Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Circle Makers

I've been home for the past two weeks. Sitting on the couch.

I got really sick. So my mom's been doing what she does best: being a mom. From vaccines and flu shots to acne appointments and chest x-rays, I feel like I'm 12 again.

Especially when dad says I must walk the dog before I can eat my late night Nutter Butters.

I've had a lot of time reflecting on who I am and who got me here.


My mom’s a big reader and Bible study fan. In every state we’ve ever lived, she’s always made it a priority to sink her claws into a group of women and bring them on the bandwagon too.

Yesterday, on one of my long couch-sitting sessions, I stumbled upon her stack of journals, workbooks, and Bibles.

On the top of the pile was Draw the Circle by Mark Batterson.

My mom gave me this book right after I transferred from Oklahoma.

She gave me the book and a journal, and encouraged me to write.

I wrote every night in that journal, until I left it in the seat-back of a Southwest Airlines airplane on my way to Los Angeles, California.

That's when I started blogging.

After skimming through the first few pages of Draw the Circle, memories came flooding back.

Memories I vividly recall scribbling down about particular people, the places I'd been, and the feelings I felt.

Memories like these.




As many of you know, I had the best time of my life at UCLA. But what many of you don’t know, is that I owe much of why to these five Sooners:

1. Trevor Knight

Trevor is not only one of the most beautiful men you’ve ever laid your eyes on, but he’s also one of the most kind-hearted.


Trevor is the complete package. He’s a devoted man of God who has worked tirelessly for everything he’s ever accomplished.

If he wants something bad enough, he’ll get it.

If his dream is to start for the Oklahoma Sooners, he will.

If his dream is to blossom as a quarterback at Texas A&M, he will.

If his dream is to play in the NFL, he will.

Whatever Trevor touches seems to turn to gold. Not because he’s some fairy godfather, but because he knows what kind of diligence it takes.


He’s a doer.

He loved Oklahoma with all of his heart but knew it was in his best interest to leave.

I’ve always related to Trevor in this way.

Watching Trevor come into his own at A&M made me realize that it’s possible for me to do just that at UCLA.


Trevor left Oklahoma, but not a soul resented him for it. Because he did everything the right way.

I wish I could say the same.

What I learned from Trevor is resiliency.


2. Connor Knight

Connor is Trevor’s twin brother.


This guy taught me a lot. But out of the five, I probably know him the least.

Connor started as a walk-on at OU, while Trevor started as QB1.

But Connor’s not the type of guy who will sit back and ride the coattails of his brother.

Connor’s one of the most modest guys I know. He's never been one to try and one-up his brother. He loves Trevor with all of his heart. He’s his biggest cheerleader, and his biggest critic.

They remind me so much of Luke and me.

I used to really relate to Trevor, but lately I couldn’t feel any closer to Connor.

Connor never let jealously swallow him whole. Instead, he made a name for himself too, and scored a touchdown to prove it.


As I hang up the shoes and Luke polishes his, it’s important for me to remember what Connor taught me.

What I learned from Connor is how to give. Totally and completely of yourself.


3. Maddie Manning

Madeline Janet Manning is now entering her sixth year at Oklahoma. We came in together as freshmen. By the time she played in her first game as a Sooner, I was entering my junior year.


Two fresh ACLs later, she’s finally about to begin her senior year.

We were babies back then, but even then she knew she was going to be somebody some day.

Let me tell you though, it didn’t look like it was going to pan out that way at first.

That girl was and probably still is the most stubborn person I have ever met. But as I see her enter her senior year, I see how much she’s changed.

She’s seasoned. She’s focused. She’s the face of Oklahoma Women’s Basketball.

I hope she has the best year of her career. I hope she’s an All-American. I hope she does what Stacey Dales did and makes it to the national championship game. Against UCLA, of course.

Being teammates teaches you a lot about a person. Flipping through pictures I can’t help but smile at the moments we shared together.

 Ft.ing Grandma Whit

Three years have passed and I’ve only had a conversation or two with Maddie since I've left. But what she has taught me is immeasurable.

Maddie taught me how to believe.

How to believe in yourself, and in a cause that’s much bigger than yourself.


4. Peyton Little

I’ve known Peyton since I was 16.


We played on the same AAU team.

After her first semester at Texas A&M, she sent me a text.

“Nicole, I’m not happy here.”

Peyton came to Oklahoma my sophomore year. We had our own two-bedroom at the world-renowned Crimson Park Apartments in Norman.

Peyt & I tandem biking. On a Tandem bike we bought from Craigslist. 

