Why Not?

why-notBy Alyssa Michalke

“Why?” A short, simple question that often calls for a long, involved answer. When someone has accomplished something significant or made a life-changing decision, people aren’t just interested in what or how. They want to know why it happened. What was the person’s mindset while pursuing this goal? What inspired or motivated? Why?

The answer, carefully crafted, can leave the reader in awe of the person’s drive, determination, intelligence, wisdom, maturity, perseverance, and/or work ethic – believing that he or she was blessed with these attributes to such an extent that others could find it difficult to achieve this level.

This past two years, I have been asked numerous “why” questions. Why did I choose to come to Texas A&M? Why did I major in engineering? Why did I join the Corps of Cadets and then, apply to be the Corps Commander? Why did I try out for the Texas A&M women’s basketball team? I gave the answers the reporters wanted to hear. A&M provides a quality education both inside and outside the classroom. An engineering major leads to a challenging career that impacts the world in a positive way.  The Corps strives to grow and develop students into better individuals and more effective leaders. The Corps Commander leads an organization I had come to love and works alongside exceptional student leaders on a daily basis.  The women’s basketball team loves the sport and the privilege to represent Texas A&M as student-athletes.

While those last two answers are completely true, there’s actually a much simpler, and shorter, answer, one that better explains my mindset when applying to lead the Corps and try out for the basketball team. It’s two simple words: “Why not?”

“Why not?” is much more than a question or even the answer to a question. It’s a mindset, one that I embraced in my sophomore year in the Corps with the help of an incredible mentor. I was planning to apply for a leadership position, but was content with staying within my Corps unit instead of applying for the Corps Sergeant Major position. I mentioned that to one of my upperclassman mentors whom I had come to respect, and he asked me why I was content to stay with the unit instead of applying for the top junior-level spot in the Corps? I told him that I was unsure if I was capable of filling the position and I didn’t want to take a job that I couldn’t do. He told me that the selection committee wouldn’t put me in a leadership position if they weren’t confident I could perform the job’s duties.

“Why not?” he said. “What’s the worst they could tell you? ‘No, you didn’t get the position’? If they do, you just work even harder next year and prove they made the wrong decision.”

As I walked away from that conversation, I had a new outlook on life and the goals I had set for myself. Using that mentality, I applied for the Corps Sergeant Major position and underwent multiple mock interviews with my peers and upperclassmen to prepare for the real interview coming up in a few weeks. Even though I kept having doubts about my qualifications for the position, I continued to prepare for the interview. Why not? Was I really that afraid of the word “no” that I wouldn’t apply for the position?

mttb-2016Although the interview was more difficult than I had imagined, I received word a few days later that I would be serving as the Corps Sergeant Major for the 2014-2015 school year. I would work directly with the Corps Commander, Deputy Corps Commander, and Corps Chief of Staff. My primary goal would be to develop and review training plans that would help cadets accomplish the vision and goals set forth by the senior leadership of the Corps. I knew the year would be difficult, as I would be juggling challenging engineering classes and my responsibilities in the Corps. However, my parents did an exceptional job of instilling a blue-collar work ethic in me, and I used that to my advantage throughout the year. There were a few moments when a challenge made me pause and evaluate my ability to overcome it, but my newfound “Why not?” mindset took over, and I overcame those obstacles more often than not.

In January of my junior year, the time came again to apply for leadership positions within the Corps. The option to apply for Corps Commander was there, but I hesitated to check the application box. I had seen how well the current Corps Commander had led the Corps, developed a great vision for the Corps, implemented policies to help accomplish those goals, and worked with cadets across the Corps to improve our organization. I was doubtful of my ability to perform all of those duties as well as he had. However, a small voice in the back of my mind kept whispering “Why not?”, so I decided to check the box, prepare for the interview, and leave the rest in God’s hands.

12038077_10153058322075766_258877812113397442_nA week after the interview, I was informed that I would have the privilege to serve as the Corps Commander for the 2015-2016 school year. I was honored, but also anxious. I knew I had quite a bit of work ahead of me, and I placed pressure on myself to be the best Corps Commander I could possibly be.

Thankfully, I was blessed to work with incredible leaders on a daily basis, all of whom shared my love for the Corps and the cadets within it. We worked tirelessly to improve the organization, trying new training styles and plans that differed from the previous years. There was often some skepticism before trying something new, but I did my best to inspire my peers with my “Why not?” attitude. I often reminded them that the worst thing that could happen would be a dressing-down from one of our military advisors, after which we would explain what we had intended to happen and improve the process in the future. I wish I could say that every new operation we attempted went smoothly, but that wasn’t the case. However, we learned substantially more than expected from those faulty training sessions, and were able to better improve future training which benefited cadets substantially more.

