Ashley Polacek, the Knights’ 5-foot-5 sophomore guard out of Ottawa, Canada, is what you’d call a workout warrior, a gym junkie and an overall perfectionist. She works out two to three times a day without attracting much attention, but her latest drills have been turning the heads of millions.
A video that shows Polacek practicing crossover dribbles between her legs as she maneuvers through obstacles before sinking a basket, a routine drill for this UCF women’s basketball player, has garnered more than 10 million views on Facebook.
“Before I came in the gym I just had a feeling that I should just record it … it just dawned on me [and] I said, ‘I’m just going to record it,’” Polacek said.
Preparing for the social media firestorm that would follow, Polacek actually waited a few years to showcase her skills.
“I could do those things a few years ago, like my sophomore [and] junior year,” Polacek recalled. “But I knew I wasn’t ready to handle the pressure of being out so I was like let me just wait a little bit until I get comfortable playing the game and just being able to handle the pressure.”
Dangling from Polacek’s neck is a necklace that reads “Dream Big,” and she believes that she just needed the opportunity to show that nothing is too big for her.
“It takes a little bit more than effort,” Polacek said. “I’m willing to take that pressure, I’ve always wanted that pressure — I knew that I just needed the chance. That’s all I needed and I knew when I got that chance [that] I would grasp it, I would use it to my full capacity, and I knew I would use it because a lot of people when they get that pressure they crumble.”
SOCIAL MEDIA TRENDS
Number of views and likes
Whistle Sports (Facebook): 10.4 million views, 94.1K likes & 124K shares
House of Highlights (Instagram): 915,000 views & 110,100 likes
Bleacher Report (Instagram): 807,000 views & 72,100 likes
Basketball Vines (Instagram): 572,000 views & 95,500 likes
In her freshman year, she got that chance earning her way into the lineup and starting 23 out of 28 games, posting 22 points and six rebounds in her first appearance as a Knight. She finished the year averaging six points, three assists and three rebounds while logging 24 minutes per game.
Balerio has watched Polacek since she was at Albany University as part of current UCF head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson’s staff. Balerio recruited her when Polacek was in Canada, playing for the Junior Elite League of Ontario and her ‘A’ Game Amateur Athletic Union team.
“Coming in here, I was pretty excited to work with her because I knew some of the potential she had,” Balerio said. “And then, once I got here, I saw how hard she worked and how much she wants to get better at basketball and learn. She’s always asking me to get in the gym, she’s always in the gym extra on her own, she’s always shooting on the gun — that says a lot to me as far as her work ethic.
“If someone’s got work ethic and they want to do it, then getting better is just going to happen. You can teach kids a lot of things and get them better, but having a great work ethic is going to make you better at anything.”
Polacek decided to come back to UCF a month earlier in the summer to work on her game with the coaches, and she believes that commitment to the process will allow her to thrive under pressure.
“A lot of people say you got to be realistic,” Polacek said. “If you can handle the pressure of a big dream, then why not dream big? I might not make it — that’s the reality of life — but I know that if I push myself past my limits, I can dream big and I won’t be scared of the pressure I put on myself.”
A year ago, Polacek was a small guard who flew a little under the radar. Now, millions have seen her skills on the hardwood.
Christopher Davis is a digital producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter @ChristopherDTV or email him at ChristopherD@CentralFloridaFuture.com