She came right when I needed her.

Her uncle played at Oklahoma back in the 80’s. They lived a mile from campus at the time and became like a second family to me. We practically lived at their house in the summers and several times a week too (when Uncle David was cooking, and Aunt Amy was baking).

Peyton was a lifesaver for me. She couldn’t play due to the transfer rule, so she served as my counselor.


I was having a hard time on the basketball court that year.

I remember coming home from games, plopping face-down on my bed, and shutting the door behind me.

Minutes later, she’d come creeping in.

“Coley?” The sound of her voice still resonates in my head to this day.

She'd turn on my Backstreet Boys CD, and together we’d dance the pain away.

Only to be reprimanded by our coaches the next day due to a video that had surfaced on Twitter of a post-game dance party after what had been a 20-point throttling by Duke earlier that evening.

Sorry, coach.

Peyton taught me how to have fun again.


She brought the joy back.

5. Ty Darlington

I’ve never met anyone like Ty Darlington.


Like myself, he was between Stanford and Oklahoma when deciding on a college back in high school.

Unlike me, he got in. He chose to attend Oklahoma because Sooner pride ran deep in his bloodline, and he felt a connection that he couldn't resist.

Ty is a natural-born leader.

Coach Coale always told us to “leave your story better than you found it.”

Ty Darlington left his story better than he found it.


Lucky for Sooner nation, he’s still sowing the seeds of success within the football program in order for us fans to someday (January 8, 2018) reap the benefits. 

Ty isn't afraid to be who he is. He isn't afraid to hold someone accountable, push someone past their comfort zone, or simply be a shoulder to cry on when someone is hurting. 

What I learned from Ty is how to grow. How to grow deeper in friendships, amongst family, and most importantly, in faith.


Trevor taught me resilience.

Connor taught me how to give.

Maddie taught me how to believe.

Peyton taught me how to spread joy.

Ty taught me how to grow.


Three years later, as I finish up my time as a student-athlete and begin the next chapter of my life as a working woman, I reflect on the time I had with these five.

They each played a pivotal role in my evolution as a person.

Because of them I was able to learn from my mistakes. I took a long look in the mirror and fixed what was broken.


I was able to dive into UCLA head first, and make a splash.

I was resilient. I was able to give, believe, grow and smile while doing so.

Mark Batterson put it best, I've come full circle. 


As you draw the circle, who's in yours?


Friday, September 8, 2017

His vs Hers: Rookie Year

To set the record straight, I'm his BIG sister.

Sure, he may have me in height and intellect and quick-wittedness, but I have him in months.

18 to be exact.

When we were younger we used to be mistaken for twins.


We may not be twins, but we've been best friends ever since his arrival, 18 months after mine.

I know it might be confusing to most since we graduated in the same year and all, but I believe it to be quite fitting, being that we've been in most of the same classes our whole lives.

Luke is a rare breed.

Year by year, he made a solid "100%" in all of my math classes. Yes, he was in my math classes. 

He may have gotten a perfect score on the math portion of his SAT & ACT, and he may have racked up every possible academic award at our annual academic banquet, but what I always had on him was athletics.


5 years ago I was making the guy crutch around from official visit to official visit.


From All-American Game to first tip-off of my freshman year.


5 minutes from now he'll be walking through the door after another morning pick-up session with Melo.

In New York City.

It feels funny typing. For several reasons:

1.) "New York City"

I have to admit-- ever since age 8 I've been spoiled.

It's 100% likely that before the age of 8 I was spoiled too, but that's neither here nor there.

Ever since I was 8, my mom took me to New York for an annual mother/daughter girl’s trip.


We never brought the boys.

The one time we did take the boys a homeless man berated Luke outside of Grand Central Station and he was scarred from that moment on.

I tried to mend his fragile heart with Serendipity sundaes, the Nintendo Store, the clearance rack at the NBA Store and handmade signature signs of his favorite baseball team, but his heart could not be wooed.


For the first time, Nicole and Luke were at a crossroads.

I was a big city girl, and he was a small-town boy. 

I'm now 23, and after a 5-year absence from the Big Apple due to a little round ball, a little round ball has brought me back in a round-a-bout way.

2.) The New York Knicks

Now this is really where it gets funny.

Let's flashback to the night of the NBA Draft.

We were at our house in Lexington, Kentucky and my entire family was over. "Entire family" insinuates grandma, grandpa, Godfather Larry, cousin Joey, crazy Steve, and many, many more.