My “Why not?” attitude carried over when I decided to try out for the women’s basketball team. I attended multiple home games throughout my senior year, and really enjoyed the energy, passion, enthusiasm, and love for basketball that I saw in all the Aggie players and coaches. I knew the team had hosted walk-on tryouts in the past, and also knew that I would have a substantial amount of free time over the summer to train for the tryouts. I remember mentioning this to my parents, and while they were both extremely supportive of my decision, they both asked why I was planning to tryout.

tam_1618My answer: Why not?

I applied that same workmanlike attitude to my workouts over the summer. I was in the weight room and gym six days a week, working on getting stronger, faster, and becoming a better basketball player. I watched WNBA games on my laptop, trying to improve my knowledge of the game. After watching those games, I often shook my head in disbelief. Was I crazy for wanting to try out for a well-known, highly-respected Division I program headed by a Hall of Fame coach? How could I possibly compete with these amazing athletes and highly-talented basketball players? Was I sure about this decision? These questions continued to bombard me after every training session. Eventually, I grew tired of the self-doubt, so I bought a roll of duct tape and a sharpie. I wrote “Why not?” on numerous pieces of tape and placed them above my bathroom mirror, the doors into and out of my apartment and bedroom, and the steering wheel of my truck. I also changed the background of my phone, and wrote “Why not?” on the sides of my shoes and my wrists during training sessions. It served as a constant reminder to pursue this goal, no matter how difficult it became.

Once I came back to Texas A&M and started school again, I had less free time than I had over the summer, but still made it a point to get into the gym and weight room on a consistent basis. Weeks passed with no mention of walk-on tryouts from the basketball team. Every morning when I woke up and every evening before I went to bed, I poured over all of the basketball team’s social media accounts and official web page in hopes of an announcement. I grew a little frustrated as time went by, but tried to maintain a positive attitude. On September 23, I finally saw what I had been hoping and praying for —  an announcement regarding walk-on tryouts. Although tryouts wouldn’t be held for another week and a half, I grew extremely nervous and anxious. All of my hard work over the past few months would come down to a 45-minute tryout. Over those next few days leading up to the tryouts, I spent even more time in the gym than before, going both in the morning and evening to lift weights, run, and play basketball.

The tryout day was upon me, and I honestly felt extremely underprepared. I was anxious in class throughout the day, and my focus continuously drifted from the professor’s lecture to the upcoming tryout. I had the time to drive home for a quick bite to eat before the tryout, and as my hand gripped the steering wheel, I felt the adhesive still stuck to the wheel from the numerous strips of duct tape I had utilized over the summer to keep me motivated during difficult training sessions. I reminded myself of the reason why I had chosen to try out for the team: Why not?

Although the tryout itself didn’t go as well as I had hoped, I was blessed to receive a text message a few days later informing me that I would be placed on the practice squad for a few weeks so the coaching staff could further evaluate my skills and ability to play on the team. After a week or two of practice, Coach Blair called me into his office and offered to place me on the team’s roster as a walk-on. He asked me to stay for the entire season, not just the fall semester, even though I was scheduled to graduate in December and start my career in January. “Why not?” I replied with a huge grin on my face.

These past few months with the team have blessed me with a wealth of incredible experiences and memories with an amazing group of people. My teammates have been nothing but supportive and encouraging, and I’ve done my best to return the favor in practice and during our games. Our coaching staff is one of the most experienced and intelligent staffs in the college game, and they have taught us an incredible amount about the game throughout the season, all while pushing us and demanding our best every single day. We’re also blessed with a great group of trainers and managers who sacrifice their time to assist with practice and during road trips.

Arkansas Texas A M NCAA Womens BasketballEven though there have been plenty of tough practices and conditioning sessions throughout the season, ones that left me completely exhausted and made my summer workouts look easy, I constantly remind myself of the incredible privilege I have to be a member of this basketball program at an amazing university. I wholeheartedly believe that it was my “Why not?” mentality, coupled with a great work ethic and character instilled in me by my parents, that allowed me to accomplish these feats. I know life will continue to throw challenges and obstacles in my path, but I look forward to meeting those with the right mindset, a strong work ethic, and a solid foundation in my faith and myself. I will continue to set lofty, challenging goals for myself in both my personal and professional life, and I’m excited to see where the pursuit and accomplishment of those goals will take me. If anybody ever questions why I continue to challenge and push myself to be the best I can be, I know exactly what my response will be…

“Why not?”

