By Hannah Hank
I was part of the record-breaking attendance at the Final Four this year where the LSU women’s basketball team claimed the title of national champions over Iowa 102-85. I was nominated to be part of the inaugural NCAA Above the Rim Summit where I had the opportunity to attend the final games of March Madness, network, and learn from elite athletes and professionals in the field. Dallas and I are more than acquaintances now, I’d like to think of old friends who’ll look back and smile at the time we shared.
Dallas, Texas y’all. Prior to this trip, I’d only known Dallas for its airport after it became my annual stop following the 15-hour flight from Sydney on my way to Clemson. Once I’d landed and finally stepped outside the confines of the airport, I made my way to our accommodation and got situated ready for the conference to commence. If you’ve been anywhere around Clemson athletics regarding student-athlete development, her reputation proceeds her, Sable Lee; Assistant Director, Leadership Development, NCAA, lead our first session. We took the StrengthsFinder test prior to attending the conference and Sable used this to walk us through exploring our natural talents. Next, Dr. Lacee’ Carmon-Johnson; Manager, Basketball Advancement, Toronto Raptors “redefining your Jersey” session worked with us to cultivate goals as we grow as players and people—because basketball is what we do not who we are. I loved Dr. Lacee’ Carmon-Johnson’s session because she encouraged us to rip off the label people assign us as athletes, women, [insert yours here"> and throw the box into the recycle! She questioned what lights us up outside of basketball? There lies the space to use our natural talents and the transferable skills our sport teaches us: to win, to lose, to overcome adversity, be a team player and let that shot fly because you know you have put in the work. After finishing up we headed to the game to catch LSU versus Virginia Tech (79-72) and Iowa versus South Carolina (77-73). The atmosphere was euphoric.
On day 2 we were up with the birds and got going with LaChina Robinson; Basketball Analyst/Reporter, ESPN whose “Lights, Camera, Action Mock Interview Battle” sharpened us up. LaChina shared with us how she was 26 when she had a “quarter-life crisis” and decided she wanted to be a tv broadcaster. She gave insights into how her journey to achieving this goal taught her “rejection is only redirection” and “like basketball, life is a game of runs”. Next we heard from Taj McWilliams-Franklin; Manager, Player Relations & Development; WNBA, and Chineze Nwagbo; Director, Player Affairs, NFL Players Association, Former Pro-Basketball Players. These women empowered us and I learned a lot from them about how to navigate employing an agent, developing a basketball resume, and the realities of playing professional basketball. Chineze Nwagbo’s survival guide to playing basketball overseas definitely got a laugh out of me as an international student following my 4 years abroad. At the end of the day like Taj said “It’s what’s in your heart [basketball"> is a fire it’s a passion”. Next, we heard from a panel of different professionals in the world of basketball including Alyssa Rice; Assistant Director, Championships, NCAA (Moderator), Monica Wright Rogers; Assistant General Manager, Phoenix Mercury, and Vanessa Fuchs; CEO, WeCoach. We finished up with a financial awareness and management session with Courtney Altemus; CEO and Founder, of Team Altemus, and Rashad Campbell; Partner, of Team Altemus.
Sunday we heard from Laura Barnard; Founder and Partner; Breakthru Brand, and Lynn Holzman; Vice President of Women’s Basketball, NCAA who shared great information with us. A panel of current pro’s consisting of [Zuri Sanders; Graduate Assistant, Women’s Basketball, Texas Tech (Moderator)"> Napheesa Collier; Power Forward, WNBA, Minnesota Lynx, and Ariel Atkins; Shooting Guard, WNBA, Washington Mystics gave us more insight into their journeys in the WNBA talking preparation, mentalities, and business. Our keynote speaker was Sheryl Swoopes. Sheryl Swoopes! If you know basketball you know her name and for good reason. She challenged us with “Are you ready for the next chapter? If not, it’s coming anyway!”. She was genuine, vulnerable, and inspiring so let me take this opportunity to pay it forward to y’all with this quote she shared with us “A strong woman knows she has strength enough for the journey, but a woman of strength knows that it is in the journey where she will become strong.” Sable brought it home to wrap up the Above the Rim Summit with an introspective moment of reflection and put it best with “life lifes”, know “we replace the unknown with fear” but don’t let that hold you back.
The championship game was as bold as Kim Mulkey’s outfit and Dallas, Texas barbecue did not disappoint. As someone who always wanted to get to the final four, I didn’t imagine it quite like this but I’m more than grateful.