May 25, 2022


Since the announcement earlier this year of a new women’s basketball program coming to the international athletic academy, SPIRE accepted numerous applications for the role of Director and Head Coach to lead the way. One application stood out from the rest; former Stanford Cardinal and WNBA champion, Candice Wiggins. The four-time All-American has joined SPIRE to help build and lead the women’s basketball academy in Geneva. 

Wiggins is a well-recognized name in women’s basketball, boasting a decorated career on the court in both the college and professional ranks. A prominent scorer, Wiggins’ collegiate basketball experience at Stanford includes being ranked second in career points in school history and third in Pac-12 history. Alongside her impressive collegiate basketball career, she holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Stanford.

Wiggins went on to play in the WNBA for eight seasons, which included stints with the Tulsa Shock, New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks and the Minnesota Lynx. In 2008, she was named WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year and won a WNBA championship in 2011 with the Lynx.

She boasts international professional basketball experience as well, playing in Israel, Greece, Spain and Turkey. Wiggins has worked and coached in AAU and high school basketball since she retired from her professional basketball career.

What drew her to SPIRE was the opportunity to lead and create a new women’s basketball program that essentially revolutionizes an approach to both training and competition. Wiggins explains, “It is a position that allows me to serve a sport and a community that has given me so much on all levels, both domestically and internationally: high school, college and professionally.”

SPIRE’s Director of Basketball, Jeff Javorek, is looking forward to working with Wiggins. “Candice is a huge addition to the SPIRE family. She has a great vision and strategy to help launch and grow the SPIRE women’s basketball program. The success she has had in her high school, college and professional playing experience will help shape all of the young women that will come through our program.” Javorek adds, “We will be a top destination for young women who want to learn and develop from Candice. She is very passionate, intelligent and hard-working and is excited about giving back to the sport that has done so much for her.”

Wiggins sees big potential in SPIRE’s women’s basketball, saying, “I see the future of women’s basketball at SPIRE as a destination for women to become the most dynamic versions of themselves as student athletes, with the world class facilities and resources to enable injury prevention and mental health, in my opinion, the two biggest factors relating to player development. I see my program being home to a very healthy, competitive environment, with like-minded individuals who share a common passion for the beloved sport of basketball.”

The addition of Wiggins to the SPIRE coaching team is part of their commitment to placing more women in leadership roles within the academy. Along with recently hired Molly McColloch as Assistant Swim Coach and a soon-to-be-named Assistant Track & Field Coach, SPIRE continues to lead the way when it comes to having a diverse and inclusive leadership team. 

Wiggins will host the first women’s basketball camp at SPIRE will be on Thursday, June 23rd, and is open to girls from ages 9 to 17. The clinic will cover the fundamental skills and competition drills that will highlight the teaching and instruction that will be available full-time for those who join the Academy. Click here for more information on the camp.

October 18, 2021

Writing Helped Mikaela Brewer Find Her Voice - Now She's Giving Basketball Another Shot

Writing Helped Mikaela Brewer Find Her Voice - Now She's Giving Basketball Another Shot Friesen Pres

Trigger warning: This blog post discusses mental health, depression, and suicide. If it's the right time for you, we invite you to read and engage with this story.

    Team Canada and Division 1 NCAA basketball player. Stanford class of 2020 human biology graduate. Novelist. Mikaela Brewer is a multi-hyphenate whose bio reads like that of a superhero’s real life alter ego. Only Mikaela Brewer actually is a hero – though perhaps not for the reasons you might expect.

    In 2017, during her freshman year at Stanford, the depression that had dogged Mikaela since childhood spiraled out of control, nearly costing her her life, basketball career, and all that she had worked so hard to achieve.

    Today, Mikaela Brewer is a mental health advocate, using her writing abilities to bravely open a destigmatizing conversation about depression. Drawing directly from her personal experiences battling mental illness, she’s sharing stories of progress and hope aimed at helping those who might be struggling like she was in winter of 2017.

    The act of writing has been a pivotal element of Mikaela’s recovery, allowing her to find her voice and confidence at a time when both were at low. All her growth has culminated in the publication of The Sifting Project, her debut ‘neuroscience fiction’ novel about two brothers, whose Second World War-era research into memory and the afterlife falls into the wrong hands.

    We spoke with Mikaela on September 10th (World Suicide Prevention Day) to learn more about the many inspirations behind The Sifting Project, how writing helped her heal, and why she’s now planning a return to competitive basketball.

