As Columbus prepares for the Women's Final Four, four former college players share how on-the-court lessons led to post-basketball success.
Hoops fever will hit Columbus when the city's first Women's Final Four basketball championship is held at Nationwide Arena on March 30 and April 1. It represents the pinnacle of college basketball, but it won't last forever. Games end, players graduate, trophies are put in storage, and new players arrive on the scene.
But the fleeting nature of college basketball belies the impact it has on those who play the game, especially at such a high level. They might not lace up their high-tops every day, but they still retain the lessons they learned about teamwork, dedication, hard work and more. With the Final Four set to begin at Nationwide Arena, Columbus CEO sat down with four local professionals with unique insights into the experiences of the players on the court. The four women, all former Division I players, shared how college basketball shaped their future, leading to success beyond the hardwood.
Celia Anderson, national sales manager, Experience Columbus
Former Arkansas Razorback Celia Anderson's first experience with basketball was so unpleasant that she repeatedly tried to quit. “I was 13, I didn't know how to play and that came with a lot of ridicule from the other girls,” says Anderson. “But my mom was single and worked, and she knew I needed someplace to be after school.”
Within a few years, she was leading her Little Rock, Arkansas, high school team to its first championship and then helping the University of Arkansas team win spots in postseason games four years in a row before graduating in 2001. “I felt because I was a college athlete, that I had a trial run at life,” says Anderson, 38, who last year moved to Columbus to become the national sales manager for Experience Columbus.
“Sports made me a more confident woman. On a college team, the spotlight is always on you, and you learn how to be the center of attention gracefully. As an athlete, you quickly learn that you don't need other people's validation. You learn to seek validation within yourself, and that's an important thing for all girls to know.”
After graduation, Anderson played pro basketball in Greece before returning to the University of Arkansas to obtain a master's degree in communications and write books. Her most recent position before moving to Columbus was as national sales director for the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“The foundation of anything I do is my love of people, and sports teaches you how to connect with other people on so many different levels, whether you're playing with them or against them,” she says. “It helped me personally learn how to care deeply for people.”
Dr. Lauren Miller, radiologist with Riverside Radiology and Interventional Associates
When Lauren Miller was interviewing for medical residencies, the conversations always strayed into her life as a basketball player at Ohio State University. “People always want to talk about your sport, and I think it opens doors for you,” says Miller, who was a four-year letter winner from 1998 to 2002 and is a member of OSU's 1,000-point scoring club. “It's something you have that gives you a little extra, both in the way you see yourself and the way others see you. It always bumped me up, because people understood and respected what I'd done.”
Miller, who was Lauren Shenk when she played at Ohio State, grew up in the small Ohio village of Minster near the Indiana border and started sports first as a runner and then as a basketball player. “Sports have provided me a whole lot,” says Miller, 37, now the mother of three and a radiologist with Riverside Radiology and Interventional Associates. “Obviously you learn teamwork. You're not going to like everyone on the team, but you have to figure out how to come together as a cohesive unit. That applies to all parts of life, from your family to your work.”
She also credits collegiate basketball with teaching her how to manage her time, something that helped her to get ahead in medical school. “Being a college athlete forces you to do that,” she says. “You learn how to be on time, how to be organized and what takes priority. You learn you can do it all, you just have to prioritize.”
Alesia Howard, communications and marketing specialist, Columbus Recreation and Parks Department
Basketball taught Alesia Howard so many lessons she hesitates before choosing the most important.
“I would say grit, perseverance,” says Howard, 28, who helped lead Columbus Africentric Early College School to its first state championship in 2007. “I am very competitive with myself, set high expectations and never, ever think I'm going to fail. I never stepped on a basketball court and thought: ‘We're going to lose this game.' Never. Ever.”
Howard went on to play at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, then transferred to Ohio University for her sophomore year. She sat out that season until she could play as a junior and senior. She credits basketball with changing the trajectory of her life.
“Growing up in Linden, there was a lot of crime and a lot of poverty,” says Howard, who was raised by a grandmother and her older sister. “But playing basketball kept me involved and kept me on track to constantly be setting goals. There was never a question that I would graduate and go to college. Sports really gave me the constant drive to succeed and to do well and to win.”
As a Bobcat, Howard learned how to manage her time so she kept in shape, was on the dean's list and graduated in 2012 with a major in communications. “Our coaches and the staff made sure we invested in what we were doing on the court and off the court,” she says. “After I graduated, I realized how important that was and how much it helped create structure in my life.”
Jamie Wilson, principal of Hannah Ashton Middle School in Reynoldsburg
Growing up in Reynoldsburg, everyone in Jamie Wilson's family was an athlete. So it was no surprise when Wilson fell in love with basketball in elementary school, played at Reynoldsburg High School and went on to become captain of the Northern Illinois University team. “I don't ever remember not knowing how to play,” says Wilson, 34. “I think it was kind of a natural thing.” So natural that many of the lessons she learned from all those years on the court seem like second nature. “Being a team payer has helped me in all aspects of my life, personally and professionally,” says Wilson. “You learn how to communicate and how to navigate different personalities and different types of people and still keep the goal in mind, which is a huge skill to learn. In my job, I've had to help people understand that, what it means to be on a team.”
In college, especially, she learned how to manage the busy life of a student athlete without falling apart. “I still get overwhelmed, but I can handle it. Timeliness, working hard, finishing projects, not giving up and always showing up, all those qualities I attribute to playing basketball in college.”
But perhaps the biggest lesson basketball taught her was to bounce back after injuries that threatened to halt her athletic career. “I had two injuries in college and they were the most pivotal things in my life,” she says. “An injury sucks the life out of you and you have to do some soul-searching about who you really are. Being able to overcome that has really made me who I am.”
Kathy Lynn Gray is a freelance writer.