Dec. 1, 2009
by Jon Cooper, Contributing Editor
OSR Sting EXTRA
ATLANTA — By naming junior guard/forward Deja Foster Most Valuable Player of last weekend’s LIU Turkey Classic, the event’s organizers and media simply confirmed what people in Atlanta have known for a long time: she is quite valuable.
Foster shot 8-for-15 in the tournament (6-for-7 in the finale), pulled down 11 rebounds, had seven assists, a team-leading four steals and Tech’s only blocked shot. That all-around excellence made people take notice.
Good thing others are paying attention because Foster’s not one to seek a spotlight.
“I feel like there’s so much more about life than me,” said the Memphis, Tenn., native.
For Foster, winning MVP awards is nice, winning games even better, but losing is not the end of the world.
That’s not indifference. It’s perspective, perspective that’s come from seeing her mother, Kia, divorced from her father, Tim, when she was 7, then watching her mother raise six other children, one of them adopted.
“That IS my family. Those ARE my brothers, and my mom adopted a little girl and she’s 10. That IS my sister,” said Foster. “My mom doesn’t really have a great job. She works paycheck-to-paycheck, and she takes in whoever needs help and to me that’s so noble.”
Want to talk about tough? Try raising the six kids (with some help from her boyfriend) while having three heart attacks. That’s what Kia does. That toughness, and her devout faith has helped her continue looking for work, despite being frequently turned down by insurers because she is considered a health risk.
“It’s so hard,” said Foster, unable to contain her tears. “She’s my best friend and I call home and she can’t help, and she cries and there’s nothing that I can do. When I get extra money I try to send it home to help out. I try as much as I can not to ask her for anything. It’s just so hard for her.”
Seeing her mother persevere serves as inspiration.
Foster remembers sleeping during the day so she could stay up at night and watch her mom play college basketball on the JUCO level.
While grades kept Kia down, Deja wouldn’t let that happen. She’s a management major, and has been on the Dean’s List every semester at Tech. She won the 2009-10 Five-Star Scholarship. She is modest about her achievements.
“I actually got it because I’m from Tennessee,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s also for academic excellence. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been inducted into the Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB), I’ve gotten this scholarship and it feels good that my hard work has been noticed.”
Her hard work on the floor is impossible to miss.
Foster is a tri-captain for the Yellow Jackets, just as she was captain her last two years at Wooddale High School, and in her one season on Wooddale’s volleyball team.
“Your opponent is trying to get better. It’s your job to get better as well,” she said. “I do what I’m supposed to do, I’m where I’m supposed to be. As a coach, you look at that and you say, ‘That’s what you’re supposed to do.’ But there are not a lot of kids who are doing it.”
Even when she’s not at her best, she’s finding a way to contribute. A prime example was the Nov. 21 victory over Florida Gulf Coast. Foster shot 4-for-14, but pulled down five offensive boards and made two steals to earn postgame praise from Tech coach MaChelle Joseph.
“Deja just makes plays. That’s what she does,” said Joseph. “She’s a winner. She understands how to win and she’s going to make the plays when she has to to make sure that she puts us in a position to have a chance to win.”
Part of her work ethic also derives from her admiration and respect for Joseph.
“There are times I’m hurting and I’m tired and I just want to lay in bed, but then I’m like, ‘That’s not me. I’m a hard worker. I have to live up to my reputation,’ ” she said with another laugh. “Playing for Coach Jo honors you because she didn’t come from the best background either. To see her make it and be so successful, it makes me want to do that.
“I always say I don’t feel like my background is any harder than anyone else’s. I think she knows where I come from. She pushes me harder and I respect that.”
Her teammates show Foster similar respect.
“Every game I just expect Deja to go hard,” said sophomore forward Chelsea Regins. “She actually gets me up for the game.”
“Offensively, her game is attacking the basket, attacking the rim and she does that very well,” said senior forward Brigette Ardossi. “It’s one thing that not even we can really stop her doing in practice.”
There is no stopping Foster from making a difference off the court, where she is constantly looking for ways make things better for her peers as a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Board.
“I do as much as I can while I’m in college,” she said. “I feel like sometimes student-athletes just go to school and play basketball and they don’t really try to move out of their realm. Last year I was on the board, but I didn’t really do anything. I told the chairperson for the board, ‘I want to do more.’ I’m just trying to do more.”
Among the causes she’s championed while on the board are helping raise money for victims of summer flooding in Atlanta. She’s helped coordinate toy drives at football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball games.
“We try and get all the student-athletes to come together and go to each other’s sporting events,” she said. “We try to support each other and do events where the student-athletes will be involved.”
Foster has begun to map her post-college life, preferably in coaching, but also is leaving her options open should a chance to play in the WNBA come along.
“I love basketball and we have summer camps and stuff and I coached the kids and I loved it,” she said. “I just get so involved in the game. Even now, I find myself coaching my teammates. I think my basketball IQ has shot up since I’ve been here. I cannot not see myself involved in basketball. I just love the game.
“What basketball player who loves the game doesn’t want to play at a higher level?” I want to go, but it won’t be the end-all, be-all for me. My degree will be worth much more.”
Then there are always Mom’s words to keep her on the right path.
“She always says, ‘Stay humble, because as easy as you get it, it can be taken away.’ My mom’s very much into God,” Foster said. “She’s like, ‘You don’t do it on your own. You always give God the glory and just stay humble.'”