    Where did your debut science fiction novel, The Sifting Project, begin? It’s a really interesting story, actually! I've always loved writing and I wrote off and on throughout childhood. And I loved [writing] in high school, too. After basketball kind of took over my life and most of my time, I didn't write as much as I wanted to — until I got to university. I had an opportunity to minor in creative writing alongside my major, which was human biology. Two polar opposite [disciplines], but I knew that I loved writing and I was like, "You know what? Let's try and make this work."
    I was writing short stories (mostly for the minor) when I came across a class in my senior year that was novel writing intensive. I thought, "How am I going to balance this with basketball and everything else?" But I figured having the guidance of some incredible professors (and some structure too, with it being a class where the only project was to finish a novel), I just dove into it. I actually ended up writing the first draft of The Sifting Project my senior fall. The class ran from September to December and was structured around National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November, so my first draft was written in 30 days. I don't know if I ever actually had a moment where I set out to write a book before that class.
    How did you feel about your first NaNoWriMo experience? It was tough and a bit hectic, but it was fun. A lot of writing on airplanes on the way to basketball games. The first draft was right around 50,000 words — relatively short, but [the manuscript] ended up being longer after I wrote more drafts afterwards. I'd never heard of NaNo until taking that class, but I think it's such a cool, fun way to build a novel writing community worldwide.
    Did your major in human biology end up informing the science fiction backdrop for this book? Absolutely. What ultimately allowed me to shape the story was the fact that I loved both science and art equally. I was trying to figure out how they were connected, and how they could be connected in a story. I started thinking about this act of observation very similar — whether it's in the rigidity of science or the fluidity of art. It's kind of the same process [of observing the world], and that was kind of what ended up shaping the science fiction part of the story, the characters, and the whole idea of memory being passed on generationally. My passion and interest in human biology definitely shaped the story.
    Was there any one moment that specifically inspired The Sifting Project, aside from concepts and things that you were learning in school?  There was. There's kind of two sides to this — I'm going to give my mom full credit here, who kind of came up with the title one day. She was saying it would be really cool if we could sift through people's memories, or memories of the past. I was like, "Hmm, that's interesting." So I started thinking about that.

    The other side of the story, too, is for me personally, as somebody diagnosed with depression, one of the side effects that I sometimes experience is memory loss. I have this embedded fear of forgetting things and not solidifying memories and being able to return to them. So I really liked that idea of being able to go back and sift through memories that you didn't know you had, or memories from other people and other people that have influenced you. That's where the initial idea started to take shape. For some of the more tricky neuroscience-y parts, I definitely drew on biology for that.

    When you rediscovered writing in university, what was that experience like for you? What does writing mean to you now? That's a really good question. I think writing has allowed me to use my voice in a different way. One of the running jokes on my basketball team is that I whisper everything I say. I'm pretty quiet on the court and kind of one of those " lead by example" types — as best I can. I'm not very vocal. My confidence is able to come out a bit more in my writing. I've definitely felt that shift back and forth. During the more confident periods of my basketball career, I wrote less. And during the less confident periods of my basketball career, I wrote more. write through a lot of the things I experience — whether I publish them or not — and that just helps me figure things out. It also helps me determine what my voice is and what I want to advocate for and speak openly about. Writing is just the medium that fits me really well.
    You've been open and have published pieces on Medium about your mental health challenges, and are now a self-described advocate. Why is this cause so important to you? My own experiences with mental illness have definitely shaped that, specifically with how it impacted what I thought the rest of my life was going to look like.
    Going into university, I had this set plan. I was going to play basketball, and I was maybe going to play professionally, and had all of these goals and plans. It shocked me how much something like depression can just rock your plans. I had some really, really dark experiences and I was in the hospital for a suicide attempt. Reflecting on all of that and how I was able to get through it led me to a point where I thought, "I've got to try and talk about this more, in the event that other people really need to feel like they aren't alone."
    And there's a paradox there: you're not alone, but no two stories are the same, either. I really just wanted to share as much as I could with the writing ability that I have to try to reach people and help them see that they're not alone in those experiences. There's other people out there who are experiencing the same thing.

    We’re speaking today on World Suicide Prevention Day. What might you say to someone reading this who may be struggling? I would first say, first and foremost: you're not alone. Second: there's a lot of messaging related to suicide prevention and suicidality that says, "You're needed” and “The world is a better place with you in it." I think both of those statements are true and good to hear and they can mean a lot, for sure. It feels really good to be needed and loved and wanted. But I think there's a flip side of that too, where the world has to be a better place for the person struggling too. The struggling person has to be given what they need — regardless of how much that person is needed [by their loved ones].
    I would say to make sure that you're getting what you need from the world as much as it needs you, and figure out where those gaps are in your life. There's definitely people who love you who can help you figure that out, because you don't have to do it alone. It's hard work, but you don't have to do it alone.

    Here are a few links to some great resources:

    On Medium, you recently wrote that “Writing a fiction book allowed me to go places that a memoir can’t go.” Can you elaborate on that statement? How did your science fiction setting and characters allow you to explore other parts of your own self and psyche? It allowed me to bring out some of the things that I have experienced and think about, but in other people — which kind of builds that connectedness [to others]. 
    Suddenly I could create characters that had experienced similar things to myself — mostly internally, since the story's primarily set in the 1940s and 70s. I was able to really dig into that and feel that connection to other people via these fictional characters, and I think that's something that's really interesting and unique to fiction, versus simply telling your own story.
    In addition to being an author, you’ve played basketball at an incredibly high level for Stanford and Team Canada. Did your hooping career prepare you for this next chapter in any way? Discipline is the first thing that kind of comes to mind, and work ethic. Being an athlete allows you to go places physically that are extremely hard to go to, and I think that I built up confidence knowing that I could really, really challenge myself and that it would be okay. On the court, if you make a mistake, you’ve got to move on. You have to be kind of mentally tough in that way and not get hung up on misstepping. It's very much trusting the process and continuously growing, building, and learning.
    All of those transferable skills definitely float into writing a book. Especially writing the first draft — making sure that you just get it on paper.
    What are you most proud of regarding this book and the writing journey you’re on? My honesty, and how I've been able to see my confidence building back up. The past five years have been really, really tough, as I've battled through some very dark mental health moments. Feeling myself come into my voice and confidence again, and talking about some of those really hard things — yeah, I’m really proud of that.
    What’s next for Mikaela Brewer, bookwise and basketball-wise? I'm so grateful because lots of amazing things are happening. With writing, I would love to write a second book. I don't know when that would happen, but definitely in the plans at some point. Right now I'm primarily working on content creation with Time Out, which is a mental health app for athletes. I'm so excited about that and to be able to write some things for them.
    Basketball-wise, I am planning on competing again overseas starting in September 2022. I have a year to get my sorry self back in shape and start playing, and practicing, and training, which I'm about a month into now. I'm really excited to play and try this whole basketball thing again, with a new mindset and some learning and some growth.

