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Panther-Born Olympian



Shouts from 50 friends in the Panther Pit pale in comparison to the 16,000 spectators at the Rio Olympics. Every athlete begins their story somewhere, and for the Turkish basketball player Sebnem Nezahat Kimyacıoğlu, that place was Pinewood. Pinewood was the stepping stone that set a foundation for Kimyacıoğlu’s athletic and academic dreams, and later led her to
the Olympics.

Kimyacıoğlu’s life always revolved around basketball. Girls varsity basketball coach Doc Scheppler made a large impact on Kimyacıoğlu’s career, teaching her how to be a great teammate both on and off the court.

“I saw that Sebnem had every athletic quality for greatness … physicality, toughness, coachability, self-motivation, [and] work ethic,” Scheppler said.

After graduating from Pinewood in 2001, Kimyacıoğlu played four years at Stanford and continued her career in Turkey playing in the European League. Between 2008 and 2015, she graduated from Santa Clara University School of Law and won two Turkish league championships and a Euroleague title. Just when she was ready to give up basketball for good in 2015, she was offered a position on the Turkish national team. Months of hard work and one olympic qualifier later, Kimyacıoğlu’s team landed a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Competing against the top athletes in the world, taking part in the opening ceremony, and sitting two seats down from Michael Phelps at breakfast were among some of the memories Kimyacıoğlu will never forget.

“To be in that setting and to say that I earned a spot to be here. I am one of these athletes. It was a pretty incredible feeling being amongst greatness … I had to pinch myself, because there was no way this was really happening,” Kimyacıoğlu said.

Kimyacıoğlu led her team to the quarterfinals, defeating Japan, Belarus, and Brazil along the way. Kimyacıoğlu was proud to even make it this far, considering she never even dreamed of playing in the Olympics.

Girls varsity basketball player Mikaela Topper admires Kimyacioğlu’s dedication and love for the game.

“[Kimyacioğlu’s] story inspires me to be the best I can be every day … and [it] reminds me about the endless possibilities when you put 110 percent into something,” Topper said.

After a long career in basketball, Kimyacıoğlu hopes to carry the lessons she learned as she prepares for the next phase of her life. Kimyacıoğlu’s long term goal is to become an executive at a sports franchise — possibly the Golden State Warriors or the Los Angeles Clippers.

“I feel like I have a PhD in basketball, but now I have to put that aside and start over. It’s a scary place to be in … What am I going to do for the rest of my life? I definitely struggle with that,”
Kimyacıoğlu said.

Kimyacıoğlu shares her story to show that bringing a hard working, dedicated attitude to everything — college, sports, and life — can result in unexpected and unbelievable opportunities.

“My advice would be to dream big. If you dream big, even if you fall short of that dream, you will land somewhere pretty great. But know that dreaming isn’t enough. Know that you have to work for it every single day. It is having that dream in your mind that motivates you to get you to work every single day. It is following through with those goals and having the motivation to never let down,” Kimyacıoğlu said.