USA Basketball Mentorship Program Links Stars Sophia Witherspoon and Edniesha Curry
Sophia Witherspoon and Edniesha Curry live on opposite ends of the East Coast — Witherspoon in Florida, Curry in Maine — yet they’ve nonetheless developed a relationship that transcends mileage thanks to a mentorship program through USA Basketball’s Women in the Game initiative.
The two have been trailblazers in women’s basketball and are now helping to raise the bar for women’s coaches.
Their meeting came thanks to USA Basketball’s six-week mentorship program, which is one aspect of Women in the Game, a series of conferences for women in all walks of sports life to “turn a passion into an opportunity.” Conference attendees (mentees) are matched with experienced professionals (mentors) in the sports industry to help them develop personal and professional goals, gain new perspectives and advance within their current or future careers.
Witherspoon, 49, was tabbed as the mentor for Curry, 39, but that relationship quickly changed from mentor-mentee to symbiotic almost immediately.
“We started talking about goals, aspirations, what she wants to do later on, and quite honestly, she doesn’t need a mentor,” said Witherspoon, a bronze medalist with USA Basketball while playing on the 1993 USA World University World Team. “She’s a very well-seasoned young lady who knows exactly what she wants to do.”
Curry found the same dynamic.
“I really don’t like to say the word ‘mentor,’” Curry said. “For me, it’s just about relationship building. We have a great fit. I’m really blessed that I was able to get connected with Sophia, a like-minded great basketball player like me.”
Both women were pioneers in the WNBA after successfully climbing the ranks through amateur and college play.
The New York Liberty drafted Witherspoon out of the University of Florida in 1997, where she played until going to the Portland Fire in 2000 and 2001, and then to the Los Angeles Sparks, where she helped them win the 2002 WNBA Finals.
Witherspoon is a member of the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame, having been so dedicated to academics in her time there that the Office of Student Life created the Sophia Witherspoon Award for Overall Excellence, presented each semester to two students who exemplify the same positive attitude and work ethic in the classroom while also being an athlete.
Curry, known as “Eddie,” was drafted by the Charlotte Sting out of the University of Oregon in 2002, and played for the Phoenix Mercury and Sparks, as well as in Europe. She started her collegiate career at California State University, Northridge, where for single-season records she still
Originally from Los Angeles, Curry also served as a player development and assistant coach for the University of Maine women’s team from 2015 through 2017 before joining the NBA Assistant Coaches’ Program, working at the NBA Draft Combine and the NBA G League Showcase.
Both women are well into their coaching careers now, with Witherspoon coaching girls at her high school alma mater, Fort Pierce Central in Florida, and Curry serving as the men’s assistant coach at the University of Maine, the only woman holding a full-time job as an assistant coach with a NCAA Division I men’s program.
Witherspoon and Curry arrange weekly phone calls up to twice a week, initially starting off with discussion topics to help them get better acquainted by discussing their experiences and their goals.
“She takes that same tenacity she learned through playing at the highest level and applies that to the young men,” Witherspoon said of Curry. “Likewise with myself and high school kids. We want our players to be prepared and equipped to put their handprint not only on the program, but in life. We value imparting lessons to these young people. We didn’t have coaches who had gone where we were trying to go. They didn’t know how to prepare us. A lot of the things we learned along the way, we learned by being trailblazers and pioneers.”
Their Type A level of competitiveness and thirst for success helped them forge an immediate bond.
“We went from that first call to almost knowing each other from that moment,” Witherspoon said. “Both of us shared a lot of the same things. She played in the WNBA; so did I. We could relate to a lot of things, but we found a lot of it was us having to work harder than the next person to make that 10-12-man roster, being competitive every day to keep that job.”
Curry says they were able to share and learn from their experiences — and each other’s experiences — in both playing and coaching. And when it comes down to the difference between coaching high school girls like Witherspoon does, or the men, like Curry does, Curry sees no ultimate difference.
“It’s just basketball,” Curry said. “The things she goes through with her players and team and the things I go through are the same. She has younger players, I have men’s players now, but overall, it’s basketball in the end. I can learn from her; she can learn from me. We don’t even get into the conversation of male versus female or the differences between male and female athletes, we just see it as basketball.”
Their six-week mentorship program began in August and isn’t over yet, but they both believe they’ll keep the relationship going with regular calls and emails.
“Having the opportunity to mentor each other, we know we can relate a lot of things going on not just for us, but for whoever we’re coaching,” Witherspoon said. “I think more athletes need to get involved with this program. You get to know colleagues you played against or don’t normally get to know. It’s a more intimate setting, and there’s a lot of insight we can share.”