    July 18, 2021

    Joslyn Tinkle joins Montana Lady Griz coaching staff

    Joslyn Tinkle joins Montana Lady Griz coaching staff 

    by Montana Sports

    The newest Lady Griz assistant, the one who completes first-year coach Brian Holsinger’s staff and hardly needs an introduction, checks all the boxes. 
    “She has all those things that I look for in people who can impact others, and ultimately this comes down to surrounding the team and this program with people who can give these young women the best experience of their lives, and I know she’ll do that,” said Holsinger.

    And then Joslyn Tinkle just keeps checking off more boxes. She played in three Final Fours during her Stanford career for Tara VanDerveer coached teams that went 137-10 before playing professionally in the WNBA, Hungary, Turkey and Australia.

    “She played for one of the best coaches in the history of our game and has played in high-level games. It’s hard to beat that kind of experience,” said Holsinger.

    And then there is the most obvious, the Montana connection. Tinkle grew up around the Lady Griz program and Grizzly athletics in general.

    Her mom, Lisa (McLeod) Tinkle, has a spot in the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame, recognition for her distinguished Lady Griz career. Her dad, Wayne, coached the Montana men’s basketball team for eight seasons, taking the Grizzlies to three NCAA tournaments.

    You may have seen him on national television a few months back, coaching his Oregon State team to within a few plays of the Final Four.

    While the sport may have scattered the Tinkles over the years, Missoula has always been the common bond for the five of them, the place that feels like home even when it hasn’t been.

    Now Joslyn Tinkle returns to a place that she makes sound like sacred ground.

    “I came on the plane (on Wednesday), and I was like a kid in a candy store,” said Tinkle, the 2008 and 2009 Gatorade Montana player of the year at Big Sky High School. “It’s still a little surreal because this place means so much to me. It’s a special, special place, and that’s a feeling that’s never left me. This program has always meant an incredible amount to me and Missoula has always held a big place in my heart. To be able to come back, I couldn’t be more excited.”

    She completes Holsinger’s staff that started with retaining Jordan Sullivan. Holsinger then added Nate Harris, now Tinkle, a trio of Montanans who love the state, who want to get the Lady Griz back to a place of prominence.

    “There is already a cohesiveness with the three assistants, and that’s really important to me,” said Holsinger. “They know each other really well and will work well together.

    “I’m excited to give Joslyn her first opportunity in coaching and a chance to learn and grow.”

    It’s a hire that will surprise many, mostly because they didn’t know Tinkle had the interest. After her playing days were over, she settled into a sales and marketing job in Portland.

    It was a career, but more than that it gave her proximity to watch her younger brother, Tres, finish out his own collegiate career at Oregon State. She’d missed a lot, of Elle’s days at Gonzaga, of Tres’s as a Beaver. She wanted to soak it all up before time stole it away.

    “I wanted to make it a priority after missing out on my siblings’ seasons while I was playing abroad,” she said. “I wanted to be present for that.”

    That love of family is what her dad has taken into his coaching career, of replicating that feeling within a team, of taking many and making them one. He’s done it so well and so successfully that Oregon State signed him to an extension in April that will keep him in Corvallis through the 2026-27 season.

    That same thing is in his oldest daughter’s blood, and she always knew it.

    “It’s something I’ve thought about, back to when I graduated. I love this sport and this game. There was this passion inside me, this fire, that this is what I want to do,” she says. “This is what I was meant to be doing.”

    But she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play professionally. And she didn’t want a coaching career getting in the way of enjoying her siblings’ successes.

    Finally, the timing was right, to get into coaching, to return to Montana.

    “I interviewed a ton of people and kept coming back to her for a lot of different reasons,” said Holsinger, who coached at Oregon State himself the last five seasons. “She’s dynamic, and her interpersonal skills and ability to connect with people are elite.

    “And she has a connection to this place and knows what this program is about. She made it clear that this is where she wanted to be.”

    She’s been around the game her entire life. It’s why she was born in Sweden, during her dad’s 10-year playing career in Europe after he’d wrapped up his time as a Grizzly student-athlete.

    She is a full-time coach for the first time and she admits there is going to be a big learning curve, but she’s been around the profession nearly as long as she’s been around the game, first in her own home growing up, then playing for VanDerveer, who led the Cardinal to the national championship in April.

    “I was really, really lucky to play for Tara. She was extremely smart and always well prepared. That’s something I’ll take on,” said Tinkle. “I’ve talked to her about coaching every year since I graduated. She’s been a great source of knowledge and advice for me. I’m lucky to have her in my life.”

