High School Sports

America’s basketball pipeline is changing. And Chester’s Allison Feaster is involved

The nation fell in love with UMBC in March, 2018 after the Terriers became the first 16-seeded men’s college basketball team to knock off a No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament.

Many people missed an important distinction, though. The Terriers were the first men’s team to make that significant bit of history.

The first 16-seeded team of any gender to beat a No. 1 was Harvard’s women’s basketball squad in 1998. Chester’s Allison Feaster led the Crimson to an incredible win over Stanford, scoring 35 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. When asked about the game recently, the college All-American and 10-year WNBA veteran spoke only about her teammates and coaches, and not about her dominant performance in the biggest upset in women’s college basketball history.

Feaster’s big-game performance was no surprise to anyone in Chester County. And those same folks wouldn’t be surprised to know that Feaster is rapidly making a name for herself as a Manhattan-based professional basketball executive. She’s been the NBA G League’s manager for player personnel and coach relations since 2017, and, late in 2018, added interesting responsibilities to her role that put her smack in the midst of the debate about the traditional American basketball pipeline.

Since its inception in 2001, the G League has gradually morphed into the NBA’s minor league. The league will have 28 teams starting next season and almost every NBA team has an affiliated G League franchise. Great Falls’ Torrey Craig turned a successful stint in the G League into a contract and regular playing time with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets.

Because of success stories like Craig’s, the league’s profile is growing quickly. Likewise for Feaster. The Herald recently spent a half hour talking to the former Chester Cyclone about these, and other topics:

Tell me about your new job you landed last year:

It’s actually additional responsibility within my NBA G League player personnel/coach relations role. We, as a league, just wanted to introduce an alternative option for elite prospects coming out of high school, if they did not want to pursue a career in college or go overseas. We wanted to make available an option to play in the NBA G League, to become immersed in, and a student of, the NBA game, alongside current NBA and G League players and G League coaches. The contract would pay $125 (thousand) over the course of the five-month G League season, and I think more importantly for me as a former college athlete, we also are very proud to provide a full scholarship to ASUonline (editor: Arizona State’s online degree program) to these players and prospects. We are here not just to develop players on the court, but have them use their time in the G League to explore their interests and just help them to be the total package, for lack of a better word.

How much is Great Falls’ Torrey Craig an example of how well the NBA G League can work?

We started out in 2001 and the G League of today is very different. There are countless examples of players that have spent time in the G League just working on their game, working on their craft and getting call-ups, signing NBA contracts, Torrey Craig is obviously a great example of that. As a hometown example he’s even that much more special to me. He went to the same high school as my daughter’s father, Danny Strong, Great Falls High School.

I think a lot of people are taking a more critical look at the way the American basketball system is set up - high school to college, to the NBA. How involved is the G League in that debate, in the different ideas that are popping up?

I think we definitely want to be in the conversation. We’re very proud of our league, obviously very talented players and the league has been growing at a tremendous rate these past few years. That we can even be in the conversation to provide this alternative for future NBA prospects is tremendous for us.

When you saw or heard about Zion Williamson’s shoe exploding, what were your first thoughts?

You just wish him a speedy recovery. I know he has a bright future ahead of him and hopefully he’ll be able to continue to enjoy his time at Duke. The shoe is what it is. There are equipment malfunctions all the time and hopefully he’ll recover.

How long do you think college sports can hang on without some drastic challenges?

That’s a tough question. It’s not my area of expertise. I will say I had a wonderful four years as a collegiate athlete at Harvard and hopefully the institutions will provide, because it does a lot of great things for a lot of student-athletes.

Is that the hardest thing about the college sports question, that the experience is so different for every athlete, whether Zion Williamson, or a rower at Harvard?

I think each student-athlete has a very distinct experience and to compare anyone’s experience with Zion’s is far-fetched because it’s so unique. The average collegiate student-athlete experience is not that.