Before the draft kicked off, we each put the name of the team we thought Luke would get drafted to in a big bowl.


I was the only one who put down the New York Knicks.

Why?

Because New York City has been my favorite city ever since I was 8. LA has been creeping up as of late, but the heart knows where its loyalty lies.

I put down the New York Knicks because Jeff Hornacek is head coach.

Jeff Hornacek played for the Jazz when my dad played for the Bucks.

Jeff Hornacek lived in Phoenix when the Kornets lived in Phoenix.

Jeff Hornacek was the head coach of St. Thomas’ 5th grade girl’s basketball team at the time.

Frank Kornet was the head coach of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’s 5th grade girl’s basketball team at the time.

In other words, Jeff and Frank both had daughters in the 5th grade.


Daughters that played each other in back-to-back-to-back Catholic school girl's basketball tournaments year after year after year.

Daughters that, with Coach Hornacek at the helm, joined forces to nearly lead the Air Angelz to a Summer League championship, had we not lost to the all-boys team in the final game.

You win again testosterone.


10 years later, and we're still bitter.


So, when the opportunity presented itself to put a team name in the bowl on draft night, I had to go with my gut—The New York Knicks.

For what seemed to be like four hours and an eternity later, the draft concluded.

He didn’t get picked.

But as soon as the last pick was selected, Luke’s phone rang.

And then it rang again. And again. And again.

And then finally, it was an offer that Luke couldn’t refuse.

The decision was final—Luke was going to be a New York Knick.


3.) Pick-up with Carmelo

I remember when Carmelo and LeBron were drafted. They were the talk of the town.

Still wonder why.

I don't start my job at UCLA until October 1st, so I have the entire month of September off.

I've been in New York for a week now.

Every morning Luke wakes up at 7am and comes home just after 3pm. I've had the best week. And that sounds crazy coming from a girl who was hospitalized day two of the trip. 

As my mother calls me, a"natural" beauty

I came down with a mean case of pneumonia and perhaps a few other ailments, but again, that's neither here nor there.

From what I thought was going to be a month long of perusing the city on my tandem bike for one, galavanting the streets of NY during fashion week, and drinking mimosas with the fashion icon himself, Mr. Russell Westbrook, my week has drastically turned into quite the opposite.

Picture a stoic, bedridden, greasy-haired "beauty" glued to the TV.

This week's features have included Hercules, Leah Remini's Scientology and the Aftermath, roughly 97 episodes of The Office, and a few gut-wrenching showings of Beyond Scared Straight. 

Luke and I have had a lot of alone time this past week.

And he's loved every second of it.

Even with the past five years of off and on separation, we've covered a lot of ground.

Just like we never left.

The guy still loves to show me YouTube videos I refuse to call funny, impersonate scenes of Westside Story in the living room, and sleep in his Tom Brady pajamas.

My favorite part, though?

When he comes home from playing pick-up with Melo.

“Nicole, I'm playing against these guys who used to be on my 2K teams, and I'm like 'ah, that's neat' but then I realize they're on the other team and I kinda hate them at that moment."

Nowadays we all try and act like we've been there. It's all about one-upping the other guy. But that show gets tiring. That show's all an act. What's cool is being your authentic self. What's cool is being grateful about the opportunity you've been given, and making the most of it.

It hurt him when he didn't get drafted. 

For a minute.

After a minute, he got up, smiled at all of us and said, "I'm going to New York."

Sometimes the most devastating blows turn into the most beautiful unknowns, when you have the mindset of a Luke Kornet.

He doesn't care what everyone thinks. He knows who he is.

He doesn't care who he's playing against. He knows what he can do.

He doesn't care how many likes he gets on a picture. That's if his girlfriend and I can even get him to post a picture. 

He doesn’t care if his friends are NBA champions like Damian Jones or former 8th grade B-team slot receivers like Daniel Fife. He loves people for their hearts, not their names.

Heck, he doesn't even care if his cowlicks stick up like Alfafa all day. 

Even though it makes his sister cringe.

Pre-hair quaffage seconds before The King takes center court.

He cares about the things that matter. And that's what I admire most about my little brother, and will always admire about my little brother.

It’s been so fun to watch him in his new life.

The way he shops for himself, cooks for himself, takes care of himself, and even brushes his hair all by himself now truly amazes me.

Craziest part of it all is that he knows the city better than big sis now, and he hasn't even been here a month yet. He watches Broadway shows and doesn't roll his eyes during the musical numbers now.


He loves NYC and what he gets to do for it now.