    VanDerveer knows plenty about the Lady Griz program. She interviewed to be Montana’s head coach back in the spring of 1978, but ultimately the job went to a guy named Robin Selvig who did okay over the next 38 years.

    VanDerveer took her third Stanford team, the one that would win her first national championship two years later, to Missoula for the NCAA tournament in March 1988. The Cardinal escaped with a 74-72 overtime win in front of a crowd of 8,709.

    In March 1994, Montana and Stanford met up again, this time on the Cardinal’s home floor. Stanford won 66-62 in a second-round game on its way to the Elite Eight.

    “I’m really excited for Joslyn,” said VerDerveer this week. “She will be an outstanding addition to the Montana women’s basketball staff and to the Missoula community.

    “The Lady Griz have a tradition of excellence, and Joslyn has been part of championship teams and a championship culture, so this is a great fit.”

    The toughest sell may have been her dad. Wayne Tinkle has made a successful career out of coaching, but he also knows the challenges and the hidden tolls the profession requires be paid in full before it will give up its rewards.

    “As a dad, you don’t want to deter your kids from their dreams, but I wanted her to understand that a lot more goes into this than people think,” he said. “But then I reminded myself that she’s well-traveled, very experienced, so she knows all this. Then it turned to encouragement. The thing that sold me was when she said she wanted to make a difference in these young women’s lives. When she said that, it made total sense. She’s going to be awesome.

    “I’m very excited for her and excited for my alma mater and the Lady Griz program. We’re excited for Brian and his entire staff. It’s a pretty neat deal for our family.”

    When Holsinger was hired in April, he quickly locked up Sullivan as the first member of his staff. He added Harris soon thereafter.

    He said the third hire would take a while. He wanted to make sure it was just the right fit, with the staff, with the Lady Griz program, with Missoula, with Montana.

    It was worth the wait.

    “I couldn’t be happier to be back home and joining what they have here. Brian is the perfect fit for Montana, and I was excited about the staff he already had in place,” Tinkle said. “This is what I want to do. This is what I was meant to be doing.

    “Basketball has taken me to a lot of incredible places and given me some incredible opportunities. I want to share all that with these young women and make this the most incredible experience for them.”

      May 16, 2021

      Up and Running with Morgan Clyburn

      Up & Running with Morgan Clyburn, Managing Director, Highland Circle Innovations  from Medical Alley

      Morgan Clyburn is an experienced med-tech executive with a background in General Management, M&A, Business Development, R&D, Clinical and Sales. Morgan started her career at Autonomic Technologies Inc., a venture backed neuromodulation start-up, with roles in product development, clinical engineering and sales. She then worked for Medtronic in Corporate Development, focused on supporting mergers and acquisitions, investments, and divestitures. Most recently she has been the Managing Director of Highland Circle Innovations, a medical device incubator focused on developing and commercializing Class II Medical Devices. She holds a BS in Biomechanical Engineering from Stanford and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. 

      Give us Highland Circle Innovations’ elevator pitch.

      Highland Circle Innovations is a facilitator of new ideas and companies from concept to commercialization. In addition, the firm is a holding company of medical device talent that deploys a tiger team of experts in their respective spaces across a handful of companies with the goal of identifying and launching technology that will improve the lives of patients and providers.

      As a leader, how has your role changed during COVID-19?

      Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, our team was already a semi-remote team across the US, thus we already had strong practices for communication and ability to manage through ambiguity. Where I have really had to shift was in the interactions with suppliers and vendors. Previously, it was easy to go on-site to onboard and train our teams (i.e. manufacturing line), but in the new world, I have had to get much tighter in my communications and plan for longer lead times.

      How have you pivoted your company to address the needs that have risen since the onset of COVID-19?

      The main thing that we have had to focus on is the fundraising strategy for our portfolio companies. We’ve had to bootstrap more because there was a lot of uncertainty and unexpected delays, and we felt that in our early conversations with angel investors as well.

      What are the big milestones to come in the next few years for Highland Circle Innovations?

      This year, two portfolio companies will be launching new products—Agitated Solutions will be launching its first technology, and Visura Technologies will be launching its 2nd generation product. I am also looking forward to continued expansion of our team.

      How do you balance leading a startup with your everyday life?

      The beauty of running a startup is that you have a lot of flexibility in how you do things. I try to build as much structure as possible, but you always have to be flexible—and I really like that.

      I am also incredibly fortunate to have such an amazing support system at home. My fiancé, Matt, understands and embraces the craziness that comes from me running a startup and is really flexible and willing to pick up the slack when I have to flex my time.

      What’s one thing people get wrong about startup life?

      I think one misconception I had was the source of stress. I always thought that stress mainly came from negative situations, where now I am seeing positive stress more often — stress from fast growth and from working on revolutionary technologies. The stress comes from when you want to get everything done in the fastest and best route possible so that you can provide these solutions to patients and providers as quickly possible. It is an incredible feeling.

      What is the best advice you have received in your career? What is the worst?

      The best advice that I received is to strive to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. You don’t want “yes-men or women,” but rather people that push you and that you can learn from, and that is the exact philosophy I employ when building out my team. I never want to be the smartest person in the room. The worst advice I ever received was that experience is the main decider of advancement — you need to just put your head down and work more and eventually you will advance. If I had taken that advice, I would not have seen the gap that existed in the market for a firm like HCI, and I would not have taken the leap to build it.