What was something you took from Harvard that has influenced how you think about issues, problems, challenges?

The student body at Harvard is one of the most diverse higher education communities and it really helped me open my eyes to see the broader picture, to think globally instead of locally. And it helps prepare you to kind of navigate any uncomfortable, challenging situation because I was really outside of my comfort zone, really outside of anything I had known before. Kind of that survival mode, but also learning to flourish in it as well.

How long did it take you to reach a level of comfort at Harvard?

The very day my mom dropped me off I met my roommate in the freshman dorm. My roommate was a 4-11 woman from New Hampshire, but her family was from India and it was my first time meeting an Indian person, I would imagine, and learning up close and personally about her culture. So, it wasn’t long before I got comfortable with my surroundings.

You completed the Basketball Operations Associate Program several years ago - how important is it to put in the work to set up a future after a sports career ends, whether high school, college or pro?

Without a doubt, it was very important for me to prepare myself along the journey. Thank goodness my mother instilled that in me at a very young age, to think more long-term instead of being myopic in my view, which is one of the reasons why she told me to go to Harvard instead of some other traditional scholarship schools. But when it comes to professional athletes looking to transition, it’s very important to prepare along the way. And the Basketball Operations Associate Program opened doors for me that I’m sure would have not been open otherwise. I’ve said this before, it changed my life and helped me to transition to the position I’m in now.

You went from Chester to Harvard to now being a key part of the NBA G League’s front office. How important was vision for you? Seeing a future beyond just what was right in front of you in Chester?

I think a lot of it goes back to the exposure I had and the focus I had in my own household on education. The premise that education is a key to having options in the future. My mother always expressed being the best we could be in school and through that, we were able to kind of excel. I think having the exposure to things outside your immediate environment, which is what we had, and what, I would imagine, a lot of folks in Chester don’t have. And having that driving force to constantly compel you forward, which my mother did, was also a huge factor.

How did you feel when UMBC beat Virginia in the NCAA Tournament last year? Your team was the only one to have done it previously...

I watched the game and by halftime you could tell when a team is not really in control of what’s going on around them. I don’t really dwell on folks not being aware that Harvard was the first team to upset a 1 seed. I just know what that moment meant for me and my teammates and all former Harvard women’s basketball players out there. It kind of validated our decision to going to Harvard over traditional scholarship schools. I was excited for UMBC and their moment. It was another magical moment in NCAA history.

Where does that Harvard-Stanford game rank for you, because not only did y’all beat a No. 1, but you balled out:

It’s pretty high. It’s not just the game. The game was the culmination of daily preparation, individually and as a team. The game was a testament to the amazing leadership of a great coaching staff. Kathy Delaney-Smith is still at Harvard, she’s one win away from 600 career wins. That win, it was just another amazing moment in Harvard women’s basketball history.

How much do you still play basketball?

Seriously, not at all. I’m currently in Boston, I’ll be attending the Sloan sports analytics conference tomorrow, and I played 3-on-3 with Jessica Gelman and Daryl Morey, who are the conference founders. Daryl is the GM of the (Houston) Rockets and Jessica is the CEO of Kraft Analytics Group. It was amazing to get out there and have fun.

How do you feel when you see videos on social media of high school-aged girls dunking basketballs?

I haven’t seen any of the videos, but I will say that’s it’s amazing that anyone can dunk. I certainly couldn’t. I applaud them and I think it’s great for the game.

Who is your favorite WNBA player right now?

Wow, there are so many that are so talented. I could name so many that were contemporaries of mine that are still playing. Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, I mean the list goes on.

Make a prediction: an NBA team will have a woman head coach in ________ (what year)?

2021. Or 2020. It’s not far, it’s right around the corner. We’re due. (San Antonio Spurs assistant coach) Becky Hammon, and there are some others sitting on benches out there. I think it’s amazing that they can now aspire to it, that the doors are open. I don’t think it’s far enough.

Related stories from Rock Hill Herald