Sanayika Shields hopes that basketball is a universal language.
Shields, an Olathe East and Drury University graduate, will spend the next five weeks playing for the Danish women’s national basketball team.
“I’m excited,” Shields said. “I think the only problem that I might have is the language barrier, but I know most people in Denmark are taught English.”
Shields, 22, said she understands some Danish, but isn’t fluent.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
“I can understand it pretty well,” she said. “If somebody is speaking to me, I can kind of get the gist of what they’re saying. But responding is not good for me.”
Shields hasn’t met Denmark’s coach or any of her teammates, but she hopes the game will provide a bridge that spans the language and cultural gaps.
“Basketball is over all a pretty welcoming sport and Danish people are an incredible people, so I don’t think it will be that big of a deal going over there and not knowing anybody,” she said. “I guess we’ll see.”
Shields’ mom, Senia, left her native Denmark to study at Nebraska more than two decades ago. That explains how Sanayika is eligible to play for the Danish national team.
While at Nebraska, Senia met and eventually married Will Shields, who will be inducted into NFL Hall of Fame in August after going to 12 straight Pro Bowl in 14 seasons as a Chiefs Hall of Fame guard.
It won’t be Sanayika’s first visit to Denmark, but it will be the most unique.
“We used to go every other summer when we were younger, but the last time I went was my senior year (in high school) right before I started college,” said Shields, who left Tuesday for Denmark. “That’s the last time I went, so it’s been a while.”
Shields will play center for Denmark, which will train from June 25-July 7 in Brondby, before playing friendlies against Iceland and Finland in Copenhagen the following week.
After those tune-ups, Shields and the national team depart for a tournament in China that also includes New Zealand and Mozambique from July 14-29.
Senia traveled with Sanayika to Denmark, providing an added measure of comfort.
“She’s going to see her family, so it’s kind of a win-win, because she’s going to come hang out for a couple weeks while I get settled in,” Sanayika said.
The end of her Drury career was emotional for Sanayika, so she jumped at the chance to play again, especially on an international stage.
“Getting this opportunity is an exclamation point on my career and hopefully sets me up for future opportunities,” she said.
Shields finished her Panthers career fifth all-time in rebounds (595) and 14th on the career scoring list (886).
Shields’ agent has been in contact with teams from Denmark, France and Germany, so she’s weighing her options for an overseas career.
Sanayika’s brother, Shavon, helped Denmark win the Nordic under-20 men’s basketball championship during the summer of 2013 in Helsinki, averaging 13.3 points in the tournament.
Shavon, an Olathe Northwest graduate, led the Cornhuskers in rebounding as a junior last season, averaging 6.0 per game, and ranked second in scoring at 15.4 points and assists at 2.2 per game.
“He told me about the atmosphere and what to expect, so he’s helped me out,” Sanayika said. “Of course, he also told me the good places to eat. That was the first thing actually, but that’s been the gist of it — food and how practice was.”
Shavon hopes Sanayika enjoys the experience as much as he did.
“It was fun just meeting new people and getting to know the coaches and see a piece of my mom’s culture up front,” he said. “That was awesome. … I’ve told her just to enjoy it and not take it too seriously. It will be a good experience for her.”