      What is one personal goal for the upcoming year?

      A personal goal of mine this year is to finally get married! COVID-19 forced us to reschedule our wedding, as we would have been unable to celebrate with family and friends.

      How do you relax / decompress?

      I have played basketball my whole life, and now that I’m older I greatly enjoy coaching basketball. Currently I volunteer with the Minnehaha Academy varsity girls basketball team and am coaching a 6th grade girls AAU team. I also enjoy taking boxing classes with my fiancé, and spending time with our two dogs, Todd and Kylo.

      What do you enjoy most about the Medical Alley community?

      Medical Alley has an incredible community of people that believe that “together, all boats rise.” They recognize that this industry is tough enough, so they provide the selfless support and connections. It is a great community to be a part of — one that embodies this philosophy.

        February 24, 2021

        How One Female Basketball Star, Chiney Ogwumike, Pivoted Into A Lucrative Business Career  Jennifer Palumbo, Forbes

        Few WNBA athletes can make seven figures, but they typically play year-round and supplement their WNBA salary with overseas salary.

        Chinenye "Chiney" Ogwumike, a Nigerian-American professional women's basketball player, came into the WNBA to become an All-Star, which she has accomplished twice. In between, she had two serious injuries in her first two seasons overseas and had to change her game plan.

        That was a blessing in disguise for the current forward for the Los Angeles Sparks. Overcoming adversity on the court was accomplished in parallel with pursuing and creating unique opportunities with her business that has expanded far beyond playing the game.

        Fast forward almost seven years from her being the top pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft, and Chiney has built a diversified business across broadcast, WNBA, endorsements, speaking engagements and social advocacy. Her career is quickly turning into an empire, strategically built to empower those that come after her. 

        In July 2020, ESPN announced they were adding Ogwumike as co-host of the Chiney and Golic Jrshow, with Mike Golic Jr. Ogwumike is the first Black woman and first WNBA player to co-host a national daily ESPN Radio show.

        "Once I was in the door, I loved it," she shared. "It was the closest thing to playing a game. Millions of people are watching. You have to be prepared, and most importantly, you have to be yourself."

        While many know that Ogwumike is a professionally trained basketball player, few are aware that she is also Stanford educated graduate mentored by Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. This prepared her to be an NBA analyst for ESPN and CBA negotiations as a vice-president in the WNBPA.

        She is also expanding her scope by talking about all sports (not just basketball) on various platforms. When she made the tough decision to opt-out of the 2020 WNBA season, she used her ingenuity to put together a plan of action regarding the future of her career.

        "I approached a contact at ESPN Films," Ogwumike said. "And after some discussion, I'm proud to be the executive producer of an upcoming ESPN Films documentary on the 2020 WNBA season."

        The documentary will explore social justice and cover how some in the WNBA took a stand against Atlanta Dream co-owner and Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was critical of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Loeffler owns 49% of the team. Her stance on BLM and her support of Donald Trump prompted players to campaign against their owner openly. Loeffler went on to lose to Rev. Raphael Warnock.

        Proving you can have transversal skills, Ogwumike shared that certain lessons from playing basketball can be applied to business. "Shoot your shot and keep shooting! Be prepared and take calculated risks," she stated. "This is especially true the first time I was officially was co-hosting His & Hers and First Take. I literally shot my shot without any real experience. I controlled what I could control and prepped as much as possible. And it went awesome!"

        Paving A New Path and Paying it Forward

        In 2020, a record 37 women were leading Fortune 500 firms, increasing from last year's record high of 33. Of these women, just three are women of color, and none are Black or Latina. Of C-suite leaders today, 21% are women, and only 1% are Black women.

        Considering this data, I asked what it was like to break new ground with ESPN and change perceptions of women of color in leadership roles. "I was grateful to be given a mic, knowing how much representation matters to young girls, especially Black girls, who dream of doing the same,” Ogwumike answered. “I frequently say, 'You cannot see what you cannot be;' as I continue to attain success and stand in positions that a black woman has not often filled, I know I'm changing the perception for future generations. But at the same time, it was a huge reminder of how much work we still have to do."

        Adding to the problem is, according to U.S. government data, that the country lost 140,000 jobs last month. Per an analysis by the National Women's Law Center, all of them belonged to women. I asked what advice Ogwumike would have for women looking to change their careers, similar to how she changed hers.

        "We have to create our opportunities for each other because we cannot expect that others will," Ogwumike said. "We have to be our own heroes. We also have to think about hiring differently and be more inclusive. My own team includes diversity from my Black woman business manager, Black woman brand strategist, first-generation Mexican-American assistant, Nigerian American makeup artist, and black hairstylist."

        Ogwumike also makes sure she finds ways to give back. "In every endorsement contract I sign, I make sure a social advocacy or other give-back components,” she said. “It’s also not just about giving money, but more so about showing up and doing work on the ground.”

        In 2014, she launched a fundraising competition open to participation by girls' middle and high school basketball teams across the country. The competition raised money for UNICEF programs focusing on girls' education and empowerment, such as the Girls' Education Project, which aims to give 1 million girls in Nigeria access to quality learning, provide scholarships for female teachers and establish safe spaces for girls. And in 2020, she took a trip with her dad, Peter Ogwumike, to Lagos, Nigeria, to help give athletic apparel and basketballs to local schools, working with Adidas and other partners to help facilitate the donated goods. 

