Playing professional basketball is a dream for many kids across the nation, but very few actually get an opportunity to call themselves a professional athlete.
After completing a four year career at the University of Portland, that dream is a reality for Julie Spencer, who will be piloting her way to Sweden after signing to play professional basketball for the Visby Ladies.
“I am beyond excited about playing overseas. It's kind of been a dream of mine ever since I was a little girl. Basketball has always been my passion and it's always kind of been in the back of my mind,” Spencer said. “I never really knew I could do it until I got to college and started playing and I talked to one of my coaches and they were like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve had girls just like you go over and play in Germany and Spain and all these different places. You can totally do this if this is something you want to do, all you have to do is put in the work.’ So once someone told me oh, this is actually a path that I could take, then I decided to invest in it and believe in it and I’m super excited.”
Spencer is a W.F. West alum, winning a state title in her senior season in 2014 against Mark Morris, 48-37. Her play earned her a spot at the University of Portland and she adapted to college life quickly.
“I thought it would be harder than it actually was. I think growing up in a really large family and I moved a lot as a child, one thing I learned was how to adapt. One thing that college really taught me was that it’s all about the mindset that you take into things,” Spencer said. “I could have complained a lot with how hard practices were or how hard school was and missing my family but I just thought if I adapt to these surroundings and claim them as normal and it’s all about how I look and perceive situations, then I can find happiness in any situation. So coming to college, it was supposed to be difficult but it really felt natural to me and Portland really became like a home to me.”
Spencer consistently improved throughout her time in Portland. In her freshman season, she started 21 of 30 games and averaged 3.2 points, 3 rebounds and shot 35 percent from the field. Her senior season, Spencer started all 30 games and averaged 15.7 points, 1.2 assists, 7.8 rebounds and shot 44 percent from the field.
The West Coast Conference took notice of her achievements as well with a second-team WCC selection as a senior. Spencer scored 22 points in her final career college game against the University of San Francisco at the WCC tournament.
“Coming into the season, I wanted to be a substantial point scorer for my team. I wanted to be averaging in double digits and my goal was just to average in the teens because I knew that I could do that with the right offense and just with the right mindset and I was able to do that,” Spencer said. “My other goal was to try to make a team like either first team or second team or honorable mention. I was able to make second team so I was really proud of myself for that because my team wasn’t in the top teams in the conference but to still be recognized was meaningful for me. In terms of personal growth, my goal for the season was to become mentally tougher as a player and I worked on that 1-on-1 with a personal coach and just going to practice everyday and drills …. I was really proud of myself for that as well.”
During her four years as a Bearcat, Spencer had a record of 91-16. She didn’t win nearly as much in Portland, so she had to find other ways to measure success.
“I knew that it was a weaker program. Our coach told us, you know I want you to be a starter of something different, of a new legacy and you know, I thought we would win more games. I thought that we would be higher in conference,” Spencer said. “That was one disappointing aspect that I had to deal with throughout college but every year, we got better and I could have quit many times and I told myself I’m not going to give up on this. I’m not going to leave just because things aren’t going just the way I wish that they would and so I kind of just changed my mindset to if we’re not all having the outcome that we want, I have to find little ways to win and have to focus on myself and what I want so looking back, maybe we didn’t get as many wins as I would have liked to get but I grew in ways as a person and a player that are so valuable. I wouldn’t trade them for any new experience at any other school.”
Spencer finished her Portland career ranked 17th all time in scoring (1,178), 10th in free throw percentage (.767) and third in rebounds (756).
She earned a Bachelor’s degree in social work with a minor in theology.
“I just wanted to study a major that I could get a job in just helping people in the world and trying to help marginalized people,” Spencer said. “Just really caring for the least in the society and that is what is important to me so social work reflected those values and so that’s what I chose.”
While at Portland, Spencer felt she improved the most as an outside player and gained more confidence in her abilities on the court.
“I came into college not really having confidence surprisingly in myself. In high school, I really felt like I was taking what was given to me but when I got to college, I learned no one is going to give it to you. You have to go take it and so every year, I started out as a four or a five, as a post and this last year, I was playing a four or a five but I got to be like out on the perimeter and got to work a lot on attacking the basket and kind of developing those guard skills as well,” Spencer said. “Now I feel like I’m an inside out player where I can do both. I shoot the three now and I didn’t really do a lot of that in high school. It was more of post or high post, so developing an inside and outside game has definitely come through college basketball.”
The improvement in her game helped her get noticed by professional scouts. When her college career was over, she didn’t want to end her basketball career.
“I’ve never been outside of the United States and once college ended, I was really thinking like dang, I really want to continue playing basketball,” Spencer said. “I want to end basketball on a high note and on a good feeling and so I started doing the things I need to do to get seen.”
After making a highlight video and a player profile, Spencer tried to get her film noticed by pro scouts. It wasn’t right away but a scout eventually reached out to her through Facebook and noted he thought Spencer would do well at the next level, which led to her signing with the Visby Ladies of the Damligan League. Visby finished 6-14 last season to place ninth in the league, just outside the playoff picture.
“I’m expecting a fast paced level of basketball. I feel like after talking to the coach, he needs a shooter and I feel like I can be that for him, at least one of them. He needs a good three point presence and he needs good rebounding and I feel like I’m both of those things that a coach needs,” Spencer said. “He really wants to push the pace and push the ball and that seems like my style of play as well ...I'm assuming it’s going to be like college but just in a completely different culture of different people, different kinds of people and maybe like a little higher level of people who are going to be better. I really have to put in the work this summer to get ready.”
Right now, Spencer is putting in the work, working out and training this summer while also working part time to save money before her professional career begins when she travels to Sweden at the end of August or the beginning of September.
She doesn’t know Swedish and she hopes she won’t have too much difficulty speaking English.
“I don’t think I could ever learn Swedish. I’ve seen YouTube videos of people talking Swedish and it looks really complicated,” Spencer said. “Luckily, I’ve heard that the Swedes are actually the best in Europe at speaking English as their second language so being the classic American, they’ll have to speak English to me.”