Feb. 4, 2013
Leaving Nashville is not an easy thing to do.
Former Vanderbilt student-athletes can attest to this statement, seeing as many have decided to make Nashville a permanent home beyond a four or five year college experience.
Women's basketball is certainly not in the minority, with many former players choosing to stay in the Nashville area.
Rhonda Blades Brown played at Vanderbilt from 1992-95. During her career, she scored 1,017 points and was named Honorable Mention All-American during her senior year.
For Brown, who is originally from Springfield, Mo., Nashville was a factor in her decision to come to Vanderbilt from the very beginning.
"I came to Vanderbilt for the incredible combo of being a true student-athlete. Nashville was a bonus. It is a great big city that feels small. I wanted to get away from snow! Nashville is a good mix of weather and size."
Today, Brown is a well-known figure in the Nashville suburb of Brentwood. For the past 12 years, she has served as the head varsity girls' basketball coach at Brentwood Academy.
Karen Booker, whose 1,000-point career at Vanderbilt spanned from 1984-87, also remains very involved with basketball in the Nashville area and state of Tennessee, refereeing on the D-I level after serving in several different coaching positions around the country, including Sewanee. She can be found at every Commodore women's home game these days, observing the SEC officials.
Booker, much like Brown, chose Vanderbilt for its academic reputation. However, because she is originally from Franklin, Nashville had more of a personal touch.
"I loved that Nashville was close to home and that my family would be able to come to a lot of games. I returned here in 1999 as my parents were aging, and even though they have passed, I love Nashville and living close to my siblings."
Carla Thomas, a Commodore letterwinner from 2004-07 who is originally from Mechanicsburg, Pa., didn't know much about the city before being recruited, but
clearly found a home on and off the court.
During her career, she recorded the sixth-most points in school history with 1,774 points and earned conference honors every year: first team All-SEC in 2007, second team All-SEC in 2005, honorable mention All-SEC in 2006 and third team All-SEC in 2004. To top off her outstanding career, Thomas was named honorable mention All-American in 2007 and was selected in the first round of the WNBA draft by Chicago that same year.
She still resides in Nashville and works as a technical recruiter for an IT staffing firm, and considers herself officially retired from the game.
"I do try to make it over to the gym and jump into practices when work allows it," said Thomas. "I have so many friends and teammates that are coaching now, it would be impossible for me to get away from basketball completely. It's a part of my life and always will be."
Thomas's former teammate, Dee Davis, is one of those that ended up coaching.
Like Brown, Davis has made a name for herself in Nashville beyond playing for Vanderbilt as the head varsity girls' basketball coach at the University School of Nashville (USN).
"I knew nothing about Nashville prior to being recruited by Coach Balcomb. But I do have family here, and a job opened up at USN. I wanted to see if coaching was something I could do long-term. I still go across the street to Vandy to help out in practice, and I give private training to middle school, high school and college athletes."
Davis, who came to Vanderbilt from Cincinnati, Ohio, is Vanderbilt's all-time career assists leader with 730. She is also in the 1,000-point club, scoring 1,092 on her career, and like Thomas, was named First Team All-SEC and Honorable Mention All-American in 2007.
All alumni we spoke with expressed their continued involvement with the community of Vanderbilt women's basketball that has been fostered by head coach Melanie Balcomb. Couple this will the undercurrent of a growing, welcoming city, and Nashville is simply something that draws one in for the long-term. Just take it from Carla Thomas:
"Being from up north, I pictured only country music, cowboy boots and big belt buckles. When I came to visit, though, I got to see what a great city this is and how friendly people are. That was probably the thing that drew me in the most. It took a while to get used to everyone smiling and asking how I was doing everywhere I went. Southern hospitality is wonderful."