At Sunday's third annual U.S.E. Basketball Family Reunion, Poly graduate Melanie Williamson had the most unique story about how she used basketball to build her future.
Williamson's story is not one most young athletes or their parents want to contemplate. Recruited to play at Wagner, she never played a minute of a college game. She collapsed at practice and discovered that she had an enlarged aorta.
What was probably a congenital disorder, she said, derailed the only dream she had -- to play college basketball.
"My teammates said I just dropped. They said I just passed out," she said. "I remember waking up with all the trainers in my face and being confused. I remember I sat up, but that's all I remember. It just happened so quickly."
Williamson, who said basketball was her life, lost 28 pounds from being depressed after she found out she couldn't play basketball anymore.
"I didn't know where to go or who I was anymore," she said. "Fortunately enough I had an athletic trainer and an academic adviser who shoveled me up off the floor, because I wasn't really good at academics, so to me it was basketball first, academics second where it should be academics first then basketball. I had to readjust my life to try to figure it out."
Williamson, who took the SAT seven times before she met NCAA requirements, said she was all set to drop out of college, but her academic adviser put her in study hall six days a week and her athletic trainer helped her realize there was more to life than basketball.
She rebounded to earn her degree in sociology with a concentration in criminal justice and minor in psychology and anthropology.
Williamson had used basketball to get to college and she used it to stay there.
"They kept me on scholarship," she said, something that doesn't always happen. "First, I became a manager and then I became like a student coach, helping with film and other aspects of coaching and then once I graduated in 2014, the coach there asked me to stay on and be director of operations which I did for two years and I got an MBA in health care administration."
After all this time, Williamson said it still bothers her that she never got to play college basketball and she wanted to speak to players and parents at Sunday's Family Reunion to make sure they knew how important academics is and how basketball should not be the central focus of their lives.
“I got two degrees, six years of school and that was nice, but I still would have liked to touch the college floor," she said. "It was a really hard transition for me from being a player to thinking ... basketball is not your life. I didn’t have that mentality going into college. When things were spinning out of control, they had to make me realize basketball is just part of your life.”
Now, Williamson is about to enter a new career in law enforcement although she can't give details about it.
"It's really important to know that other people do go through this," Williamson said. "I felt like I was on my own. Coach Sam [Walker] was my coach, but I was too embarrassed to bother him, because I felt like I had let him down, but that was wrong. I should have been reaching out to people from the jump, trying to figure out how can I adjust to my life not being a basketball player anymore but still being around the game."
While Williamson said she's still in some small ways getting over the loss of her college basketball career, by her junior year she started having fun again.
She didn't have a backup plan when she went to Wagner to play basketball, but now she has one. If the law enforcement career doesn't work out, she has the MBA, which she got because the health-care industry is growing and she figured there would always be jobs.
"It's really important to remember -- backup plans, backup plans, backup plans," Williamson said with a smile.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly had Melanie Williamson labeled a Seton Keough graduate, instead of a Poly grad.