#SheBelieves - Sandrine Nzeukou - Phoenix

#SheBelieves Phoenix: A conversation between U.S. WNT defender Julie Johnston and Sandrine Nzeukou about work ethic, having a strong drive and achieving whatever it is you wish to do if you decide to really give it your all.

A native of Yaounde, Cameroon, Sandrine Nzeukou is a graduate from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, M.B.A. (2014); Bachelor of Science in Marketing (2013), who currently works for The Vanguard Group, the world's largest provider of mutual funds.

She worked as a career counselor and graduate assistant in the Career Services department of UNLV as she completed her graduate degree. She also has experience in the sports industry with marketing partnerships and sponsorships as she worked as a property assistant for IMG-College for UNLV and completed an internship with the Phoenix Mercury.

While at UNLV, she played Division 1 basketball for the Rebels. She also played professionally in Spain and Lithuania, and competes representing her native country of Cameroon in basketball. She has been a part of its National Team during Olympic Qualifiers, at the 2011 Afrobasket tournament in Mali, and in 2015 in Cameroon.

She is also a co-chair of the Speaker Series committee on the board of the Phoenix Women's Sports Association, whose goal is to empower young women through the power of sports.

Julie Johnston: Hi! I’m Julie Johnston.

Sandrine Nzeukou: Nice to meet you, Sandrine Nzeukou.

JJ: Yeah, thank you so much! Obviously, #SheBelieves is really important to our team. We’ve started this campaign to empower young girls and, for us, it was soccer growing up, but we want to empower girls in whatever it is that they want to do and thank you so much for coming and talking to us.

SN: Absolutely. I actually currently work for Van Guard, a financial services firm, but I also play for the National Cameroon Women’s Basketball Team. And I am also a board member on the Phoenix Women’s Sports Association, so we essentially kind of do the same thing and have the same mission that #SheBelieves has. So I’m honored to be here.

JJ: Well, thank you so much! As athlete-to-athlete, especially for us, it’s amazing we have this platform to reach out to other athletes as well, but in general to all young women. What got you started in trying to reach out to young girls and to empower them?

SN: I would not be here and have the opportunities that I have if it wasn’t for basketball and sports. Through sports I was able to build confidence, work ethic. I was able to set that goal and really work hard to achieve it. I’ve now translated that work ethic to other areas of my life. So I’m so fortunate to be where I am because of what sports has taught me.

"I felt it was only natural to try to give that back to other young girls." - Sandrine Nzeukou

JJ: That’s amazing. Any stories that kind of taught you or that you’ve seen, either yourself or other girls, that has that feeling of change of either what you do or yourself growing up?

SN: Yeah. So I was originally introduced to basketball through my dad. My dad, he played for the national team, he was the captain. So he introduced me to basketball, I was about 12 years old and I was not interested in basketball, whatsoever. All of my brothers played basketball so I thought this is something that maybe the boys do, but my dad forced me to go. He saw the value in it. And I cried on the way to practice and said, “I don’t want to do this!” But then I found a friend on the team and I started going to practice just to hang out with my friend and ultimately I found that the competition, the comradery, is so valuable and it ended up kind of changing my life. So I happened to stumble upon the opportunity to play basketball, but it, in essence, changed my life.

JJ: I’m the exact same way. I have a very, very similar story. My sister played so my parents were like, “Well you kind of have to do it, too.” But it’s so cool to be able to have a sport and reach out to young kids and our team loves it so much and them being our number one fans and supporters being so young. For us, #SheBelieves just means so much to help young girls feel so inspired and have the confidence and comradery that we have on the field and to have it translate to everyday life. So I’m just so thankful to have you out here and to be able to share what you do with us and it really does mean so much.

JJ: Is it okay if I ask you more about what you do with the Phoenix Women’s Sports Association?

SN: Absolutely. Our mission is really to help empower young girls, and we’re not necessarily saying that you have to grow up to be like an athlete, but all of those lessons you learn in sports translate that into whatever it is you want to do, whether it’s education and getting your degree and really trying to make an impact in the community. That’s what we are trying to teach these young girls and we do it in a couple different ways. So we have a speaker series, where we have women, such as yourself, come and speak to the young girls about the value of working hard. We also help fundraise for these young girls in order to help fund some of those club sports that they want to do and some of those expenses that can certainly incur and hinder families from having their children play in sports. It’s an incredibly mission for us and we try to help out the Valley in that way.

JJ: Yeah. That’s absolutely amazing. That literally really encompasses the whole idea of our #SheBelieves. It’s so amazing to have women like you do what you do and have the same vision that we have. Just thank you from the bottom of our heart, mine and the team as well, for allowing us to have the same vision as you do to empower women all over, especially here in Phoenix. It’s special to me.

SN: Absolutely! Thank you for having me. But I would love to ask you a question!

JJ: Okay, I’m ready!

SN: So I understand that you’re in your hometown, in Arizona, I know you’re from Mesa. So what does it feel like to play here?

JJ: I’m actually kind of emotional. The second I landed at Sky Harbor, I was like, “Oh my gosh!” It’s so different because I’m here for what I do and to be able to have my family and fans see it live is so special. The second they told me that I was coming to Phoenix, I couldn’t stop smiling. I still can’t stop smiling. I’m just so thankful to be able to come back here. This is what started me and this is what made me who I am today and to be able to come back in that sense is so special. I’m excited to see my family. They bought so many tickets, so it’s going to be hysterical to see them all there. I get to see some of the girls where my club is. It’s actually funny because this has totally changed since I was here. I used to play some state cup games here as well, so it’s so funny to be back here exactly.