#TGW: Paying It Back
New women’s basketball assistant coach Blanche Alverson excited to reunite with her mentor
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
It’s commonplace for student-athletes to look back and thank their college coach for the influence he or she had on their lives.
It’s less common for the student-athlete to get to pay back their mentor and show them just how much influence he or she had.
Blanche Alverson was presented the opportunity to do just that when Georgia Tech hired her college coach, Nell Fortner, as the sixth coach of the women’s basketball program on April 9. Alverson jumped at the opportunity.
“Coach Nell called me and we talked about the opportunity here,” recalled Alverson, who had been an assistant coach the previous two years at Southern California. “Being able to come back here, closer to home and getting back on the east coast was definitely something that was important to me. I had a great experience at USC and I worked for amazing people over there, (head coach) Mark Trakh knew that this was something that I wanted. It made sense and so, for me, being able to come back closer to home, be a part here at Georgia Tech and working for Coach Fortner was definitely the right fit.”
Alverson grew up about 200 miles south of Atlanta, in Andalusia, Alabama, and attended Buford High School before being recruited by Fortner, to Auburn, where she’d attend from 2009-13. A biomedical sciences major, she made her mark as a complete student-athlete. Alverson was two-time SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year, three-time SEC honor roll member, and first-year academic honor roll. She also was a three-time SEC community service team member, and 2013 WBCA Good Works Team honoree as a senior.
On the court, the 6-3 Alverson was a three-year starter, playing as the Tigers’ forward/wing, frequently bringing up the ball, but also filling it up, especially as a three-point shooter. She led the team in three-point shooting her final three seasons, finished second all-time in Auburn program history, making 213 threes (six shy of the record, held by her teammate, Alli Smalley), and shot .345 from behind the arc (eighth in program history). Her 1,244 career points rank 22nd all-time and her 602 boards are 21st. She left the Plains as one of four players with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 100 assists, 100 steals and 50 blocks.
She’ll also forever be known as the player who hit the first Auburn basket and first three-pointer at the new Auburn Arena.
“It’s definitely pretty surreal, thinking about it now,” she said. “In the moment you don’t even think about it. It wasn’t even something until I read afterward, ‘Blanche Alverson scored the first Auburn basket.’ I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ It was pretty special.”
Alverson has been pretty special since getting into coaching after graduation. She’s served as a graduate assistant at Texas Tech (2014-16), and an assistant at New Mexico State (2016-17), before working at USC the past two years. She made her mark at all three places, as a recruiter and developer of talent.
At NMSU, she signed two top-150 prospects, then, once players got to campus, she worked with both post players and guards, including two-time WAC Player of the Year Brooke Salas.
At USC, she worked as academic liaison and saw five players earn Pac-12 academic honors and six earn all-Pac-12 recognition. Of course, her legacy is not complete at Southern Cal, as she brought five top-50 prospects to campus in her two seasons and helped bring the country’s No. 5 recruiting class to L.A. last year.
She’ll now try to woo recruits to Atlanta, concentrating on the international level, something she looks forward to.
“Georgia Tech is a very global institution. What I think is unique about Georgia Tech, is we have a team that is pretty diverse. We would like that to continue,” she said. “I’ll also be our academic liaison within our staff. I was a biomedical sciences undergrad, so education has always been very, very, very important to me. I know it’s important to Coach Fortner and our staff.”
Honesty is most important to her on the recruiting trail and has been a key to her success.
“Transparency in that process is key. You’re recruiting high-level kids and I think, more than anything, they want to know what’s going on,” she said. “Being honest with them about your process and who you are, and genuineness, that’s something you obviously can’t make up. Also, it’s important to recruit kids that the school’s going to be a good fit for them because, at the end of the day, you want to bring someone that’s going to be a great fit to your program and to that school. You don’t want them to look in a year or two and be like, ‘This isn’t where I belong.’ So I think it’s important to really take the time and get to know the person you’re recruiting but also, be genuine in who you are and transparent in your process and where you are with your program.”
On the floor, Alverson will work with the forwards and can help all positions shooting-wise. A sharpshooter since she started playing the game at age five in her front yard, with older brother, William, she’s looking forward to instructing with shooting. It’s a labor of love.
“For me, shooting was something I always loved to do,” she said. “I remember being eight and trying to shoot threes. It was just something I always wanted to do. I knew that also was probably my advantage. If I was going to be out there playing with older people, I had to be able to shoot it because I wasn’t as big growing up then. I was always taller than all my peers, so when I’m playing older people I had to do something, so I’ve always loved to shoot the basketball. It’s something that I always kind of dialed in on. It’s something that my coaches, growing up, encouraged me to do. That obviously, carried me through all the way to playing after college.”
Alverson, who got a brief look with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, is looking forward to working on shooting with the Jackets, including senior marksman Francesca Pan and junior point Kierra Fletcher and senior swing Chanin Scott, but also several up-and-coming underclassmen from this and last year’s superb recruiting classes.
“One thing that I try to bring in everything I do is positive energy and confidence,” she said. “Part of shooting is confidence. I know that’s something that was big for me as a player…in shooting, knowing that no matter what I did, despite sometimes maybe taking not the best shot, I knew that Coach Fortner had my back. That goes a long way for a shooter and their confidence.”
Alverson is confident that she can help establish the culture Fortner wants for the Yellow Jackets program and can’t wait to get started this summer.
“I think Coach Fortner has done an outstanding job already of building intentional relationships with our current roster and instilling her vision and belief in who we are as a program,” she said. “That starts with relationships and I think she has a great grasp. Having played for her and been recruited by her, that’s something that I can bring…help navigate that with our players. I know what it’s like to play with her and be in that with her. She’s the same person she was then in terms of her energy and her belief and her confidence in us and nothing’s going to take her off of that.”
Alverson also can relate to the pressures of Georgia Tech’s student-athlete by tapping into her career.
“Something that’s not a job responsibility on paper but something that I can bring to the table is being able to relate to them in knowing that classes are tough,” she said. “You’re going to have finals and you’re going to lose sleep and you’re going to have to study and you’re going to have to put that work in. I think it’s that relatability to them in that way and also competing at a high level. Something that I would like to bring, too, is that you can be involved in other things and expand. That’s one thing I noticed about Georgia Tech right away. Doing Jackets Without Borders and different things like that, it’s important to be in our community, to give back.
“It’s important to be involved as a well-rounded student, to get the overall experience here,” she added. “There are so many different avenues that sometimes student-athletes aren’t aware of. Obviously, your priorities have to be academics and basketball, but after that, it’s important to have that well-rounded experience because when you look back on your college career, it’s important to be able to say, ‘I did these things. I was involved in other ways.’ It’s going to make your connection to the university that much stronger.”
She’s already showed she can relate to them on the court and likes to show she still can hit the jumper.
“We were in a workout and they were like, ‘Okay, you actually can shoot a little bit,’” she said, with a laugh. “That’s what’s also fun about coming into a new situation. You get to know people and they start to discover a little bit about you.”
There will be a lot more discovery this summer, in a more-relaxed atmosphere.
“Spending time with our players, spending time as a staff together, continuing to have intentional relationships is important right now,” said Alverson. “That’s a huge part of the summer. Also, developing basketball-wise, getting familiar with things we’re going to do. Right now, it’s all new. It’s fresh. But at some point life is going to become life. Things are going to get hard. You have to have that foundation of a genuine relationship, you can rely on that and trust who you’re with.”