What’s In A Number?

aw-whats-in-a-number-williamsBy Danni Williams

I wear the number 12 for several reasons. The first is because my favorite number 3 wasn’t available one summer. When I first started on my AAU team, somebody had 3, so I decided to choose number 12.  My reasoning?  1+2=3.

I had a really great summer recruiting wise, so every summer I stuck with 12. When I committed to Texas A&M I knew the number 3 was already assigned to a player so there really wasn’t a question as to what number I would be wearing.

The second reason for the number 12 is because at this university it has a very impactful meaning. Wearing number 12 at Texas A&M signifies the 12th man. The Aggies! There are so many people out there that support our athletic careers and the reference to the 12th Man is very significant. So being able to wear that number and honor those that give us continuous support is special to me. And becomes more so each game I put on the jersey.

 

The Boy

kelsey-the-boy

By Kelsey Bone

The first 10 years of my life were like a fairy tale.  I was an only child and enjoyed the love and adoration of my family: I literally had their undivided attention.  I never thought about sharing my room, my toys, or fighting over which cartoon I would watch.  I just basked in the glory of being the center of attention, the star attraction of my own little world, and life was good!

On September 1, 2001 my world, as I knew it, was turned completely upside down. Tragedy struck.  My mother gave birth to a baby boy who would become known as my little brother.  Who me? A baby? A baby brother? Who has kids 10 years apart? Like really, mom?  Like WHY?  The anger and confusion that surrounded me, at the tender age of 10, was indescribable.  We didn’t need another child in this family, we were fine.

On Fridays, my mom would pick me up from school and we would shop and eat and enjoy each other. That was OUR day!  Now we had to stop at the daycare. We had to pick up diapers and milk. Suddenly, there was this little human being sitting in the back seat with me–in a car seat of all things– and he belonged to us!  I wasn’t sure what all of this meant, but I decided I wasn’t participating in any of this foolishness.  I was the perfect child.  My mom loved me. Now, this little person demanded way too much of her time and attention.  I thought he would go away, but they kept bringing him back home so this little baby named Donovan Kennedy Williams became a part of my reality.  I stopped peeping at him or giving him my infamous side eye and actually picked him up one day.  In that moment,  I fell in love with my brother.

kelsey-2As I approach my 25th birthday, I realize that I have been blessed with the best brother ever!  He has watched my entire career unfold over the past 15 years the good, bad and ugly, the tears, the failures, and all of the successes.  He was at the gym in his car seat when I was running and doing Miken drills.  He traveled and watched every game that I have played from AAU to USA basketball to the WNBA.  One of my fondest memories was an AAU game in California when he was supposed to just be passing out water during a timeout.  Instead, he came into the huddle and yelled at me to REBOUND! He was five!

I was selected as the number 5 draft pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft.  It was my night to shine. However, it was my brother who Kevin Nghandi announced on national television was the best dressed person in the building.  He was the star!  When I announced my college selection, live on television from the McDonald’s All American game, he was front and center smiling and again stealing the show.

When I’ve play my worst games, he has said, “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Just get back in the gym!”  One of the worst parts of playing overseas is that I have had to watch him grow up from a distance.  Every time I see him, he has grown a few inches taller, his feet are larger, and his voice is noticeably deeper.  He is now a 10th grader playing on varsity and I sit waiting for reports after each of his games.  My mom always begins by saying they won or lost and then I ask, “How did he do?”

Playing in the Chinese League will allow me to come home early enough to watch him play and I am super excited to do that.  He has watched me and looked up to me for quite some time, but what he doesn’t know is that I have been watching him.  He is smart, outspoken and charismatic.  I am in awe of his ability to walk into a room and own it.  He grew up in the gym watching me and now I get the great pleasure to watch him, to cheer for him, and … to yell at him to REBOUND!

That little human being who invaded my territory 15 years ago, whom I affectionately call “The Boy,” is why I play this game.  I want to share with him all the things that I have learned and help him on his journey.  For him, the BEST is yet to come!

A Season of Thankfulness and Gratitude

taw-thanksgiving-picTAYLOR COOPER

I am thankful for my family, friends, and my teammates.  I am thankful for my family because they have always been my support system and I don’t know what I would do without them. I am thankful for my friends and my teammates because they provide me with endless laughs and memories that I will have for a lifetime.