        "My goal is to open up doors for others that look like me to pursue in the future," Ogwumike added. "And create direct opportunities for those who look like me."

        As we concluded our conversation, Ogwumike shared some final insight. "I have had to play the long game," she said. "Knowing that we have different challenges in showing our value in a male-dominated industry, I chose 'opportunity' over 'compensation' to get in the door. Crush the job and build more significant relationships and authentic brand partnerships. And now, with more teammates than ever before, I am excited for the future and our collective mission to empower each other now—no more waiting!"

          January 22, 2021

          Vanessa Nygard (1998) - Insights and Perspectives on Coaching

          USA Basketball spoke to Vanessa Nygaard to gain her insight and perspective on coaching . 
          Dec 2020

          Currently entering her ninth season at Windward (2012-13 to present), Nygaard has led Windward to a striking 210-40 record during her time there.

          As you embark on a season over maybe the first month or so, what is the focus during that time?
          So, there are regular years, but not this year.

          This year is really unique. Our season actually has been moved to start in March. So, our practices will start in January or February, and I think there are some things to be addressed, some trauma that everyone has gone through over the break. I think that is going to be a really important thing. To get into the season and address that.

          In a regular year, I think what we would look to accomplish at the start of the season as a coaching staff would be first to build trust. There will be new players, and there will be returning players. And so, get them to understand where we’re coming from and start to really understand them, and to set a tone of: we’re together on a journey. Here's where we're going, and we need you. This is how we get there, and this is what I need you to do. Being very clear with them and putting in that time and investment. That means having individual conversations early in the year with the players to build that trust. The second thing I think would be to set some standards for the non-negotiables in our program, which is things that every coach in America knows – show up with a great attitude, have a great effort, be a great teammate. If you can't do those things, you have to go home. And occasionally, a kid does sit out of practice or is sent to the locker room because they can't do one of those. And you just have to do that once or twice, and I think that that sends that message. That's important early on. And then I think, especially as a youth coach and a high school coach, keeping it fun and interesting, because I want them to get a love of the game. I want them to want to come to practice, and I want them to love basketball. As a high school coach, you can really build that passion. You have to think about how you can make it fun every day and how you can keep it interesting. You can't just do the same drills. It should be lots of playing. They all play basketball, because they want to play.

          You mentioned in this year, you will need to address some of the trauma from this past year or so. How will you begin to try and do that?
          I'm fortunate to work at a school where they continue to educate us about these traumas and things, and we talk about trauma-informed coaching and trying to help kids deal with it, and the coaches as well. If you haven't dealt with things, it's hard to help other people around you. But giving them space to talk about it and acknowledging that it's there, and not pretending like it's not there. ‘Oh, wow, this is really hard. How did that affect you?’ And giving them a chance to say, ‘Hey, if they want to do something together, what can we do together to address this?’ So, it's really great to be working at a school, because we do have counselors who are constantly giving us new information.

          What's one of the most important characteristics you work to develop in your athletes?
          You hope that they learn a lot of things that are going to help them in life. But, I would say number one for us is just toughness. I think sometimes people get caught up in being competitive, but I really want the players to learn to be tough, both physically and mentally. And to us, I think it means being resilient and persistent through whatever adversity and challenges come their way. Those are controllable in a game of basketball, right? You know, you have the turnovers, things like that, but a lot of things happen in life that are hard to control, and so having that toughness to stay optimistic through great challenge. And what a great opportunity to work on that right now. We get to work on that every single day we wake up during the pandemic. So really, we want to cultivate toughness. It goes into every single thing that is important for our program.

          What are some factors in terms of developing relationships with your athletes?
          It's trust, trust, trust, trust, right? You have to establish that with everyone in your life, especially your players, and I think I have to earn that and that's with consistency every single day. I have to come with the things that I ask of them. I have to be consistently positive, and I have to be clear about expectations and clear about as a team holding everybody accountable. I can't let one kid slide, because they're talented or something like that. I have to make sure that those things are consistent. And then, we really emphasize just communicating. The more that we communicate, the more that we talk, the better we'll understand. So, the longer I've been a head coach, the more meetings I have with the players. And it can be exhausting as a coach, but we need it. Before the season I meet with the players and their parents, and I meet individually with the players before the season. I meet with the players like three different times for a sit-down meeting during the season. The more that we talk, and they can understand what we need from them, and they can express their frustrations or their challenges. And also, I think it's important to let them express who on the team needs support, to help us with the team. So, it's a constant conversation. The other thing I have developed over time is just real empathy for them as young people and the challenges they have, and then just curiosity. I used to be mad if a kid was late. And now, I'm like, I wonder why that kid was late? I think it's more of an approach. So just having real curiosity about how I can help them. I keep that in the front of my mind. That helps me to understand them better and their challenges.

