May 20, 2013
By Jon Cooper
In the four years that Deja Foster was at Georgia Tech (2007-11), her stated goal was to be a movie director.
Screen writing might have been a better option.
Foster, who had already crafted a good life script, started a promising new scene last week, officially accepting a position as a Graduate Manager for Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball.
Something of a “Rocky” story since arriving on The Flats in 2007, the Memphis, Tennessee, native, and 2011 graduate with a degree in Management, was fittingly living in Philadelphia, where she had been working the last two years as an Executive Team Leader for Target.
While managing and motivating between 40 and 50 people in three different departments was a challenge, it wasn’t the kind of challenge for which she felt she was best suited. She had begun to seek out volunteer positions with Philadelphia-based teams and was preparing to pursue her Master’s in Sports Management and Recreation at Temple.
“Obviously, it was a different world,” said Foster, who will now pursue the degree at Georgia Tech. “I had to learn how to be a better leader. Being outside the world of basketball, was definitely hard. I love the game. I love being around it.”
When the opportunity to get back in arose, she jumped at it with the same urgency and fervor that she showed diving on the floor or into the crowd for a loose ball as a player.
“It was a no-brainer,” she said. “One, Coach Jo has done so much for me since I’ve graduated but also as a player, and, two, it’s my school. I graduated from here. Why WOULDN’T I want to be here?”
There was never a doubt Foster wanted to be at Tech as an undergrad. A two-year co-captain for the Yellow Jackets from 2009 through 2011, Foster was part of a senior class that finished with a then-program-high 91 wins (now the second-most in program history), and a .689 win percentage (91-41). The four teams she was on won at least 22 games every season, and improved their win totals every season, reaching the NCAA Tournament all four years, twice advancing to the second round.
Foster made ACC All-Academic Team in 2010, ranks eighth all-time in career games played and still has Tech all-time top-10 seasons for assists (108, 3.3 apg, sixth), steals (2.0 in ’08-09, seventh and 1.8 spg in ’09-10, 10th), and rebounds (201, 6.1 rpg, in ’09-10, 8th).
But defining Foster’s career via numbers wouldn’t do it or her justice.
She was the heart of the team, the fiery emotional leader, who set the example every day with her tenacious defense and always-revving motor.
It’s the kind of example that Head Coach MaChelle Joseph wants around her team every day.
“I am so excited to have Deja joining my staff,” Joseph said. “She is the epitome of what this program was built on and represents. I know she will be a tremendous role model for our student-athletes and a joy to be around every day.”
“The reason she brought me back, she said, was because of the example that I set,” said Foster. “The Institute has done so much for me so I want to do everything that I can to give back.”
Her signature game came on Jan. 6, 2011 against No. 8 North Carolina at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. In the game’s final 30 seconds, with Tech trailing, 70-66, Foster hit a layup then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and found a wide-open Metra Walthour behind the three-point line. Walthour hit the three, providing the winning points in an incredible 71-70 win.
Coincidentally, it was while Foster was attending the game against North Carolina this past Feb. 10 at McCamish Pavilion that the idea of her return to Georgia Tech took flight. It began with a casual conversation with Associate Director of Athletics – Senior Women’s Administrator Theresa Wenzel.
“She just asked me, ‘What is your future looking like? What do you want to do?'” Foster recalled. “I had always been telling them I was going back to school and I was preparing to take the GMAT. So she just brought it up. About a month and a half later, Coach Jo called and asked if I was interested.”
Interested would be an understatement. Foster’s dizzying last days up north went as follows: Her last day at Target was May 10th, she came back to Atlanta on the 11th, moved into an apartment on the 12th and started work on the 13th.
Foster said her new role will not only involve player development but also alumni- and community relations. She will also be allowed to sit in on coaches’ meetings.
While thrilled to be back on the Flats, Foster knows there will be a difference this time around.
“I’m really trying to get acclimated, to see what I can and cannot do now that I’m no longer a player,” she said. “I can’t just go and work out with [the players]. I’m sure there are rules. I have to understand the logistics of no longer being a player, and taking that next step in being a Graduate Manager. It’s a culture shock being on the other side of the stick.”
She’ll adjust, as she always has, most likely by working through it, as she always has.
“I jumped right in once I got here, just asking all the coaches and staff, ‘Hey, what is it that you need from me?’, ‘Hey, what time do you get to the gym?’, ‘What are you guys doing?’, ‘What are you working on?'” she said. “I’m just so excited to be back and trying to figure out what it is Coach Jo wants of me and figuring out my role and responsibilities.”
Ironically, that learning what NOT to do is the first step on the career path of what she ideally wants to do.
“I think I do,” she said of a future career in coaching. “Not I think. I KNOW I do.”