Taylor’s Favorite Childhood Thanksgiving Memory: My favorite childhood memory was when all of my family would come over or come down to my house to be together for an evening. My grandma’s stuffing is my favorite along with her famous cranberry sauce on the side.

KHAALIA HILLSMAN

I am thankful for my family and the opportunity to do what I love (play basketball) because they have helped shape who I am as a person. As far as Basketball, it has opened up so many opportunities that I never would have imagined I could have.

Khaalia’s Favorite Childhood Thanksgiving Memory: One memory from my childhood is sitting on my grandma’s lap while I was waiting for the candied yams to get out the oven (even though nothing else was ready) so I could get a taste before they were gone.

ANRIEL HOWARD

I am most thankful for having an almighty God that died on the cross for my sins. I am thankful for all the opportunities that I have been blessed with from my God. I am thankful to have a family in my life that cares dearly about me. I am thankful for my mom, nana, papa, brothers, and extended family for the unconditional love that they have for me. I am thankful to have a relationship with friends and teammates that can push me to be the best that I can be. I am blessed to have an unbreakable bond with my boyfriend that only we can understand. I am blessed for the adults, coaches, and mentors in my life that are guiding me through my life and continuing to believe in me. I am thankful for a plethora of things that I can continue to list for about ten more pages. I am thankful for all of the above because I realized pretty early in my life that I am pretty darn blessed. Its people in this world that wish and dream for all of this and I never want to take any of it for granted because it can be easily taken away from me.

Anriel’s Favorite Childhood Thanksgiving Memory: A childhood memory and tradition for Thanksgiving in my family is that every year when my family meets up for this holiday, we circle up and individually state what we are thankful for. This happens before we pray over our wonderful Thanksgiving meal.

AAHLIYAH JACKSON

Something I’m very thankful for is my family, for supporting me and believing in every little thing I do. I’m thankful to have two great parents in my life that treat me with tough love. Not everyone gets the opportunity to become an Aggie, and I was that one that got the opportunity to be one and play the game I love!

Aahliyah’s Favorite Childhood Thanksgiving Memory: One memory from my childhood is being able to stay up late and help my mom prepare the meal for Thanksgiving dinner. And of course when you’re the helper, you get to be the test taster too.

CURTYCE KNOX

I am most thankful for my beautiful daughter Haven. She has changed my life tremendously ! Having a child has changed my perspective on life and I now see the world in a different way…leaving a practice at Reed so I can come home just to see her bubbly face light up when I walk through the door. There is no better feeling & I am beyond grateful to call her my child.

Curtyce’s Favorite Childhood Thanksgiving Memory: One childhood memory is years ago on Thanksgiving having the opportunity to spend this special day with all of my family and close friends and just being able to enjoy one another’s company while having a great thanksgiving meal.

JASMINE LUMPKIN

I am most thankful for my family and the support they give me on a daily basis. It’s great to have a loving family and I don’t know what I would do without them. I am also thankful for basketball and all the opportunities that it has blessed me with like playing at a great institution like Texas A&M where I can get my education for free, and play the game I love. I’m thankful for all the people in my life from my friends, family, coaches, teammates, and God — all helped me become the person I am today. And I cannot thank them enough.

Jasmine’s Favorite Childhood Thanksgiving Memory: One childhood thanksgiving memory I remember is gathering at my grandma’s house with my entire family, and playing with my cousins. It was one big feast and you could smell the food being cooked from a mile away.

CAYLINNE MARTIN

I am most thankful for my family, because even though my parents are not together anymore, they both make an effort to make sure I spend time with both sides of the family each holiday, especially Thanksgiving.

Caylinne’s Favorite Childhood Thanksgiving Memory: One of my favorite memories was going back to my hometown of Port Arthur last year and just being in the city and seeing and spending time with my grandma and grandpa because I don’t see them often as well as seeing how much the city has improved since I last visited.

ALYSSA MICHALKE

I’m most thankful for my family and their role in developing me into the person I am today. My family has always been my biggest fans, but also my biggest critics. They were the first ones to tell me I played a great game or did a great job on a task they had assigned, but they were also the first ones to show me the errors I made and suggest  improvements so I could perform even better next time. My parents did an excellent job at instilling a hard work ethic, respect, dedication, perseverance, and a commitment to excellence in me, and while I usually had to learn those lessons with tough love from them, I’m so thankful they took the time to develop these qualities within me. My family is the foundation beneath all my successes in life, and I couldn’t be more thankful for their commitment to raising me correctly.