          In your coaching career, is there a most important lesson that has really hit home for you?
          I was a player, and I love basketball. I love going to basketball practice. And so I thought, what better job than going to basketball practice? I want to win, like everyone else, and so I thought I'd be a coach. I thought my job would be coaching basketball, and I think what I've learned is that my real job is not coaching basketball. My real job is helping people, and solving problems and leading with intention. I have to set a tone. I try to keep those ideas in my head – that my real job is to help people, and my real job is to work on problems, because everyday problems come. I get to solve them. I don't have to solve them. I get to solve them, and that I have to lead, and I have to set that tone constantly. And yeah, that can be exhausting, but that's why you're a coach. I learned that those things are more important than the basketball things. I say to my players all the time, ‘if you want to improve the team, improve yourself,’ and that applies to coaches, too. If you want a better team, you got to be a better coach. You have to just constantly be bought into the idea of growth. I have to keep getting better. Oh, and you need to rebound. If you don't rebound, you'll never win.



            October 20, 2020

            Milena Flores - How Basketball Taught me to Deal With Failure

            Milena Flores (2000)- How Basketball Taught me to Deal With Failure

            Milena Flores was shy growing up, so her parents enrolled her into the first sport available that was basketball, hoping that playing in a team sport would help her overcome being shy. That nudge from her parents grew into a love and passion for basketball that led Milena to Stanford University and the recognition of being an All Conference Pac-10 player in her junior and senior seasons. She continued her basketball career after graduating playing professionally for two seasons in the WNBA and then transitioning to playing in Europe.

            This experience presented a number of challenges and opportunities for Milena to succeed and fail. A commitment to a daily routine and striving for continual improvement in these high-pressure environments helped her develop resiliency and a mindset for success.

            As Milena began to wind down her professional career, the opportunity to enter coaching emerged as a way to continue in the sport she loved and continued her on a path to learn about leadership. Just being a great player did not guarantee you would be a great coach.

            Milena’s determination as a player helped her develop the leadership concepts that lead to a very successful college coaching career where she helped guide Princeton to six Ivy League Titles and 7 NCAA Tournament appearances.

            The lessons learned in coaching are transferrable to business today as being a great sales person does not mean you will be a great sales manager. Milena talks about the insights into being an effective leader that she learned through basketball and how these same principals can be applied to inspire high performance.

            As the first person in her family to go to college Milena is passionate about teaching young people how to become resilient and fulfill their dreams. Today, Milena focuses her efforts on counseling students how achieve success academically and chart a path to fulfill the goal of going to college.

            Watch this inspirational interview with Milena Flores on how sports and coaching successes and failures provided life lessons to become resilient.

            July 20, 2020

            Kristen Newlin Vatansever shares the balance of motherhood and pro basketball overseas

