“Where are you from?”
“Near Green Bay, Wisconsin”
“Oh, like the Green Bay Packers?”
“Yes, Green Bay, like the Green Bay Packers.”
Green Bay. Home of Vince Lombardi and the Green and Gold. La la la Lambeauuuuu Field. The city is known all-around the world for being home to one of the most culture filled NFL teams. America’s Team. (Curious to know how many people exit out of the post after that comment) No shame.. GO PACK GO! However, the Packers aren’t the only culture filled sports team in the city of Green Bay. To me, it’s also home to one of the most culture filled women’s basketball programs. The University of Wisconsin — Green Bay. (Biased? Maybe…?) However, history also speaks for itself. The program won 20 straight conference championships and has been to the NCAA tournament 17 times. The only other program that has more consecutive winning seasons is Tennessee’s Women’s Basketball. You know like Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols? That’s some elite company.
The University of Wisconsin — Green Bay (UWGB) will always hold such a special place in my heart. Like many other young girls within a 30 mile radius, I had always dreamed of being a part of this program and the winning culture. When I was 17, my dreams became a reality. I received a scholarship to play at UWGB. I was a member of the program for five years (redshirting my freshman year) and I wouldn’t change a thing. College sports come with a lot of highs and a lot of lows. My experience was no different, but I learned more about the game of basketball than I ever thought imaginable. This had much to do with the fact of being coached by one of the best, Kevin Borseth. (Again.. Biased? Maybe.) I was exposed to so much knowledge of the game and grew into a great player, but that doesn’t hold an ounce of value compared to everything else a program like Green Bay can teach you. These skills are immeasurable. I contemplated for many, many hours how I would ever be able to put these immeasurable skills into words and it turns out it has already been put into words… “The Green Bay Way”.
The Green Bay Way
I wish I could take credit for this but “The Green Bay Way” was created well before my time. When I stepped onto campus as a freshman those were just words and now when you say “The Green Bay Way” I simply nod my head in approval and understanding. During your career at Green Bay, it becomes defined. It might have a slightly different meaning for each individual that goes through the program but the core concepts remain the same.
Accountability. Leadership. Grit.
Much like many freshman college athletes, when I got to campus I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t have the slightest clue the level of training I was about to endure. Each workout required at or above 100% effort. I quickly learned that anything less than your best wasn’t acceptable and I secretly loved it. I fell in love with the atmosphere. The ability for a teammate to look another teammate in the eye and simple say, “that’s not good enough”. Not as if they aren’t good enough but their effort isn’t good enough. Or the unwritten rule that you will stay in a drill until you get it done, and you get it done correctly. No one forces you to stay in the drill, no one but yourself. Because chances are, when you came onto campus you saw an upperclassman before you, do the same exact thing.
It doesn’t matter how frustrated or literally exhausted you are, you would never pull yourself from the drill. That’s the level of accountability that we hold each other to but more importantly ourselves. You wouldn’t skip a rep or miss the line, and you make your 300 shots a day. (Not take, MAKE) Again, I don’t know when it started but we have a shot chart that hangs in the locker room where we log our daily made shots. There is no one monitoring this chart or the number of shots you log day to day and quite frankly, no one would even know if that number represents the truth. It’s integrity. It’s trust. It’s accountability.
There are various different styles of leaders. Some are vocal leaders and others may lead by example. At Green Bay, it doesn’t matter your style but you know one thing for sure; upperclassmen lead and the younger players learn and follow. This is the way of our program and there is nothing to say this is the only option but UWGB is a player lead team. Our seniors lead and the rest of the team follows and take on roles of being a support cast to those leaders. We have created consistency within our culture because who doesn’t love consistency!?
There isn’t even a conversation about it. Just like there isn’t a conversation about the weight that has just been placed on your shoulders as a senior, to assure the culture of the program continues. Or the pressure you may feel to bring the team to success. Sound stressful? Maybe it is a little, but you’re ready. You just went through 3–4 years of training preparing you for the moment it is your turn to lead. You saw the seniors before you take on these responsibilities and (self imposed) pressures and you learned from them. You watched as they led and as they carried the team through the victories, losses, and the challenges. You learned how you would want to lead and maybe even learned about ways you didn’t want to lead. Either way, when you got to be an upperclassman you were ready for the responsibilities and oddly enough, you were excited for your chance.
Much like our culture can be defined by a few words, “The Green Bay Way”, so can our players. “A Green Bay Kid”. This is one of the most flattering compliments you can receive as a player. “A Green Bay Kid” to me, is an underdog that bust their ass every single day to be the best. It’s the player that is the first one to the gym and the last one to leave. The tough, hard nose, hard working, under-recruited kid. The one that enjoys the work because there is no place they’d rather be. The gym rat. A player like this thrives in our culture because the culture was built by players before them that were wired the exact same way.
When you first started reading this, you probably didn’t even know the city of Green Bay had a women’s basketball team. We aren’t your SEC, BIG 10, or powerhouse program. We are a small mid-major program in the middle of the woods. (Like if you are walking to class on a fall afternoon there is an 85% chance you see more turkeys than students on your walk) However, if you want to put the Green Bay team up against one of those powerhouses, they won’t shy away. We compete with these schools and often even come away with victories. Odds are, these schools didn’t even blink an eye at us as players during the recruiting process. Maybe we weren’t quick enough or maybe we weren’t good enough shooters but there is one thing we all have in common. Our grit. We got faster, we became better shooters, and during our careers continually chased that excellence. It’s because of that grit we were are able to be successful.
We strive to be the hardest working team in the country. Regardless if that’s the truth or not, that’s the goal. Both in the classroom and on the court.
In the 2017–2018 season we were national champions in the classroom with a 3.753 team grade-point average.
Success comes when you strive to be the best. In our conference, if you liked it or not, when you wear Green Bay across your chest you also wear a target on your back. Green Bay is the team to beat. When a program holds that level of success in a conference for two decades, they are indeed the team to beat. Because of this, we had to be at our very best every single game. Simply because we were going to see everyone’s best. It’s that “nothing to lose attitude” that can be ever so challenging to face. We have a saying of 20% better. It is a concept that we have to be 20% better than our best. This is because we are going to see everyones 100% so if we want to come out on top or stay on top we have to be at 120%.
Accountability. Leadership. Grit. — The Green Bay Way. I truly feel blessed to have been a part of a program like UWGB. It is a special place. When I think about the people I met at Green Bay I smile. I smile because they started out as strangers, that turned into friends, and eventually turned into family. I’m not sitting here saying this is the ONLY college program that has hard working players or a strong culture but this is my experience.
I hope there are athletes across the entire world that can share the same appreciation for their experience. Because honestly, that’s what sports are all about. It’s less about the sport and more about the life skills that we develop along the way. College sports are challenging (If you don’t believe me, you’ve never been introduced to a versa climber) It can truly be hard to explain the complete and utter exhaustion unless you yourself have went through it. But when it’s all said and done, there is no place I would have wanted to experience this. I’m a better person after those five years and I honestly believe that I can take on anything life throws at me. I learned what it means to be tough, how to overcome adversity, and how to overcome heartbreak. Most importantly, I learned how to slow down and enjoy the little things in life. The culture at Green Bay changed my life. I hope when you now hear Green Bay, you don’t just think of a stadium filled with Cheeseheads but you also think of the Women’s Basketball program in the middle of the woods, striving to be the best.
- Laken James