“It’s a trip, you know? When you’re a kid, you see the life you want, and it never crosses your mind that it’s not gonna turn out that way.” This quote is snagged from the script of the rich, historical text that is Love & Basketball, a modern-day classic. (OK, I might be a tad biased. It’s my favorite movie.)
In the movie, basketball superstar Monica has just returned home from playing overseas in Spain after being a four-year letterer at USC. She’s saying this to her long-time boyfriend and fellow basketball star, Quincy, after she’s decided to give up playing and work at a bank. He sits there puzzled, confused at the thought of her never wanting to lace up her Nikes again. “So why’d you give up ball? Man, I never knew a girl … I never knew anyone who loved ball as much as you.”
But Monica had a point. Things change after college — for everyone — but especially for student-athletes. One can take a multitude of paths after stepping off PLNU’s hardwood, track, field, bright-blue courts, or baseball diamond for the last time.
If I had a relationship status for my current standing with my collegiate sport it would be: “It’s Complicated.” In these three years post-grad, I’ve played in different basketball leagues trying to get my groove back after those peak Sea Lion years. Sometimes a busy work schedule pulls me away, but also, I’m tired. I’ve played basketball for the last 20 years. My knees need extra stretching, my left shoulder essentially pops each time I move it, and I’m almost certain my big toe has been fractured for years. Nonetheless, here I am, still keeping a basketball in my car at all times, alongside emergency hoop shorts just in case I get the itch.
I’m not alone in feeling that one’s post-grad athletic life is a complicated transition. Former PLNU baseball player Noah Huggins (17) said if you can’t beat the pros, join ’em … in the front office. Working in sales for the San Diego Padres and now the San Francisco Giants, Huggins used his knowledge of the game and made a career out of it.
“This is really the closest I’m going to get to baseball without playing it,” he said. Balancing a budding fast-paced career and two recreation leagues — slow pitch softball and fast pitch baseball — Huggins says the competition is something he needs in his everyday life. He competes against sales numbers for work, but he acknowledges that it’s not the same. “That’s just against me,” he adds. “I like being able to run my mouth a little.”
Thinking back a few years, when he was a senior ready to step out into adulthood, he had some wise words to his younger self, and future PLNU athletes on the brink of their inevitable Senior Night. “You’re 22, it’s OK to take some time off,” Huggins said. “You just gave so much of yourself to a college, to a team, to a sport, take some time off — relax.”
Some people will follow that advice, and, let’s face it, some won’t. Take Daniel ten Bosch (16) for example. He did the opposite of relaxing; the former midfielder went straight to Cal Poly SLO to earn his master’s degree in engineering. Now, he’s a full-time water resource engineer in Irvine while simultaneously playing in five — yes, five — soccer leagues. Mondays are for friendly footy, a way to use his skills to mingle. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays fill the competitive void as he trains and gameplays with a semi-pro team, Orange County FC. Wednesdays are for a specialized league for only fellow engineers, a way to network with other locals matching his interests.
“Soccer in my life is predominantly a platform, now, to meet people.” It’s those random encounters with other soccer-lovers that ten Bosch thrives off of. “We connect through the game.”
Keeping up this pace recently paid off when ten Bosch found himself at the StubHub Center playing against the LA Galaxy this past June. “It made no sense for me to be doing that at this time of my life,” he said, laughing off the once-in-a-lifetime experience. “The coolest part was the LA Galaxy fans knew we were just a team of amateurs. Like we’re not professionals or anything, but we had achieved something to get to this position in the tournament to play them.”
After the 0-2 loss, fans lined the tunnel for autographs and photos with the players. A group of fans yelled out ten Bosch’s number to get his attention, “Number 12! Number 12!” He turned around. “We heard you’re a full-time engineer, is that true? Did you work today before this game?” They had done their homework from the tournament’s program. After ten Bosch responded, saying yes, he worked today, they couldn’t believe it. “That’s crazy! What are you doing here?” They were laughing in disbelief. “I really don’t know what I’m doing here, but it’s cool!” he shouted back with a shrug and a smile.
