Who's Got Next? Stephanie Ready Wants To Help Pave The Way

Throughout 2015, women have dominated sports headlines. Ronda Rousey rules the UFC; Serena Williams is tennis; and Becky Hammon (San Antonio Spurs) and Jen Welter (Arizona Cardinals) are changing the status quo on NBA and NFL sidelines.

This fall, Stephanie Ready will use her voice to break down another barrier as the NBA's first full-time female game analyst. Ready will join Eric Collins and Dell Curry on Fox Sports Southeast's coverage of the Charlotte Hornets. While this is a huge step forward for women in sports, Ready is not concerned with her status as the first; she is more focused on who will be next.

"I feel a responsibility to the next generation to show them that anything is possible," said Ready, a mother of two. "When I was growing up, I didn't see a lot of women on TV, period. I'm not just talking about sports. I mean there were no female news anchors; it was always men sitting behind the desk but especially in sports."

Long before she had the chance to teach the next generation how to pursue its dreams, Ready was a student learning the ins and outs of basketball. Whether it was watching her dad and brother play pickup at local parks or earning a scholarship to play hoops at Coppin State University, Ready developed skills that she would apply as the third woman ever to coach Division I men's college basketball. After one season as an assistant coach at her alma mater, Ready continued making history in the men's game: In 2001, she became the first woman to coach a men's professional sports team when she joined the Greenville Groove of the NBA Development League as an assistant coach.

Ready plays down the historical impact, saying the move was the natural progression of her career.

"I just didn't think it was that big a deal because to me, it was the way my career path was going," the former coach said. "I'm not saying I was naive to the whole gender issue; I was just astonished, really, at the coverage."

After two seasons coaching the Greenville Groove, the team folded. Receiving the news in late August meant there were no coaching vacancies. Ready needed to figure out how to stay close to the sport she loved and earn a paycheck. She traded in her whistle for a microphone.

"Michael Wilbon, who's a really good friend of mine, told me to send my reel to ESPN's coordinating producer for men's college basketball," Ready said. "But of course back then, no women were really doing men's games; but I didn't think anything of it because that's where my background was, so why not?"

Ready was eventually flown in to audition for women's college basketball and earned a few sideline reporting assignments with ESPN. In the meantime, Ready had another brief stint coaching, with the WNBA's Washington Mystics. Then her tape and résumé landed in the hands of an executive with the Charlotte Bobcats, and her career path headed in a more permanent direction.

Once Ready joined the Bobcats' (now Hornets) broadcast team, she began to receive opportunities on a larger scale. She served as a sideline reporter with ESPN during the women's NCAA tournament and did sideline reporting for TNT during the NBA playoffs.

And knowing basketball-savvy fans appreciate her insights remains rewarding.

"Due to my coaching background, I've always felt comfortable with my knowledge of the game," Ready said. "I never felt like I had to prove that to anybody. There were always coaches and executives that would stop me and say, 'Hey, I heard you calling the game and you were great!'

"To me, that was the most important thing, because these basketball minds in the NBA appreciated my knowledge and what I brought to the table."

Entering her 12th season with the Hornets, Ready recognizes the progress made since she was a kid pursuing a career in sports. Along with the likes of Ready, Williams and Rousey, there have been various individuals to blaze a trail for the next generation. But Ready wants more for society as a whole.

"They see real-life examples of how race doesn't matter, how your religious beliefs don't matter, how your gender -- none of that stuff matters," Ready said. "I would love to see a day when we're all finished saying 'the first' for everything as it relates to race, gender and religious beliefs."

Kevin Cottrell Jr. is an NBA freelance writer, proud CAU Panther and Chicago native. Follow him on Twitter @SportsVentz.

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