BN360 Spotlight Blog: Who are you when the last whistle blows?

By Kendra Brim | BN360 Spotlight Professional, June 2019

“Mental toughness is when you can find fuel in an empty tank” (Unknown)

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), more than 400,000 students compete in high school women’s basketball. Of those students, only 1.2% receive Division I scholarships to play collegiate basketball. Needless to say, the likelihood of a high school girls basketball player receiving a Division I scholarship athlete is very slim.

I am proud to say that I am a former Division I Basketball Athlete.

I started playing basketball at the young age of six. I remember sitting on the bleachers in the after-school program at a local community center. While the girls were left to paint, color and draw, my 5’3″ frame would sneak into the gym with the boys, pick up a basketball, and just play. I did not know any of the rules to the game, but I saw how the boys had so much fun. I begged my dad to let me play basketball—but I was “just a girl.” Now, at the time I was a dancer (tap, jazz, and ballet), and I also took piano lessons at one of the most prestigious schools in Western New York. I enjoyed both, but there was something about basketball that I couldn’t let go of.

After picking up a basketball from time to time at the gym, I finally asked my dad to teach me how to play. He said, “Well, I don’t know. Basketball is more mental than physical, and I don’t know if you are ready for it.” I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I just shrugged my shoulders and said “OK, I’m ready!” Time had progressed, but by the time I was 12, I was an 8th grader (I skipped a grade; shhh…) standing at an even 6 feet tall. I told my dad I was seriously ready to play basketball and he signed me up for an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) local team, as well as various camps in the area.

I remember during one AAU tournament, I was pulled over to the side by one parent who told me, “You will never play D1, D2, or D3. Stop wasting your time and my daughter’s time.” Retrospectively, I was 6’0″, goofy, and had extreme lack of coordination. Nevertheless, those words fueled me for the rest of my basketball career—and my life.

I continued playing basketball in high school at Nardin Academy and received a Division I scholarship playing basketball at Colgate University upon graduation. As a D1 athlete, no one can prepare you for what is ahead. Pre-season and post-season consisted of 5 a.m. workouts, 8 a.m. individual workouts, classes throughout the day, 4 p.m. lifting sessions, and team pickup. Countless hours on the road during the season and taking class tests on the road were also added to the mix.

After all, student comes first in student athlete, right? When things got tough, the words of my father resounded in my mind: “Mental toughness will get you through!”

My college lifestyle prepared me for the real world: teamwork, commitment, rejection, hard work, communication, respect, perseverance, and time management.

When the last whistle blows and the lights in the gym go dim, what’s next? For most, a professional basketball career is not an option. I had to reinvent myself. After years of searching and understanding that I was no longer “Kendra the Basketball Player,” it was time for me to create a new path for myself.

Most may think things in life come easy for me. They couldn’t be any more mistaken. I’ve encountered multiple disappointments. But my parents and brothers were hard workers and they—along with the game of basketball—taught me about perseverance and mental toughness. These are the ones who get me through it:

  • My dad is a man with one of the hardest work ethics I know, hailing from Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights movement.
  • My mom succeeded in pharmacy school while a single mother.
  • My older brother served our country in the Air Force.
  • My younger brother’s determination and work ethic fuels me to this day.

And an orange round ball and hard wood floors that taught me to push back and never give up. All of this has shaped me!

I describe myself as a community mover and shaker who loves to be an integral part of the Western New York community. By day, I’m a Project Manager at BlueCross BlueShield, a company that believes in social responsibility. By night, my time is dedicated to multiple organizations that I love being associated with: President of the Buffalo Urban League Young Professionals; Vice President of Operations for the National Black MBA Association; William-Emslie YMCA Board Member; Teach for America Executive Advisory Board Member; and other countless organizations dedicated to the betterment of the Buffalo-Niagara region.

In addition to all of that, I am a friend, a daughter, a granddaughter, a traveler, a fun-filled person who loves to laugh and joke around, and a dog mom to my little Melo. Without my basketball experiences, the commitment that it took throughout the years, and the mental toughness that it provided me, I would not be the person I am today.

Life is filled with bumps in the road. Although I may have deviated from the plan that I set forth for myself years ago, I am proud to have had experiences that constantly re-energize me, and faith that forever propels me forward.

Kendra Brim is the BN360 Spotlight Professional for June 2019. BN360 is the young professional engagement and development program of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.