Ten Bosch equates his relationship with soccer to the worship song, “Great Are You Lord.” He speaks out the lyrics: “It’s Your breath in our lungs/ So we pour out our praise/ We pour out our praise.” The physical conditioning he needs to be in, continually treating his body as a temple, he knows that the deep breaths he takes in and out are not his own; they belong to the Lord. “I will never stop playing. I won’t stop playing until I die,” he says matter-of-factly. “Don’t stop using your gifts until you can’t use them anymore.”
But how we continue to use those gifts may differ. Amanda (Mitchell) Gonzalez (16) says she hasn’t played her collegiate sport in years, and she’s trying to spark that joy from playing soccer again. (Where you at, Marie Kondo?) “When I graduated and I was done with my last season, I was kind of … done,” she said. “Which was weird, and not what I expected it to be like.”
Growing up, and particularly in high school, soccer was everything — a commonality amongst all my interviewees’ sports. It was all she ever thought about and only what she wanted to talk about. Her freshman year at PLNU, it was the highlight of her day, but through the years, she found herself reevaluating what her goals were. “I never had anything I loved as much as playing soccer, and I ended up finding a major that I became really passionate about.” Between PLNU’s athletic training program and blossoming friendships, Gonzalez found her eyes opening to things outside of her sport. By her senior year, she had found a way to relate to the game where it became more about the experience with her teammates rather than her personal stats. “And after it was done, I was ready to go find that joy somewhere else.”
Now, Gonzalez is working as an EMT with plans of being a firefighter. “Departments love that I was a part of something challenging, especially as a woman,” she said. Being able to say that you’ve been through a physically grueling experience definitely helps with the hiring process, she says, and all those years of conditioning have given her a solid baseline of fitness. That drive and pure ability to dig deep when it’s unpleasant during her current training is “something I would not have had if I didn’t play soccer at Point Loma,” she added.
She may not be physically playing with a ball on a field (“I might join an ‘old-lady league’ at some point,” she joked), but Gonzalez is still a die-hard fan. During the U.S. Women’s National Team’s gold-medal run in this year’s World Cup, her support oozed from her Instagram posts, stories, and commentary on these strong, female athletes being unapologetically themselves. She admittedly cried happy tears more than once during the tournament run, as she’d go to local watch parties to cheer on the women in red, white and blue. “If you’re a little girl who wants to play soccer, or any sport, it’s so important to have somebody who’s doing it at such a high level, and is competitive and passionate and wild! They’re nuts!” she finished with a laugh. “They’re not passive, or quiet or polite, and they don’t have to be,” she continued. “They should get to celebrate. Every little girl who’s good at something should get to celebrate that.”
“One of my biggest struggles is being OK with ‘Roya, the person’ and not only ‘Roya, the basketball player.'”
Recent PLNU women’s basketball stand-out Roya Rustamzada (18), couldn’t agree more. Upon return from a nine-month stint playing hoops overseas in the Women’s British Basketball League, Rustamzada is still around the game she loves, but in a new way. In her spare time from being a flexologist in her hometown Temecula, she’s an assistant coach for a high-profile NBA player’s youth girl’s league. “It’s crazy to see how dedicated they are and have that certain mentality already.” She said that, in America, women’s basketball has progressed at a higher rate than across the pond. Some of her teammates there wouldn’t start playing until they were around 15 years old, a crazy-different approach than the States. “I didn’t feel like I was being challenged,” Rustamzada added. PLNU basketball, and simply American training, made her feel well-prepared for her season with the Oakland Wolves.
But now that she’s back in the US, she’s unsure if she wants to keep playing. “I’m trying to figure out who I am without the sport,” she confessed. Having “athlete” continuously clung to her name was something she wanted to step away from. “One of my biggest struggles is being OK with ‘Roya, the person’ and not only ‘Roya, the basketball player.’”
