"Choosing to be positive and having a grateful attitude is going to determine how you're going to live your life."
-- Joel Osteen
The leaves are quickly changing and the breeze is becoming cooler every day, which can only mean one thing -- basketball season is right around the corner. Since the early signing period is approaching, I figured I would give you my insight into how I picked each of my respective schools.
Everyone has different reasons for picking the school they want to go to and I am here to tell you that it is not an easy decision to make. A decision this big comes with a lot of responsibility and everyone should take some deep thinking before selecting a school on impulse. There are many things to take into account when you pick the school where you potentially could be for the next four years. One of the first things you should consider is the fact that you -- and only you -- will be the one attending this college or university. It is hard to make a decision for ourselves sometimes when we have relied so heavily on parents, friends, and family to do it for us. That is why you have to sit down and really weigh out the options you like and don't like because, again, only you know what will make you happy. My dreams of playing college basketball started at a young age and it all began with the color blue.
When I was 12 years old and entered the seventh grade, I went to my first team camp at the University of North Carolina. As soon as I stepped onto that campus, I knew that I had fallen in love and that I could see myself being a student there. Chapel Hill is absolutely beautiful and, to this day, it is still my favorite campus that I have ever been to. There are trees everywhere and every building on campus is brick. It is really pleasing to the eye and, even more important, the people go above and beyond to make you feel at home. The first thing I wanted to look for in a program was the sense of "family" and I immediately got that from the people at UNC, many whom I'd known only a few days.
When my first team camp experience came to a close, I got a chance to meet coach Sylvia Hatchell and she said, "Young lady, what classification are you?" I looked at her in a puzzled way and said, "Huh?" As she could tell I was confused, she then rephrased the question and said, "What grade are you in?" I told her I was in seventh grade and I remember her eyes got a little bigger and she said, "Well, I will have to keep a close follow on you!" I will never forget that short conversation that we had and if you asked Coach Hatchell today, I don't even know if she would remember it happening. It made me extremely happy just knowing that I had gotten her attention enough to spark an interest. From that day forward, I worked every day to get better.
Building a close relationship with your potential coach and future teammates is something that I would have high on my priority list. If you can get along with the people that you will be seeing and interacting with every day, then you will be setting yourself up for a successful college experience. I built my relationship with everyone at UNC by going to camps and keeping in touch over the phone. My high-school team ended up going to that same team camp the next couple of years and, every year, coach Hatchell would come say a little more. I got to know the campus like the back of my hand and I loved the facilities, especially the Dean Dome and Carmichael Auditorium. The staff and players were so easy to talk to and you could tell they were genuinely interested in not only me as a basketball player, but me as Rebecca Gray.
So, when I turned 15, I went back down to the elite camp that UNC offered and spent a few days playing with and against some of the nation's top players. I had a great time while putting on a good showing and on the last day, Coach Hatchell asked if she could see my family and me. I was offered a full-scholarship to play basketball and I gave them my verbal that day in the cafeteria. My freshman year at UNC is one that I will never forget because I had such a great time in every aspect of life. The only thing that made it somewhat bittersweet was the fact that my family lived nine hours away and we had just added a baby niece to the family. It was extremely hard to leave something that had been going so well for me, but I decided to make a sacrifice and move closer to home.
My second school, the University of Kentucky, was my next choice because it was basically 10 minutes from where I was raised. My family and friends mean a great deal to me so I was looking for a school that would be easier for them to come see me on a more regular basis. UK is a lot different when compared to UNC and Union. It is a very large, spread-out campus, which involves quite a bit of walking, trust me. It was also interesting to come into a school that hadn't been known for its women's program and had a fairly young and new coaching staff. It was a decision that was made a lot faster than my first school but it made sense at the time. I saw it as a challenge and I was ready to embrace whatever obstacles came in my way. If you never take a risk and really put yourself out there and see what you're made of, how will you ever know what you can do and how far you can push yourself?
It was a rough start for me at UK as injuries and other health-related issues mounted, but it is all about conquering the obstacles and moving forward. I sat out my first year because of NCAA transfer rules. That was one of the hardest years of my career because I had to sit out and do nothing while I watched everyone else practice and play. You do not lose a year of eligibility but it is definitely a sacrifice you make when you change schools, so that is another thing to consider before making any significant changes. My second year at UK, I could finally play. We set all kinds of school records and made it pretty deep in the NCAA tournament. Still, at the conclusion of last year, I decided that I wanted to change the way I thought about the game.
Stress, time-management difficulties, and the normal ups and downs you have with college will never change. Those factors always will be prevalent and challenging to every player, but you can choose which situations you want to put yourself in and which ones you can control. Since I had already transferred and sat out one year, I knew that I did not want to do that again. The only way to transfer and be able to play immediately was to step down from Division I and find a school that would fit my style. As I mentioned in my last column, my boyfriend Josh already was a student at Union, an NAIA school where I could play right away. After a few visits with the coaches and a couple of open gym sessions with the team, I was ready to make a decision.
My decision was to attend my third and current school, Union College, because I had an opportunity to play two sports and be in a different environment than I had ever been around before. I love being able to enjoy every little thing I do and not have to stress out about school and sports. I started to make basketball a job at UK and I can tell you from personal experience, once you make it a job, you will soon lose your passion. Now, I have time to play, study, have fun and just enjoy the stage of my life that I am currently in. I wouldn't change it for anything. As I get older, I start to realize more and more the important things in life and how I can achieve those even at a smaller NAIA school. The people I interact with each day and the atmosphere I have placed myself in made me happier than I could have ever imagined. Happiness falls within the eye of the beholder and the changes I've made for my future and myself are ones that I will never regret because I see myself as a success every day.
Sometimes, being closer to home is a good thing if you are family oriented like I am, so it is important to really think about how far you want to be away from your family. For some people, the best thing you can do is travel to the other side of the country to play where you would be happy and able to mature on your own. Then there are other players that are looking for something close to home but far enough away to keep it interesting as well. It is a difficult process to sift through and decide which factors mean the most to you and sometimes it could take a few tries. Just because you might not be at the highest level doesn't mean you have anything to be ashamed of as long as you take advantage of the opportunities you are given. You just have to work hard wherever you are and accept the fact that sometimes things happen in a different order than you expected but everything always happens for a reason. If you are happy with where you are and what you're doing then nothing else matters as long as you are playing ball and working towards a degree.
Until next time, stay cool and keep ballin y'all!
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Rebecca Gray is an intern for ESPN HoopGurlz. She previously wrote a column for the website about her experiences as a freshman on basketball scholarship at the University of North Carolina. She transferred to and played at Kentucky and now plays basketball and golf at Union College. A 5-foot-10, sharp-shooting guard out of Georgetown, Ky., Gray was named Miss Basketball in the state of Kentucky after averaging 25.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.1 steals and 4.8 assists during her senior season at Scott County High School. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.