            by Jenn Hatfield, High Post Hoops

            Last October, four-time WNBA All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith publicly criticized her team, the Dallas Wings, for what she called “limited resources to help me be successful mentally/physically” during her pregnancy and after her son was born in April 2019.
            “Having no support from your own organization is unfortunate,” she tweeted. “… I played the ENTIRE season pregnant [in 2018]! All star, and led league (top 3-5) in [minutes per game]….didn’t tell a soul.”
            The Wings disputed Diggins-Smith’s allegations, noting that they had paid her full salary and reserved a roster spot for her in 2019 even though the league’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) at the time did not require either. (The league recently announced a new CBA that requires teams to pay players their full salary while they are on pregnancy leave.)
            Halfway around the world, Kristen Newlin Vatansever could relate to Diggins-Smith’s sentiments. “I can certainly understand that,” she told High Post Hoops from Turkey, where she is currently playing. “… [Teams] say they care about the player, but if a player can’t produce on the court, their attitudes change very quickly. … It’s unfortunate because [pregnancy can be] the happiest moment in a player’s life, but we don’t get that reciprocation from what’s supposed to be our family in our teammates and coaches and [general managers].”
            Newlin Vatansever, 34, has played in Turkey since she graduated from Stanford in 2008, including on the Turkish national team for several years as a naturalized citizen. She met and married her husband, Chicago Sky assistant coach Emre Vatansever, while she was playing and he was coaching in Turkey. In November 2018, she gave birth to twins, and thirteen months later, she returned to the court to play for Elazig Il Ozel Idare in the Turkish Women’s Basketball Super League (KBSL).
            Like many couples in professional sports, Newlin Vatansever and her husband had debated when would be the best time to have children, taking into account her basketball career and their schedules, which send the family to Turkey in the winters and Chicago in the summers. She wanted to play professionally for a few more years, and the decision came down to having kids relatively quickly or waiting until retirement. Newlin Vatansever explained her thinking at the time: “Now’s the time where I can try to have a kid and still feel like I’m young enough to come back and play a few more years. If I waited, even a year or two, I would probably feel like I was too old to try to come back.” The couple decided to try to get pregnant at the end of her season in the spring of 2018, and if it did not work out, she would play another season starting in the fall.
            It did work out—“Times two!” Newlin Vatansever said—but Newlin Vatansever had few models for how her career would be affected once she got pregnant. “I know very few teammates [who had children during their playing careers],” she said. “I honestly can think of two at the moment. And one of them was [pregnant] before they were my teammate.” However, those players’ comebacks gave Newlin Vatansever hope that she could follow their paths. “They came back and they were very good still,” she said, “and they were able to have the family and still play and still kind of have it all. So I did have a few examples of that and that’s kind of what we were hoping for.”
            Newlin Vatansever’s pregnancy differed sharply from Diggins-Smith’s in that Newlin Vatansever was a free agent at the time. She had finished a one-year contract with Botaş in April 2018 and did not sign a contract for the 2018-19 season after she became pregnant. In the KBSL, there are no maternity leave policies in players’ contracts; pregnant players are typically cut from their teams (and not paid for any remaining games) when they are too far along to continue playing. “Teams started to put [a severance clause] in [my contract] once I got married,” Newlin Vatansever said. “… Before I was married, there was nothing in there about pregnancy.” She added that if she had gotten pregnant before there was relevant language in her contract, her agent and her team would likely have negotiated the same separation from the team.
            In Newlin Vatansever’s experience, most European teams operate similarly to KBSL teams, and very few players have children during their playing careers in Europe. In her estimation, teams’ views on pregnancy differ from how they regard a player who is similarly unable to play due to injury: “They feel like [injury is] unavoidable, but they feel like [a pregnant] player chose to put themselves in this situation where they’re taken off the court.” One of Newlin Vatansever’s teammates got pregnant a few years ago, and she recalled that when the coach told the players the news, “he just said it as a matter of fact. He didn’t smile and say congratulations; he just said, ‘This player’s leaving.’”
            By her own admission, Newlin Vatansever’s pregnancy and comeback were more difficult than she had expected. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, without a doubt,” she said. Having twins made her pregnancy more high-risk than a single birth, and she said that she was limited to “floating in a pool” for the last few months and lost a lot of strength. The delivery was also difficult enough that it took several months for her to recover. After she began training again, “I was so sleep deprived and exhausted … [that] I had to adjust to a new way of training, which was training without energy,” she explained. “… It was definitely notwhat I envisioned [for] me trying to get back … it took a while longer than I wanted for me to get in shape enough to play.”
            The process of finding another Turkish team to play for was also more difficult than she had anticipated, despite her track record of performance in Turkey and the added value she has as a Turkish citizen in a league that limits the number of Americans per team. Many teams were surprised that Newlin Vatansever wanted to play again after having children, and they viewed signing her as a risk. “For some reason, they just weren’t convinced that someone can come back from a twin pregnancy and be able to contribute the way I used to,” she said. Turkey’s economic crisis, which devalued the local currency relative to the U.S. dollar and the euro, also shrunk teams’ budgets—and risk tolerance—significantly because many players are paid in dollars or euros. Vatansever spoke to several coaches in the league on his wife’s behalf, and the couple sent teams videos of her workouts and data on her weight to demonstrate that she was in shape. “Finally we landed on a team that … we convinced enough,” Newlin Vatansever said. “… We feel fortunate that we were able to get [a contract], but we also feel that I was deserving of it because I am back [to] where I was pre-pregnancy.”
            Newlin Vatansever has taken a pay cut this season, which she ascribed partly to the financial crisis and partly to her pregnancy. “Pretty much every player” in the league has taken a small pay cut, she said, but even without the crisis, she believed she would have had to take a pay cut because of the perceived risk of signing her. In 2017, then-33-year-old Mistie Bass made similar comments to ESPN about the difficulty of convincing overseas teams to sign her.
            After all the work Newlin Vatansever and her husband put in to get back in shape and find a team, they soaked up her return to competition. “It was kind of emotional just because my husband and I are the only ones that knew exactly what I had to come back from,” she explained. “… No matter what happens from here on out, the fact that I could get back in shape enough to play again was just kind of spectacular for both of us.” She is still learning how to balance motherhood and a professional basketball career, trading naps between practices for activities with her twins, but she told High Post Hoops that continuing her career “with my kids by my side … [is] just an awesome feeling.”
            Newlin Vatansever believes that pregnancy is not talked about enough in women’s sports and was eager to be interviewed for this story. “Even when Serena Williams, the best athlete in the world, [was pregnant,] it was just still kind of [a] taboo subject almost,” she pointed out. She added that, with some athletes continuing to play into their 40s, it is not always possible for female athletes to wait until retirement to start a family.
            The WNBA’s new CBA makes progress on this front, providing pregnancy and childcare benefits as well as family planning benefits such as adoption, surrogacy, and fertility/infertility treatments. Specifically, it guarantees a pregnant player who is under contract with a WNBA team “one hundred percent (100%) of [her] Base Salary … for the shorter of: (i) the duration of her inability to perform services as a result of her pregnancy; or (ii) the remaining term of her Standard Player Contract.” A player whose contract ends or is terminated during pregnancy will “continue to receive the medical benefits provided for … until the later of the end of the Season in which such Contract was terminated or three months after the birth of her child.”
            Although these provisions do not directly affect Newlin Vatansever, she called them “a crucial step forward” for the WNBA. “The world’s best league should reflect that in pay and treatment,” she said, and the maternity leave and childcare provisions put the WNBA “at the forefront of providing paid leave and support to its players and their families.” She added, “I think the extra stipend to cover egg freezing, surrogacy, and adoption is commendable. This small part in the CBA is a long time coming and should greatly benefit players and their families.”
            Hopefully, other women’s sports leagues domestically and internationally will follow the WNBA’s lead, allowing women like Newlin Vatansever who decide to have children during their playing careers to have job security, benefits, and support from their teams. Newlin Vatansever’s efforts to return to play are laudable, but the lengths she had to go to convince teams that she—an established player in Turkey at the time—was able to perform indicate that there is significant room for improvement.