Alyssa’s Favorite Childhood Thanksgiving Memory: My favorite memories surrounding Thanksgiving always involved the family sports competition. After Thanksgiving lunch (and a nice nap, of course), we would all head outside to play football or softball. We always ended up playing in one of the large pastures on my grandparent’s farm, using trees and fence posts for end zones and foul lines. There was always a friendly, but competitive, atmosphere surrounding the game, as the losers had to do the dishes. After the game was over, we would all head back inside to play dominoes or sit around the wood stove and talk about small town politics and gossip. Those memories are ones that I will hold and cherish forever.

RAKELL SPENCER

I am thankful for my health because it’s a blessing to be healthy and some people take that for granted. When I see other people who are sickly or disabled it makes me realize that my problems aren’t that big.

Rakell’s Favorite Childhood Thanksgiving Memory: My favorite childhood memory for Thanksgiving is when my grandmother would let me help her cook.

DANNI WILLIAMS

I am most thankful to serve a God who sent His one and only son to die on the cross for our sins which gives us eternal life. With that, God has provided me with the most incredible family. I am thankful for that because without God doing what He did, I wouldn’t have my family, and my family means the absolute world to me. I can’t even explain the relationship we all share together, it’s unbreakable.

Danni’s Favorite Childhood Thanksgiving Memory: One of my favorite childhood memories is just having all of my family members join me at our house  and share Thanksgiving together. Being able to spend valuable time together doesn’t come easy when people live in different states. Also, my grandma’s turkey pot pie.

JASMINE WILLIAMS

I am most thankful for my freedom and the ability to wake up every morning knowing I have a life someone else would love to have.  Because I am aware of the injustice that takes place and with the amount of exposure that I have on this level, I know that vulnerability is inevitable. And with that we have to be very careful and thankful for every day lived.

Jasmine’s Favorite Childhood Thanksgiving Memory: Thanksgiving was always shared as a family with either my moms side or my dads side. We always sat outside the house because of the stench of the chitlins being cooked inside the house. And it was always the Cowboys game afterwards followed by video games and naps thereafter.

WALNATIA WRIGHT

I’m thankful that God wakes me up everyday for without that blessing I wouldn’t be here at Texas A&M.

Walnatia’s Favorite Childhood Thanksgiving Memory: My favorite Thanksgiving childhood memory was when my grandmother was alive — enjoying her Thanksgiving food and we were all packed inside the house.

 

Chasing My Two Dreams

jennings-header3By Chelsea Jennings

As a kid, I was always told to dream big and that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to.

In high school, I held myself to a high standard on and off the court. I never wanted to be considered a dumb athlete. That is what ultimately pushed me throughout high school, where I would graduate cum laude in my 2012 class at North Crowley High School, Fort Worth, Texas.  Coming to Texas A&M, I knew I wanted to take full advantage of all the opportunities of being a student-athlete. I challenged myself to pursue one of the hardest degrees at Texas A&M. I chose Architecture because I have a passion for drawing and design. I remember going into an academic meeting with people questioning my decision and my ability to balance my architectural degree and basketball. My freshmen year I was enrolled into independent studies, which is an undeclared degree plan. I had to prove to the Architecture Department that I could maintain a standard GPA of  3.2 as a student-athlete. The department was hesitant about letting a student-athlete into their program because they knew how demanding this degree could be. As a freshman student-athlete, this was a bit of a challenge but I accomplished it. This undertaking set me back an entire year, but I was determined to show everyone that I could do it.

When I was finally enrolled in Architecture my sophomore season, it was a rude awakening for me. Attempting to balance basketball, architecture, and my personal life almost seemed impossible at the time. During preseason I would literally stay up until 4 in the morning, working on projects and then have to wake up at 5:30am for 6am workouts. I was not getting much sleep and was completely exhausted. This lead to poor performances and not being able to produce how I wanted on the court. I became very overwhelmed and stressed out. At this point in my life, I had never faced anything of this level of difficulty. I began to doubt my decision; I was struggling on the court and off the court. I wasn’t producing on the court and it lingered into my academic success as well. Many times after games where I played not a single second, I would go home and cry wondering why I choose this route. Coming out of high school, I was ranked among the top 50 in the country and highly recruited yet now I was not playing. I truly felt like it was impossible to be the best basketball player I wanted to be while trying to be the best student I could be. I felt like a complete failure and I didn’t know what to do about it. It seemed the best decision might be to transfer and get a fresh start at a new college. I have never been a quitter but it seemed like that was the most logical situation for me at the time. As a Christian believer, I prayed about my situation and I knew he would deliver an answer.  It wasn’t till right before my junior season started that I decided I wanted to continue my career here at Texas A&M. I knew I had to finish what I started.

