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We Never Just 'Are'

By Kayla Padilla

Here’s the heart of it: basketball represents legacy, a circle unbroken, connecting legends to a young girl in the stands – me – dreaming impossible dreams.

Sitting in the Galen Center, eyes wide, heart racing, I saw myself on that court. In 2006, USC’s Jamie Hagiya, a Japanese-American, became my inspiration. Her journey from the same California streets as me and shared Asian-American heritage, to collegiate basketball glory, mirrored the path I looked to tread. From Kobe and Shaq to Jamie, their stories ignited my drive, shaping my ambitions in both the game and life.

Years of dedication, sweat, and relentless pursuit have come full circle. Now, I live for the Galen Center, perched on the precipice of dreams made tangible. As a SoCal native, I grew up watching games here, idolizing USC and everything we stand for. Today, the experience feels surreal – seeing our home overflowing with our city and community’s support.

LA stands undefeated – relentless and never complacent. This spirit inspired me to blaze my own path, transitioning from playing AAU and Asian-American leagues, where our stories shine rare and necessary, to becoming a visible figure for young Filipino-American athletes.

Noelle Quinn, my high school coach and greatest mentor, with grace and humility always empowered me with the fervor to excel beyond the court, to imbue every action with purpose and intensity. Her words resonate, “don’t just be.” Never settle. Never give up doing your best. Push beyond. Plus ultra.

In Tucson, as the final seconds ticked away, down by three, I stood behind the arc, planted my feet, and, with the world fading away, trusted the hours of practice where I never let things “just be.” The ball left my hands, sailed through, and we braced for overtime. Basketball bridges the gap between hard work and aspirations – turning the relentless pursuit of excellence tangible, breaking barriers, and connecting generations, cultures, and dreams.

I carry this ethos in all I do. At the University of Pennsylvania, I founded Sideline Post, a platform extending beyond individual athletes. We craft narratives, share stories, and foster a community among college athletes nationwide. A passionate music enthusiast, I find solace in the piano, drums, and guitar.

Everything started simply: the dedication to being the best possible version of oneself yields profound, life-altering results, turning simple joys into lifelong passions. My basketball journey began at four, playing for the joy of friendship and post-game snacks – those moments of pure joy laid the foundation for all to come. The journey intensified in third grade, when my parents flew me across the country to play. That pivotal trip marked the realization of basketball's potential to shape my future, open doors, and pave a path filled with opportunities and lessons beyond the hardwood.

That passion has brought me to today. Recently, after a game, as the stadium emptied, I caught the eager gaze of a young fan. Ten years old, her enthusiasm and Filipino heritage mirrored my own. Her admiration, not just for the game but for what I represented on the court, struck a deep chord within me. This moment, testament to the cycle of inspiration and influence, underscored the immense power of visibility and representation. Such interactions fuel my commitment, reminding me that our actions, on and off the court, reverberate far beyond our immediate reach. 

As March Madness nears, the stakes rise, not just for me, but for the entire team. We stand on the cusp of greatness, building on the legacies of athletes who poured their hearts into their craft with hard work, unity, and unwavering determination. A movement sweeps the globe, with women’s basketball at its heart.

In the electric anticipation leading up to March Madness, everything we've worked for, everything we believe in, all crystallize. Every game sees us improving, our determination unyielding, our belief and resilience unwavering. As fierce competitors, we firmly believe we can reach the Final Four.

Dear basketball, we promise to make our city and school proud. Never just be.


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