Photo From left: Monica Garnes, Fry's Food Stores president, Lindsey Smith, Fox Sports anchor and "Women in Sports" panel host, Kristen Gambetta, director of sports and entertainment at Rakuten and Shaina Zaidi, Tu Me Beverage Company co-founder & president.

Stephen Curry was in the headlines again last year but this time for his thoughtful response to a young female fan.

It all started with a letter from a 9-year-old aspiring baller named Riley, who happens to share a name with Curry’s own eldest daughter. When she and her father sought out a pair of Curry’s signature sneakers for the upcoming season, she was disappointed to find that they didn’t stock any in the girls’ section of the Under Armour website. Curry and Under Armour stepped in to immediately remedy the situation,  and then he invited the young fan to watch the Warriors play in person on March 8 for International Women’s Day.

The Underrated Tour made a special stop in Phoenix on February 9-10 dedicated solely to female athletes.

The Underrated Tour made a special stop in Phoenix on February 9-10 dedicated solely to female athletes.

Supporting female athletes

Listening to the voices of female athletes is nothing new for Curry, who has made a mission of supporting girls’ basketball. Last year, Curry debuted “It’s Our Game,” a basketball camp just for girls and he has proved himself a ready champion of gender equality. So when Curry launched the Rakuten-powered Underrated Tour, a series of basketball camps for underrated high school players, in January 2019, it came as no surprise that there was an all-girls stop on the calendar.

While all stops on the Underrated Tour are open to girls, February 9-10 in Phoenix Arizona, was dedicated solely to female athletes. Participants received top-tier training from Curry’s personal skills development and performance coach, Brandon Payne, a pair of Curry’s brand new sneakers and an opportunity to raise their profile as they work toward securing a college basketball scholarship.

Participants received top-tier training directed by Brandon Payne, Stephen Curry’s personal skills development and performance coach.

Participants received a chance to raise their player profile in addition to top-tier training directed by Brandon Payne, Stephen Curry’s personal skills development and performance coach.

Tour sponsor Rakuten also organized a special “Women in Sports” panel before the first day of the camp to highlight the many different ways girls can leverage their experience as high-performance athletes to find success in life.

Women in sports share their underrated journeys

Panelists included Tu Me Beverage Company co-founder & president Shaina Zaidi, Fry’s Food Stores president Monica Garnes, and Rakuten director of sports and entertainment Kristen Gambetta. The panel was moderated by Fox Sports anchor Lindsey Smith.

Zaidi, a former UCLA basketball player, talked about how she had to be patient and show her dedication before she could prove herself on the court. Despite a frustrating lack of playing time for most of her freshman and sophomore seasons, Zaidi kept working hard. By her senior year, she was starting many of the games. Zaidi kept her momentum going after graduating, defying the odds to play professionally in Europe and eventually winning league MVP in Germany. “As long as you persevere — no matter what you’re going through; no matter what level you are; no matter what stage you are in your career — if you keep pushing and believing in yourself as I did, you can achieve your dreams,” she added.

In January 2018, Monica Garnes became the first-ever African-American division president of Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the USA, when she was named President of its Fry’s Division. Before her days as a business leader, Garnes found success on the court at the University of Rhode Island. Her hard work on the court prepared her well for her future career. As explained on stage, early on at Kroger she accepted a promotion to do what was, unbeknownst to her, considered one of the“worst” jobs in the company. “Which it was,” Monica laughed as she recounted the story. But she ran with it. “Each opportunity I got along the way, people always doubted my ability to be successful and I would just kind of put my head down. I would learn as much as I could (and) network with my peers and people at different levels in order to gain the skills and knowledge to keep advancing in the company.”

The final panelist was Kristen Gambetta, director of sports and entertainment at Rakuten. While Gambetta dabbled in a number of sports in high school, including basketball, she eventually opted to focus on a different kind of dribbling — as a soccer player. Despite enthusiasm for the sport and clear talent, at a critical juncture in her development she had a coach once tell her she would never receive a scholarship to play at the next level. Rather than letting that dissuade her, Gambetta used it as a powerful motivator, declaring to herself, “I believed in that moment I was going to put in the work to get me to where I wanted to be.” And that hard work paid off, with Gambetta earning a scholarship to Rice University to play soccer.

Motivation on the court often leads to motivation off the court as well.

Words to live by

After taking the time to outline their journeys, the panelists dove into discussions on a range of topics, including role models, mentorship and how women and girls can support each other as they pursue their dreams.

In closing, Zaidi suggested that the best strategy for defying labels is to “just say no” to them. She also noted that for this approach to be successful, you need to hone your skills with hard work, and pointed to Stephen Curry as someone who has put in the practice to achieve his goals and reject labels from his early career.

Almost as if they were playing in the same backcourt, Garnes picked up on Zaidi’s advice about the value of hard work. She highlighted the value of surrounding yourself with positive, goal-driven and honest people who will “will check you when you are not putting in the work.”

Gambetta closed out the discussion by imploring the crowd to own their stories: “Be fierce” and “Don’t let others define you!”

The Phoenix participants may have signed up for the Underrated Tour to work on their game, but they left with more: Valuable advice on how to be their best both on and off the court, and the knowledge that, despite their underrated position, with hard work and determination, success is always within reach.

With hard work and determination, success is always within reach.


For more about the Underrated Tour Powered by Rakuten, visit here.