N.C. A&T Students Accepted into USA Basketball Torch Leadership in Sport Mentoring Program

By East L Dockery / 10/16/2023 Students, College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Business and Economics

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Oct. 16, 2023) – North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University students Taylor Crosland and Zaria Gabriel have been accepted into second cohort of the USA Basketball Torch Leadership in Sport Mentoring Program.

This fully funded program was created to provide opportunities for minority students to be mentored by USA Basketball executive staff with the goal of empowering the next generation leaders in sport by introducing them to opportunities at USA Basketball and other sports-related entities.

“The application process was extremely competitive with 130 students applying to be a part of this special program,” said Jennifer Lynne Williams, USA Basketball Foundation chief development officer. “The 120% increase in applications is a direct testament to the importance and value of Torch. I look forward to working with each student as they develop their leadership skills and learn more about the business of sport.”

Crosland, of Suffolk, Virginia, is a junior studying business information technology. Gabriel, of Baltimore County, Maryland, is a senior studying liberal arts with concentration in prelaw with a minor in marketing professional sales. Both learned about the program during the Black Sports Business Academy in fall 2022 and their peers and mentors encouraged them to apply.

“My mentor briefly talked about the program, and I automatically said, ‘I will apply for the next Torch cohort,’” said Gabriel. “I loved that the program was meant to provide genuine support and mentorship to minority students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and provide opportunities to learn, work on activations, and network with executive leaders at USA Basketball.”

Brandon Daye, a senior studying supply chain management and 2022 Torch Leadership Scholar alum, told Crosland about the program.

“He told me, hey, I think you should apply, and based on his description of his experience in the program I was like, why not just apply to it?” said Crosland. “It was crazy because I was actually in the airport doing the application for it, which took me about two hours." 

Gabriel and Crosland were overjoyed to find out they were in the latest program cohort.

“I was called by my mentor about my acceptance into the program,” said Gabriel. “I instantly started crying with tears of joy and happiness. Once the phone call was over, I called my mom full of excitement and joyful emotions.”

“I was really elated once I found out that I got into the program because I knew this was a chance to enhance my professional and personal development and just work on myself as a person and a leader,” said Crosland.

Crosland hopes to utilize her skills within the data analytics field to create materials that will help benefit athletes.

“I hope to create some type of image recognition technology tool, or even just a robot, to enhance the play in the power of sports,” she said. “You don’t see a lot of representation within data analytics, data science or sports. So, I’m trying to break that barrier and bring awareness to the fact that we need a lot more minorities and people of color in those industries.”

Gabriel’s long-term goal is to become an NFL sports agent after she acquires her Juris Doctor. She founded and serves as president of A&T’S first sports business organization, Minorities in Sports Next. This organization was created to provide students with resources and opportunities to further develop their skills and knowledge with hopes of diversifying the sports business industry.

“I enjoy learning about the different careers and opportunities in sports in order to understand the industry and be a multifaceted individual,” she said. “The USA Basketball Torch in Leadership program will allow me to further my knowledge and network in the sports industry but can also help me learn more about operations from one of the leading organizations within sports.”

The program began in September and extends through May 2024.

“Recently, we completed an Own Your Energy assessment where we got a chance to hone in on our leadership skills and how we could apply that to real world in order to help us become successful and help us develop as leaders,” said Crosland.

The program commits to creating activities to introduce fellows to executive leaders at USA Basketball and provides one-on-one mentoring from senior staff.

“Before this program, I didn’t know how important mentorship is in advancing your career,” said Gabriel. “However, due to this program, I’ve learned that mentorship is key, and when you have a strong mentor, you’re bound for success in your career endeavors.”

In addition to virtual networking with their designated USA Basketball mentor, students will hear from other industry leaders and have additional in-person learning opportunities.

“Sports is just entertainment unless it delivers life lessons and character development,” said retired Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, USA Basketball Board of Directors chair. “That is the vision of the USA Basketball Foundation Torch Leadership Program. I encourage our second cohort to take advantage of this opportunity to learn and to grow and to challenge us to keep making a positive difference in each other’s lives.”

Gabriel and Crosland intend to do so.

“I want to give credit to God, who has made all of this possible, as well as my family who has been my support system, close friends, and mentors,” said Crosland. “A quote I love to live by is ‘Never ever get rid of the desire to climb a tree or run through the sprinklers.’ I hope that my representation in this in this program will inspire other Aggies to climb their ‘trees’ and run through the ‘sprinklers’ in their lives as well.”

Media Contact Information: eldockery@ncat.edu

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