The path Stephanie Ready '93 charted for her career was supposed to take her into boardrooms.
Instead, she found that the open doors before her led in a different direction: sports. They also presented her with situations few, if any, women had undertaken before.
Could she direct an NCAA Division I volleyball program at the age of 21? How about coaching basketball? How about men's basketball? Could a woman coach men? Could Ready? Well, then, how about men's professional basketball?
Ready's answer to every question was yes. She would become Coppin State University's volleyball coach. A year later, she became only the third woman ever to coach a men's college basketball team. Then she was the first woman to coach a men's professional team.
In the process, just three years out of college, Ready became a coaching sensation. USA Today told her story to all of America, and Ebony magazine named her one of the 56 most intriguing blacks of 2001, alongside such luminaries as August Wilson, Janet Jackson, and Surgeon General David Satcher.
Today, Ready marvels at her opportunities: "There's no way I would trust a 20-something with that amount of responsibility. It's crazy to look back on it."
Yet she never doubted her ability to excel in each assignment. She had prepared for each job, she says, and what matters is that you are prepared when an opportunity presents itself.
Now Ready is again in the national spotlight for a prominent new assignment: She is the TV analyst—"color commentator"—on Charlotte Hornets broadcasts this season, the first woman to hold such a job in the National Basketball Association full time.
"She has sort of been a trailblazer throughout her career, but what was most attractive to us was the fact that she's a former player and a former coach," said Fred Whitfield, president of the Hornets, told the Associated Press. "We thought she could bring a different perspective."
For Ready, the promotion from sideline reporter was the culmination of a decade's work.
"When I was a coach and considered getting into television, this was the job that I wanted. This was the reason that I got into sports broadcasting, because I wanted to be a game analyst," she told NBA.com.
And Ready hopes she can not only bring viewers more insight about the game but also perhaps change some opinions about what women can and should do.
"The comments I get from some people because I'm a woman doing this job, it's really disheartening," Ready said in a September 2015 interview. "I'm not out here waving my flag and on my soapbox. I'm just thrilled to have this job. But at the same time if I can help open up minds and help change society little by little, then I'm happy to do that.
"Because I've got two little ones—my daughter is 4 and my son is 6—I'm so excited that my kids will not have these compartmentalized boxes that they want to put people in, like I did when I was growing up," she added. "My kids and all their friends are growing up thinking that anybody can do anything."
That's a message she and her siblings heard often from their parents, Edward Ready and Rhona Blackwell Ready, "but I didn't see any examples of some things. It was up to me and up to them to put the confidence in me to go out and try things for the first time if I didn't see anyone else trying it.
"But now, these kids have plenty of examples. Race doesn't matter. Gender doesn't matter. Religious belief—none of that stuff matters. It just matters whether or not you can do the job. That's what I'm most proud of: I'm another example of how the world should be."
Rhona Blackwell Ready died in August, before Stephanie's promotion was finalized, "but she would not have been surprised. She and my dad were always encouraging of all us kids. They always instilled in us that we could do whatever we want as long as we work hard. She was the one who believed from the very beginning that I could play in college."
And that was a dream of Ready's when she graduated from NCS—to play basketball on a top-level NCAA team. Coppin State was one of a handful of Division I schools that showed some interest, and the Baltimore school was close to her family in Takoma Park. But to play, she would have to "walk on"—try out for the team with no guarantee of a spot on the roster.
No problem. By the time Coppin State played its first game, Ready had worked her way not only onto the team but also into the starting lineup. She started all four years and finished among the school's all-time leaders in points, rebounds, assists, and steals.
She also started on the volleyball team—and graduated cum laude in 1998 with a degree in psychology. "My intention was to be an industrial and organizational psychologist—to go to business school when I graduated."
It didn't work out that way. Instead, that summer Coppin State's athletic director and men's basketball coach, Ron "Fang" Mitchell, asked her to coach the volleyball team she had played on a season earlier.