He's a professional basketball player for the New York Knicks.


Who will always be my little brother.



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Ground Zero

It was a day like any other day.

6:30am: Scarf down a bowl of Chobani yogurt sprinkled with granola, fresh-cut strawberries, and a squirt of honey.

7:00am: Swing open the doors of the legendary UCLA SAC gym, wide-eyed, scanning the premises for which hot shot I'll have the pleasure of working besides next.

The Phoenix Suns pretending to listen to her.

7:05am: Give Kari and Lindsey the business in roughly ten games of 21.

8:30am: Shower to Backstreet Boys Pandora.

9:00am: Air dry my goldilocks mid-sprint through campus in order to reach the parking meter in time before another hefty $68 ticket plops down on my windshield.

10:00am: Clock in.

For the first hour of my shift, it's my job to set up the bar.

Yes, the one who does not know an iota about alcohol is in charge of setting up the bar.

About ten minutes in, Karlen tells me that we're low on raspberries.

That's my cue.

To the fridge I go.

That is, until I hear a voice.

"HEY!"

I look up.

I laugh.

It's Russell.

"Why do I know you from somewhere?? I've seen you!" he proclaimed aloud.

Smirking to myself, I mumble, "UCLA."

"Yes! The transfer! But I swear I just saw you somewhere else too..."

"Wasserman."

"Yeah! The intern!"

"You're following me, Russ."

"No, you're following me. What are you even doing right now?"

"I'm a cocktail waitress."

I googled "waitress"

He's seen me for who I truly am, folks: the athlete, the intern, the waitress.

Russ took a seat at the bar as I filled up his protein shake. We hung out for 20 minutes while he waited for his trainer to come down from his room.

We talked about UCLA.

He said he would have loved to have been there for longer than two years. They were some of the best times of his life.

We talked about the Thunder.

He told me it would be a great fit for me, if I could handle the move back to Oklahoma...

We talked about life after basketball.

He told me he would never coach.

"I'm getting as far away from basketball as I can."

"Really? You don't want to coach your kids??"

"NOOOOOPE."

"So... fashion?"

"Fashion" he replied with a big smile on his face.


We talked about his back-to-back runs to the Final Four.

He lost to the one and only Coach Billy Donovan at Florida his freshman year.

"Coach never lets me hear the end of that one."

We talked about how old he is.

He's an old fart.

He's played in the league for 10 years already. Can you believe that??

As I contemplated grabbing the raspberries Karlen told me to snag while I prepped the bar, I couldn't help but remain distracted as fans gathered around hoping to steal Russell away for a quick selfie.

And there I was, the cocktail waitress in the black dress, hijacking all of his attention.

I couldn't help but laugh.

The amount of times I have run into this guy in this city.

Whether it be mid pick-up game in Pauley, in the elevator on my way up to Wasserman, or at the bar of the JW Marriott in Santa Monica, there was something special brewing here.

I just couldn't quite put my finger on it.

___________

It was a day like any other day.

Chobani, SAC, 21, BSB, floppy hair, BEACH.

Today was an off day.

After my morning routine, I took one hard look at my car and knew it was time. She needed a shine.

Kari was at the gym working out a girl she trains, so I decided after I dusted off the fender of the 'ol Ford Focus I would pick her up and we would grab lunch.

I pulled up to Pauley at noon, but for some reason Kari wanted me to come in and meet her.

I took one step inside the gym, and shook my head.

There he was again. The MVP.

"STOP FOLLOWING ME!!!" he cried aloud.

We both had the biggest smiles plastered on our faces.

In order to quickly change that, we played pig.


One deep corner 3, rainbow floater, and lefty jump hook later, I dehorned the goat.


___________

As we're all aware, the last time I left you all, I was at a crossroads.

Earlier this morning I was at that same crossroads.

What next?

I'll tell you what I thought was next.

I had my mind made up on Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

You heard it. Philly.

Not Oklahoma City, not Nashville, not New York, Philly.

Then

And now

A good family friend, Matt Fraschilla, (hi Matt) is now the current GA at Villanova. He has a place with a spare bedroom. "My" spare bedroom.

Being a two-hour train ride from New York, the possibility of cheering my little brother on from the stands during his rookie season lit me up from head to toe.

And the icing on the cake?

It was free.

How do you say no to that??

I'll tell you how.

Starts with a J and ends with an ob.

I didn't have a job offer in Philly.

What would I do there? Who do I know there? How could I live there?

It snows and stuff.

Despite my lack of employment, I was gungho about this idea.

