Othniel Spence talks basketball, faith, and identity

An interview with the SFU men’s basketball sharpshooter

Spence is currently averaging 14.4 points per game while shooting .432 percent from three. (Chris Ho / The Peak)

If it weren’t for a fractured left fifth metatarsal in his senior year of high school, Othniel Spence would likely not be playing basketball for SFU. He was being recruited by mid-major schools in the states, as well as schools across Canada, before Spence “fell off the face of the basketball planet,” as he put it. What remained were two offers, one from Queens University, and the other from SFU.

“I knew what was coming for me at Queens, I knew how I was going to play, I knew how good the team was going to be, but one thing that interested me about Simon Fraser was that there wasn’t much knowing,” said Spence when interviewed by The Peak. Another major factor in his decision was that SFU plays in the NCAA.  

Well, the decision seems to have paid off. Not only is Spence one of the leading scorers and on-ball defenders on this season’s Clan, but he has also grown into a leader on and off the court. We talked to Spence about his time playing for SFU basketball, his faith, and not rooting your identity in your performance.

The Peak: What’s your favourite thing about playing here at SFU?

Othniel Spence: “My favourite thing is just community. Something I’ve realized in Vancouver is that the basketball world is really big over here, and it’s really interconnected. I didn’t know the impact that I would have on the community and the people around me by being the person I am, being a person of faith, being a leader on the court, being a leader off the court.

[ . . . ] I’m grateful just to have this position, just to show others how to work and exercise my faith as a Christian athlete towards the community here in Vancouver and the basketball world.”

P: How does being a person of faith affect you in your day-to-day life going to a secular university?

OS: “It gives me a lot of perspective being here at SFU, being at a secular university, from people coming from all walks of life. Something I’ve realized just being here is that my identity is not rooted in my performance. My identity is not rooted in whether our team wins or loses, whether I play well or I don’t.

I will always be valued and respected, and [identifying] as a follower of Christ first [ . . . ] Just bringing that mindset and bringing who I am towards the community and my friends, teammates, and just trying to find that consistency in being a loving person that’s open towards anyone and everyone.”

P: Obviously your role on the basketball team has grown during your time here. How do you think you’ve grown outside of basketball during your time here, and how playing for SFU basketball has inspired you to grow?

OS: “This is a quote I heard: “Not to let successes get to your head, and don’t let failures get to your heart.” [ . . . ] Just learning what my circumstances are, obviously enjoying it — taking in the joy of being a basketball player, being grateful to play in the NCAA, being grateful to be a student athlete here at SFU, to be successful in my studies — but not believing in the hype of my successes, or not believing in my failures and putting myself in a downwards spiral.”

P: Moving a bit back to basketball. With Kedar [Salam] leaving after last season, you’ve really grown into a new role of being one of the leading scorers. How do you think you’ve adapted into this new role?

OS: “I think it’s still a process. Something I’ve learnt just over this year alone is that I can impact the game so much more than just scoring, and I don’t want to be one-dimensional in that. A lot of people think it’s just about the points, but most of the time, it’s those things that don’t appear on the stat sheet, the things that you do in the game, that can really impact your team and lead them to a win.

If I’m not playing well, I’m going to encourage my teammates, I’m going to look for them, I’m going to create for them, and I’m still going to be that guy on the court that’s going to be a leader.”

P: Who are some of your basketball inspirations, players you try to model your game after if you have any?

OS: “I really like Damian Lillard. [ . . . ] I like his tenacity, I like his attitude, he seems like a humble guy. He likes to shoot the three a lot and I find that I do the same. We’re both – well, he’s way more athletic than me – but we’re both slashers, defensive lockdowns, we both do our jobs, both leaders. So I try to model my game after him right now.”

P: Who do you think is the funniest guy in the locker room?

OS: “I think it’s Dom[inic] Postel, he’s a freshman, and he is by far the most caring person but he can be so funny — just the way he delivers his jokes, or just the way he talks. He brought this term from Washington, he calls it scoop, so anything we do that’s good is like, ‘Oh, that’s your scoop’. He’ll say it like an accent like ‘schooooop’, like weirdly. It’s actually really cool having him on the team; he really lightens up the locker room with his attitude and just who he is.”

Athlete’s corner:

“Whatever situation you’re in, just know that your identity isn’t rooted in your performance. Something I’ve seen here at SFU is a lot of people take a lot of stress during midterms, exams, whatever it is, and that determines who they are. They think that because their parents might judge them differently, or that they may not pass a class, or they may just obviously be disappointed in themselves if they don’t do well.

But something that I’ve seen, even after having losing seasons with SFU, is that your identity doesn’t change before or after the event. Whatever happens, your identity can’t be rooted in your performance, because that’s when you start valuing yourself in only your successes and devaluing yourself in your failures.

[ . . . ] Discover what your identity is, discover where you find yourself, what makes you you, and don’t use results to determine that.”