"It's kind of astonishing when I look back on it. I mean, I was sooo young," Ready said. "But he explained how he came to the decision. He told me, you're sharp, you know what you want to do, you're great at expressing yourself, and you're organized. You do the work."
His pitch convinced Ready to set aside her grad school plans. Within a year, Mitchell was impressed enough to offer her a spot on his bench, as an assistant coach of the men's basketball team. He told Ebony in 2002 what he saw in her: "A person who had a lot of potential and ability. ... You don't have a lot of people who have her intelligence and her work ethic. She wants to do the job so well, and you applaud her."
"There was never a question of him not being able to trust me because I constantly proved to him that I was able to do the job," Ready said.
In 2001, he helped propel Ready into pro basketball. The National Basketball Development League—a minor league for the NBA—was looking for young coaches with potential, and Mitchell, a well-known figure in basketball circles, put in a good word with the top offcials there.
"He has such a stellar reputation that anyone who works for him has instant credibility," Ready said. "The fact that I was a woman was just happenstance. Because of who my boss was and that we were doing well spoke to them about my ability."
Still, the league's interest caught her completely off-guard. "Becoming a coach of professional men—I mean, that was not even on my radar. But Fang was like, why are we even talking about this? This is not something you consider, this is something you say yes to before they change their minds," Ready said.
The NBDL's announcement that Ready would be the assistant coach for the Greenville (S.C.) Groove sent her, in her words, "from being completely obscure and irrelevant to being plastered across talk shows." Matt Lauer interviewed her on the Today show. Magazines arranged photo shoots.
Ready also got a call from her alma mater, inviting her to deliver the commencement address to NCS's Class of 2002.
"I was so honored to even be asked, because I remember the commencement speakers" from her time as a student, she said. "You're talking about real heavy-hitters in the world, not just D.C. It brought back all the emotions of my time graduating and understanding what those girls were going through. It was very emotional, but I enjoyed doing that. It's one of my good memories."
Asked what memories she has of being an NCS student, Ready pointed to three things: the Cathedral ("It has kind of its own persona"), the academics ("While you're there, you don't appreciate the rigor, the demanding schedule, the time you have to put in. But once you leave, you get it.") and the Class of 1993, which remains close to her heart.
"We were a tight-knit group. To this day, I could roll off at least a dozen friends that I'm still in communication with," she said. "That's the most valuable thing I've taken away from [NCS]. I've known these girls since 7th grade, and Patricia [Datch Koopersmith '93] since kindergarten. People don't keep friends for that long."
When the Greenville team disbanded in 2003, Ready began talking with the expansion NBA team in Charlotte, 100 miles up the road, about becoming a sideline reporter. As the discussions dragged on, the WNBA's Washington Mystics hired her as an assistant. But she kept her eye on the television job.
"It was such an extraordinary opportunity. There are only 30 NBA teams, so if you want to do any sort of sports commentating at the professional level, and your sport is basketball, you have 30 options," Ready said, explaining her new interest. "I had to go after this job."
The career switch had a rocky start. "My first year, I was not my best. But what I had that a lot of rookies don't have is the basketball knowledge. Basketball is just in me. As long as I can remember, it's been there," she said. "What I had to learn was how to relay that to the people watching at home on their sofas. So to me, my learning curve was a lot easier."
She grew into the job and learned how to invest viewers in the game—lessons she's now carried into the broadcast booth.
She recognizes that Hornets viewers expect her to be the expert on basketball, and satisfying them requires plenty of homework. "I prepare for a game just like I did when I was a coach. I watch game films of the opponent because I want to know what to expect, what the individual players' tendencies and skill sets are."
But then that is Stephanie Ready's way. Whether as a player, a coach, or a broadcaster, she has always held on to the philosophy she shared with the Class of 2002 in her NCS commencement speech:"I live my life by a simple creed: Success is when opportunity meets preparation. ... Those who succeed are those who mesh their God-given talent with a great work ethic."
—by Scott Butterworth
This article first appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of NCS Magazine.