image3Going into to my junior year I felt like a new person. I was confident and I was stronger. It was amazing seeing how that confidence carried over  to the court and into the classroom. It seemed like everything started turning around for the better. I was producing more on the court and I was enjoying my academic successes. Of course, I had my struggles throughout the course of  the year but I was more equipped to handle these situations. I started to believe in myself again with the help of God, family, teammates, and coaches. I truly and honestly would not have been successful, were it not for them. My junior year was the turning point of my career here at Texas A&M.

cj-001My senior season all the pieces started coming together for me. I realized I had been making excuses my past three years here. I was so worried about all the wrong things. I was so eager to prove that I was better than the person next to me. I lost focus on what I was originally trying to accomplish. I learned that I needed to compete with myself, by challenging myself to get better each day — in school, basketball, or most importantly, getting more in tune with God. My ultimate goal was not just to be the best basketball player I could be but to be the best person I could be. I began to set goals for myself to reach, instead of complaining about my past failures. I attacked my senior year with a Godly purpose. My senior season resulted in me getting 6th women of the year in the SEC. I will be graduating in December  — the first female African American athlete to graduate with a degree in the college of Architecture at Texas A&M University. I have also started a brand called LWP. Which means Live With Purpose. This brand is a true testimony of my college career here at Texas A&M. I was defeated before I even got started because I did not understand my purpose due to continuous failures. Living a life with no purpose is like being in a maze with no end. The moment I started living life with a purpose was when my life and career began to change.

I realized through my journey here at Texas A&M that direction is far more important than speed. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. At the time I didn’t realize why I went through all of these obstacles, but now I believe it was meant to be a testimony to others. To show if you are patient, stay the course, and have faith, you can accomplish anything and everything that people thought you could never do.  This new mindset has shaped and helped me become the person I am today.

An Aggie Halloween

gb-headerAs the moon rises and darkness descends around communities all across the nation, Halloween is again upon us.  And with that, we thought we’d share a few Trick or Tweet moments of yesteryear from your Aggies.

hw-taylorTaylor Cooper

My favorite movie growing up was “The Lion King.”  I wanted to be like Simba and Nala, so I chose to be a Tigress for Halloween. My mom teased my hair out like a lion’s mane. I was “Taylor the Lioness” instead. Gosh…I was cute!

hw-jas-lJasmine Lumpkin

The most memorable costume that I wore for Halloween when I was younger was a witch. I always looked forward to getting dressed up for Halloween and picking a different costume every year. Halloween growing up was one of my favorite holidays not only for the candy but dressing up too. My favorite thing about this costume was the green hair – lol! Nobody could even recognize me, and I thought it was really funny.

hw-caylinneCorinne Martin

Halloween as a kid was always fun because we got to dress up and be something besides ourselves for that one night. I can just remember how excited people were to see us looking alike and dressed as little princesses. As much and I really enjoyed going trick or treating as a kid, I always enjoyed the day a little more because creating those memories with my parents and siblings was the most important thing to me.

Caylinne Martin

As a kid, I remember dressing up as a princess and going around the nearby neighborhoods to trick or treat with my friends. I was so excited to show off my princess dress and get candy.

hw-alyssaAlyssa Michalke

My dad introduced me to the outdoors at a very young age, and in addition to that, I’ve always been somewhat of an adrenaline junkie. I was interested in a job that combined those two passions, and it seemed that a soldier or police officer would be the perfect combination, so I often chose to be one of those two for Halloween. I always enjoyed dressing up in camouflage or with a uniform and badge, and Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays for the free candy and sense of community in the small town I grew up in!

hw-danniDanni Williams

Growing up, Halloween was one of a kid’s favorite holidays. Not only because of all the free candy you get but for that day you could be anything you wanted to be. I also enjoyed Halloween because it was a time that I got to hang out with my best friend and her family. We grew up together and so every year we looked forward to enjoying our candy together and just having fun!

 

 

The Sorority

aw-wright2By Amy Wright

Do you love the game of basketball?  I mean really love it.  Through the 6 am workouts.  The extra line drills.  The injuries.  The losses.  The yelling and screaming from coaches, teammates and fans. Do you REALLY love the game of basketball?  If you can answer this question whole heartedly “YES!”— then you can join The Sorority.

