Shayna Mehta is a recent graduate of Brown University where she majored in Biology and played four years of NCAA Division-1 Basketball as one of their star players, modelling her game after Steph Curry. She won Ivy League Rookie of The Year award in the 2015-2016 season.
Growing up in a South Asian household (including a Tamil parent) where typically the focus is on academics versus sports, how did you convince your parents that you wanted to play sports?
I was fortunate enough to have parents that did not put up a red flag to girls playing sports as many Indian immigrant parents do. My parents have allowed me to challenge cultural barriers in athletics with their guidance. Growing up, my parents put me in various organized sports such as basketball, soccer and softball. But as my dad is a huge basketball fan, I ended up practicing and playing more basketball as we would go to our local YMCA and shoot around. Having his support as a basketball player at a young age drew me to the sport. With so few desi women athletes in sports to follow as role models, my parents support has been the key to my achievements.
How did you balance the demands of going to an Ivy League school, in a demanding program, with being a Division 1 player which has its own rigours in terms of time requirements?
Balancing a Division I basketball schedule consisting of 30-40 hours of practice, games, travel, film/scouting, weight training, and conditioning a week with a pre-medical academic course load had its challenges. It definitely was not easy! My resilience, focus, and ability to handle stress were continuously tested and refined as I adapted to life as a student-athlete. I learned time management skills, how to prioritize my tasks and to reach out for help when needed.
You’ve won a number of awards for your basketball play including Rookie of the Year in the 2015-2016. A South Asian woman succeeding in a competitive league (Division League) must have turned a lot of heads since it’s probably something that most other players, coaches and fans don’t typically see. Tell us about this experience and how you achieved this success?
When I first came to Brown as a freshman, I remember just hoping to be able to get playing time in games. I never imagined being the starting point guard for a Division I basketball team. Being 5’6” and coming from an ethnic group not known for our athletic prowess, I was not recruited by many programs. I enjoyed being able to prove people wrong when unanimously winning the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award. This award was also special because I had torn my meniscus during my rookie season and underwent surgery in December, in the middle of the season. The fact that I was able to come back from knee surgery and win the award is something I am very proud of.
Becoming the 2nd all-time leading scorer at Brown University, the 11th leading scorer in Ivy League history, setting the record for most 3-pointers made at Brown, setting the record for most steals in a single season at Brown and garnering All Ivy League awards while leading my team to the first ever Ivy League Tournament has allowed me to defy expectations and surprise many.
You mentioned that basketball allows you to exhibit a creative side that most people don’t get to see and called it a “medium of expression” which I found interesting. I’m a huge basketball fan and played it – but never thought of it from a creative point of view. Can you elaborate further?
As point guard you can be as creative as you would like with ankle-breaking dribble moves, no-look passes and Steph Curry-like shot selection. You can control the flow of the game, entertain the crowd and show your swag.