By Andrew Gordo
The Cal Poly Pomona women’s basketball team has added a new member to its family and coaching staff. The team announced on July 7 that Rhema Gardner will be the team’s new assistant coach.
Gardner, an Upland native, developed a love for basketball at the age of 5. The years that Gardner spent on the court eventually propelled her to attend the University of California, Los Angeles as a student-athlete. In her time as a Bruin, the 6-foot-2-inch, versatile guard/forward scored a career-high 18 points, grabbed double-digit rebounds in 12 games and appeared in all 30 of UCLA’s games during the 2011-2012 season.
Although she had a successful, athletic career at UCLA, Gardner had a different experience to most student-athletes. She played for three years, and during her fourth year, she decided to medically retire from basketball due to a knee injury.
However, her retirement did not hold her back. She became an undergraduate assistant coach during her fifth year at UCLA.
Gardner believes that her transition from player to coach instigated personal growth.
“[My journey has] been unique,” Gardner says. “As I said before, I was an undergraduate coach. I was still in school. However, I was coaching. I was coaching not only my friends, but I was coaching my former teammates, so that caused me to mature very quickly.”
She went on to add that the undergraduate role has prepared her for her new job as a full-time coach.
“Because of my transition at UCLA as an undergraduate coach, it helped me to be in a position now as a full-time assistant coach,” Gardner says. “That time doing that and playing that role, it’s helped me now. I had a little bit of practice before I stepped into an official role.”
Gardner’s relentless spirit and strong integrity are characteristics that she acquired in her time on the court. Those characteristics also happen to be some that are instilled into the Bronco basketball team. As a coach and a mentor to the team, she fits well.
The new assistant coach acknowledges that basketball has taught her many things, but above all, it has taught her to persevere.
“I really learned the importance of friendship and also the importance of not giving up, or just to sum it up in one word: to be relentless,” Gardner says. “That’s kind of in anything that you do. Whether it’s on the court or off the court, I believe you can’t just give up at something. I had multiple injuries at UCLA, and I had a choice of giving up or walking away. But just knowing that it’s not about me, it’s about the people around me.”
Head Coach Danelle Bishop echoed that Gardner’s core values fit with the team, which leaves potential to build a good team.
“She fits well,” said Bishop. “I think we have a lot of the same core values and a lot of the same philosophies. I think when you have those, it always makes a really good team.”
With the basketball season less than two months away, both Bishop and Gardner are working to get the team ready for the season opener on Nov. 13. With a strong staff and core established, they are looking to make a deep run at a national championship.
Courtesy of Tom Zasadzinksi
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