The Sorority consists of about 20 young women, all of whom have had the life changing experience of playing point guard for Coach Gary Blair.  I am positive from 1985, when Coach Blair took over at Stephen F. Austin, to our most recent inductee in 2016 from Texas A&M, Jordan Jones, we all share the same experiences of growth, challenge and change.  But the one thing that reigns consistent through 20 some years is all of our love for the game of basketball.  We all would not have developed into the women we are today and developed into the best basketball players we could be, without him and our love for the game.

“You can’t bust a grape!”  This was Coach Blair’s roundabout way of telling me I was too soft.  I feel like each semester of my career at Arkansas was highlighted by a Blairism.  But each deliberate and challenging catch phrase gave me the opportunity to prove him wrong about the type of player I was going to be in the SEC.  I rounded out my freshman year with “Honey, head up to the popcorn vendor.”  I can’t tell you how many stairs I ran at Bud Walton Arena, but I was the most in shape point guard in the SEC.  I couldn’t get a play right.  I couldn’t get 4 people on the same page to run a near perfect play call.  This was my responsibility as a Coach Blair PG.  This was my team and I needed to take ownership of it.  And I was going to run until I did.

ag-wright-1Heading into sophomore year, I was finally coming into my own as a leader on and off the court.  But I still had major issues to be an impact point guard at the SEC level.  Coach Blair knew he needed me.  He continuously pushed me to do better than my best.  “Aaaaamay.  Take care of that pumpkin today.”  All he wanted was for me to stop turning the ball over.  Of course I had the normal 19 year old excuses. “She’s not getting open on the wing!”  “She stopped running!”  “Why is everything always my fault!”  It wasn’t until a very strong phone call from my mother set me straight.  “Amy, you wanted to play in the toughest conference in the country.  You wanted to play immediately.  You want to be one of the best players in the country.  How is Coach Blair asking you to play 40 minutes a game, trusting you with his team and pushing you to be better than you are such a bad thing?  Sounds to me like you’re being a baby.”  Awww, Big K. (That’s my,  my teammates and my friends endearing name for my mother)  I knew I was out numbered.  It was time to change my mental game.  By the end of my sophomore year, I had finally earned my first “Atta baby,” from GB.

My junior and senior years were very different than my previous two years.  Though some of the best times of my life, the Coach Blair, Point Guard relationship continued to grow in a more basketball manner.  I had earned his trust as a player.  Now it was up to me to decipher exactly what “Do the THING & RUN the THING” actually meant during a game.  I always took it as it was my turn.  My turn to call the plays for his Lady Back teams.  Rarely did I turn over the pumpkin and rarely did I have to go see the popcorn vendor.  Many Blairisms came out of frustration from either GB or Coach Schaefer (Current Head Coach at Mississippi State) and I could only translate them as just do better.  One of my all-time favorites was “Do it for my twins!”  This was a Schaefer daily message, begging our team to defend with the intensity and passion he had as a coach.

aw-colsonLooking back at my experience and now experiencing the coaching side and working with Coach Blair, I can honestly say he was right.  He was right about my ability as a player along with many other players.  He was right in the way he pushed me beyond any other coach I had ever played for.  He made me a basketball player, not just a kid that played basketball.  He made me think the game for myself and others.  He gave me responsibility beyond what I needed or deserved  and forced me to accept it and grow into a leader.

I enjoy seeing my Soro sisters on the road now as a coach. Briefly, let me run through the lineage:

Christy Smith (Current Head Coach at Incarnate Word University)
Amy Wright (Assistant Coach at Texas A&M University)
Toccarra Williams (Current real estate sales & founder of the AAU program Sweet Rebound)
Aqua Franklin (Associate Head Coach at University of Kansas)
Sydney Colson (WNBA San Antonio Stars & Assistant Coach at Rice University)
Sydney Carter (Professional Player – Riga Latvia)
Adrienne Pratcher (Teacher College Station ISD & Associate Head Coach College Station High School)
Jordan Jones (WNBA Draft Pick Chicago Sky – Professional Player – Poland)

aw-carterNot a bad line up.  The thing that we all have in common is our experiences.  We’ve been broken to be built back up.  We’ve been given responsibility to fail and succeed.  We’ve been given an opportunity to grow and find ourselves and our dreams.  Bringing us all together with these experiences is The Sorority.

