'Hometown hero' returns to Chatham for NCAA basketball game

Bridget Carleton is bringing her basketball career back to where it started — in Chatham.

She started in the backyard of her home and now she's on the courts playing as a senior for Division 1 Iowa State Cyclones.

"It started out as kind of a long-shot dream, and then it became more and more realistic," said Carleton.

She used to play on the basketball team at John McGregor Secondary School.

She never expected to return to Chatham after high school for a basketball game. But on Wednesday night she'll be playing against the Eastern Michigan Eagles, with her family and friends watching in the stands.

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One person who will be watching is her grandmother.

"My grandma hasn't seen me play live since high school, so it's going to be really special to play one more time."

And Carrie Carleton, Bridget's mother, predicts she'll be right in the crowd, watching the game in tears.

"I love to watch her play and I get emotional every time, to see her play the game that she loves," she said.

"It's probably the last time she'll play in Chatham, I would think."

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Her mother was there with Bridget from the very beginning of her career.

She remembers the big smile on her daughter's face when she would shoot baskets into the miniature hoops in the backyard. And when Bridget got to high school, she was the coach for the senior girls' team.

"She'd say, 'Mom, can we go to the gym? Mom, can we go to the gym?'" Carrie recalled.

"Bridget loves to be in the gym, she still does."

Her daughter has hopes of being part of Team Canada for the Olympic Games someday, which Carrie supports wholeheartedly.

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The Wednesday night game sold at least 800 tickets and there will be people standing to watch Wednesday night.

Hailed as a bit of a "hometown hero," coach Nicole Quigley said the tickets went fast.

"I guess that shows the support the community is giving this game, and towards Bridget as well," said Quigley, who coached Bridget in the Chatham Wildcats.

She said she would set alarms for 5 a.m. some mornings just to watch Bridget play.

And for the crowd of hundreds that will be watching her daughter play, Carrie has one thing she wants people to know.

"She's not just a basketball player. They'll see how much she enjoys this game and how much she loves it."