The identity crisis after college, where you’ve invested so many years, so much time, and solid amounts of energy into this part of yourself, is where you begin to question who you are without it.
Lindsay (Honea) Klassen (B.A. 14, MBA 15) struggled with identity, too. After both her and her now-husband Marek (B.A. 14, MBA 15) graduated from PLNU, they packed their bags and moved to Europe for Marek to pursue basketball professionally. “The first couple years was not really having an identity while we were traveling, besides just being a wife. I went from being so busy to not having anything that was mine,” she said. “It was hard.”
But her athletic resume allowed her to claim a new ID. “Being a student athlete helped with self-discipline — track and field is such a self-discipline sport — that it really prepared me to actually become an entrepreneur in so many more ways than probably my education did,” she chuckled. As an independent owner, she uses social media and online marketing to grow her business. “It’s changed my whole experience overseas because I have something that’s mine,” she said.
“Being a student athlete helped with self-disciple – track and field is such a self-discipline sport – that it really prepared me to actually become an entrepreneur in so many more ways than probably my education did.”
Lindsay, who has pristine accolades as a multi-sport letterer in track and field and basketball, transitioned to being a number one cheerleader for her husband. But as they embark on their fourth year of marriage and fourth foreign postal code, they are both thankful they don’t have to go through this alone. Marek chimed in, “I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for a person who plays at a high level in Europe — constantly working on their game, constantly having pressure from coaches and management — and not having someone close with them,” he said. “Having a wife with you here is an amazing thing. But having a wife that knows basketball and an understanding of the game? It’s 10-times better.”
Marek admits that the level of basketball has become more challenging, but the focus is more streamlined as a pro. Compared to college where you’re juggling homework, building relationships, and your sport, at this level, it’s your vocation. “It’s easier to be a professional, in my opinion. I think it’s much easier to focus on your job,” he said.
Through the multitude of moves, constant clenching to job security and pressure to perform, the Klassens confess that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. “Having trust in the Lord is everything,” Lindsay said. “Anything could happen. We could move the next day. He could get fired, he could get an offer, he could not get a job and basketball could be over. It’s all in God’s hands.” Their main piece of advice? ”Don’t let basketball define you,” Lindsay added right before we hung up. “Don’t let your sport define you. Don’t let anything define you besides your faith.”
For a solid portion of our lives up until this point, our sport has been our center. Baseball, fútbol, basketball — sport was life. Now, we have so much more life to live. The “love” in the Love & Basketball title did have to do with Monica’s love/hate relationship with Quincy, but it also had everything to do with her love/hate relationship with basketball. She fell in it, fell out of it, and broke-up with it, just as we all do with our sports at one point or another.
But, to also pull another quote from the 2000 film, “The [feeling] just won’t go away.” Our sport will always have a piece of our hearts. Shoot, it better. We’ve poured ourselves into it for decades trying to reach a new level, some of us still striving for that next height that will challenge the gifts that we’ve been given. But for others, it’s now time for our sport to give something back to us: the deeply-rooted competitive drive, the passion, the motivation, the work ethic—all those lessons, minute and monumental, is what we can take away from being a collegiate athlete.
“But ultimately, we’re both there for the same reason: the pure, unadulterated love of the game.”
This summer, I played in a more competitive women’s basketball league in Los Angeles, mixed in with the area’s top players. Some are playing for friendly competition (me), some playing in between overseas pro seasons (not me). One of my opponents in the league is Erika Ringor, the actress who played Sidra in Love & Basketball. (Infamously known as the bullying upperclassmen that uttered the words, “Never let a freshman take your spot.”) Despite the 20-year age gap, we’re both lacing up our shoes each and every Saturday in South L.A., a few blocks away from USC’s campus where the movie was filmed. She’s still got it, and I’m hanging in there. But ultimately, we’re both there for the same reason: the pure, unadulterated love of the game.