I had a short time being around Aqua Franklin during my graduate assistant ship at Texas A&M.  This is where I learned it wasn’t just me that had been through this unique experience, Aqua was starting her freshman season at A&M.  The one thing I know we all hate about the other is the point guard before us.  I know my name was Christy for 3 years while I was at Arkansas.  This was coach referring to Christy Smith (Arkansas 1994-1998) another Indiana kid that had taken a chance to come down south and attend the Gary Blair Point Guard University!  Aqua was referred to as Amy and I’m willing to bet Syndey (Colson) was referred to as Aqua.  Usually GB had a unique way of bringing us together because we could share our stories of anger about him, but with this small “mix-up,” he found a way for all of us to compete.  Prove that we are and will be better than the last point guard to run the show.

Being the actual point guard to go through this process is so different than being a coach watching 18 to 22 year olds go through the process.  I have had the privilege of working with 3 of the best that will ever go through the Texas A&M women’s basketball program, Adrienne Pratcher; Jordan Jones and Curtyce Knox.  All 3 unique in their own way.

aw-pratcherAdrienne was pretty much past the “Whoa is me” stage of becoming a member of The Sorority.  By the time I had arrived at Texas A&M, Pratcher was a quiet leader and an extremely intelligent and highly competitive basketball player.  She had already figured out Coach Blair’s jabs of motivation.  “Pratcher, you gotta think hunny, you gotta think.”  “You’re going to let a freshman take your spot.”  Pratcher knowing already all he wanted was her best.  Pratcher never took what happened in the game or practice personally.  She knew he was pushing her to be a better player. Much like her leadership style, Pratcher had quietly taken the GB Blueprint for running a team and guided the team to the 2013 SEC Tournament title.  I think she was able to prove Coach Blair wrong in that a point guard doesn’t always have to be vocal, emotional or flamboyant.  Pratcher did it her way, and she did it very well.

aw-jonesI spent all 4 years of Jordan Jones’ career at Texas A&M by her side. She went through every emotion, every challenge and every change Coach Blair was going to put in front of her.  Jordan reminded me so much of Sydney Colson with a splash of Amy Wright it was so hard at times to watch or listen to her go through practice or a game.  Jordan was by far one of the smartest point guards I have ever met.  If Jordan put her mind to something, it was going to be done and be done well.  On those off days, and we all have those off days, it was so hard to real Jordan in from the Coach Blair style of coaching.  He wanted you to be great, even on your off days.  And he was going to push you until he saw it.  On those days I felt somewhat helpless as I knew exactly what he was doing, but Jordan was so smart and so talented, she knew she could still get the job done even on her worst day.  “Jordan, play the game with a smile on your face.  Act like you enjoy it.”  This was a new Blairism for me, but I knew where he was coming from.  GB gave Jordan the keys to a Corvette and he so wanted her to enjoy the drive!  Coach Blair and I both knew Jordan’s potential, the toughest thing was unlocking it daily.  Jordan is an emotional leader.  She won tons of game in an Aggie uniform and in my opinion, is one of the best point guards to ever roll through the SEC and Texas A&M.

“It’s a speaking part hunny!”  I think Curtyce Knox hears this in her sleep at night.  For 3 years Coach Blair has been all over her to talk on the basketball court.  Pushing her to become a verbal leader.  While Tyce is still growing in this aspect, she has definitely marked herself a leader for this year’s team.  Curtyce is a 5th year senior.  Curtyce is a graduate of Texas A&M.  Curtyce has loving mother and family that adore the Aggies.  Curtyce is a mother to a beautiful baby girl, Haven.  Curtyce is now the point guard for the Texas A&M women’s basketball team.  You know that old saying, “there’s light at the end of the tunnel,”  I used to say this to Curtyce all the time.  Right now she is shining in that light.  And while her path to this point may not have been the norm, it was the right path for Curtyce.  Although she has not faced adversity in a game, she has seen how adversity has played out with Sydney Colson, Adrienne Pratcher and Jordan Jones.  She may not talk a lot, but this kid observes everything.  She knows the expectations and what it takes to be competitive in the SEC, for her and the team.  Tyce got her first “Atta baby” the second day of practice.  While Tyce doesn’t talk much, her smile said it all in that moment.

fullsizerenderThe Sorority is unique.  It’s an experience of a lifetime.  It’s an ongoing membership that will never die and carry on the legacy of great people and great basketball players, along with a pretty great coach, Gary Blair.