"The job will come later," I kept telling myself.

Free rent doesn't come around too often and neither do NBA rookie seasons, so I had my mind made up. I was moving to Philly.

That was, until I became friends with Russ.


___________

My calling in life can be broken down into three bullet points:

-Use the gifts God has given me to spread joy to others.

-Use the gifts God has given me to spread God to others.

-Use the gifts God has given me to help others feel confident they can do it too.

Russell showed me how.

As I stated in my last blog, my head coach offered me a job to work for UCLA. Her vision is to showcase UCLA in a way that I kinda already naturally do.

Show the world how great this university really is.


It's right up my alley.

But for the longest time I had severe doubts floating around my head. Saying yes to her meant saying no to Philly. It meant remaining 1,787 miles away from my mom and dad. It meant running the risk of dating beautiful men with low morals. It meant paying half my salary in rent. It meant staying put.

And trust me, telling Miss Spontaneity to stay put isn't an easy task.

After two years of hittin' it, it's typically time for me to start quittin' it.

But after meeting Russell, something finally clicked.

I can do both.

I don't have to be tied down to one location. I'm no longer a collegiate athlete who has to be on call 24/7/365. I get weekends. And weekends mean travel.

___________

Oftentimes people try to put themselves in a box way too early.

We think we aren't living up to our expectations we set for ourselves, or really, the expectations others set for ourselves, so we quickly say yes to the first opportunity that comes a' knockin' in order to feel like we did what we were supposed to.

We graduated, we got the job, we're adulting.

But are we happy?

After I graduated I was on a quest to impress.

I had made a lot of connections at UCLA, and I was eagerly awaiting the next glorious opportunity to be handed to me on a silver platter.

That silver platter never showed up.

What did show up is my consistency.

I don't know what I'm passionate about, but I do know I love to work.

It doesn't matter if that work looks like restocking a bar, or traveling the world and covering major sports events.

It had taken me 23 years to realize that what others thought about my job status meant diddly squat. If I'm passionate about restocking raspberries then by golly I will restock those raspberries to the best of my abilities.

That being said, I don't think I'm super passionate about restocking raspberries.

Which meant I was back to square one-- what next?

___________

Just a few days after my last blog post a UCLA donor contacted me.

He offered me a full-time job at his record label, Blue Elan. My title? Social Media Manager.

Because of this blog, this very blog, I was offered a job.

A couple days after the offer my mom called me up.

She wanted to know if I was free the weekend of October 21st.

To shoot a pilot for a travel show a production company wants to do with the two of us.

After morning ball the following day, Baron Davis texted me and told me he would love to be featured in an episode and would like to discuss more over coffee.

The next night... Coach Cori told me that she could find me a living situation in LA.

___________

After a few agonizing weeks of tossing and turning every night, the jig was up.

A decision had been made.

No matter how hard I try to hide it, I can't leave this place.

I can't leave LA.

Not yet at least. Not like this. Not to Philadelphia. Not now.

I am surrounded by the best of the best.

I am loved by some of the most beloved.

I am infatuated with palm trees, fluffy sand, zero humidity, no bugs, summer breezes, and Philz Coffee.

I am not here simply to pass through.

I am on a mission to make the city of Los Angeles home.

I am where I belong.

So many people stereotype this place.

"There's too much traffic."
"The people are crazy."
"It smells like weed."
"It's way too expensive."

I believe God has planted me here to break the mold.

And God gave me Russell to prove it.

LA isn't as big as it seems; it's as big as you make it.

If you want to find a solid, God-fearing friend group, you will find it.

If you want that dream job, chances are you'll eventually get it.

If you only want to take, take, take, you'll always come up empty.

As much as I thought my heart was leading me to Philadelphia--somewhere closer to home, somewhere where Catholicism runs deeps, somewhere new--he was trying to tell me all along that I can have all of that and more if I just sit still.

I'm in a transitional stage of my life. My life is going to be different whether I like it or not.

So what was I running from??

Coach Cori offered me a job to do what I do best:

Love Los Angeles.


With the help of UCLA production, I will be able to market athletes for who they truly are. Whether it be for UCLA, the Lakers, the Clippers, or the Rams, I will be traveling around LA and beyond in order to showcase athletes in a light they have never been showcased before.


I get to use the gifts God has given me to spread joy to athletes.

I get to use the gifts God has given me to spread God to athletes.

I get to use the gifts God has given me to help athletes feel confident they can do it too.

Everyone has a story to tell.

And it's my job to share it.