one thing lead to another.

“I started giving individual lessons and did some small group clinics. It started as just one girl coming, then two girls coming, then five girls coming,” Gustafson said. “I started to think that maybe there was a need for more girls’ basketball training.”

The season runs from mid-March to July. They are seven teams, from fifth to 11th grade. There are tryouts every season for every team; no spots are guaranteed.

The 11th grade team has had some success this year. They have gone 3-2 in their toughest tournament, the Blue Chip Spooky Nook in Manheim, PA.

The team is led by Ella Rose Eckert (Clarence), Molly Mahony (Lancaster), and Paige Emborsky (Newfane).

According to Gustafson, the three are true leaders who should be playing at the next level.

“They’re tough nosed leaders for us,” Gustafson said. “They all have the potential to play at the next level.”

Despite being from all over WNY, the girls come together and develop a strong chemistry.

It’s that chemistry that has put them over edge this season.

“There were a few games where we only won by one or two points,” Emborsky said. “It’s because we’re always pushing each other so much.”

Mahony agreed.

“We work hard and fit together like glue,” Mahony said.

The seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th grade teams will head to Hersey, PA this weekend to take part in the national showcase.

From all the practices, the games, the tournaments and the long car rides across the country, Eckert has developed life-long friendships.

“This is more than just a basketball program,” Eckert said. “It’s a family.”

The group of girls on the 11th grade team is very special to Gustafson. According to the coach they are a selfless group with strong character.

“I think what’s really special about this group is that a lot of them are the leading scorers on their high school teams. Then they come here and you give them a different role,” Gustafson said. “A lot of the players have accepted their role. To be okay with not being the leading scorer on the team shows a mental maturity. They play for each other.”

The program will have open clinics in the late summer and fall that are open to any player. For more information go to

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