Hustling up and down the courts of the Student Recreation Center arena for five years, center Natasha Hadley is more than just another basketball player for UCR: She has seen the Highlanders’ highs and lows. Although redshirted as a freshman, Hadley watched the women’s basketball team advance to the NCAA tournament after winning the Big West crown in 2010. Heartache has also been a part of the equation as the center has seen the team suffer single-digit win seasons. Lighting up the room with her positive disposition, I was able to sit down and easily converse with one of the Highlanders’ best players about her playing days in the blue and gold and her long road to success on and off the court.
Playing basketball since grade school, Hadley learned to truly enjoy the game instead of being pressured by others. It allowed her to have fun and later become who she is today: a determined woman who only looks for the best of the team. “Having it fun at the beginning made it easier to transition to the competitive state in high school and then really wanting to play in college,” Hadley explained.
Starting off her freshman year, Hadley suffered a disappointing knee injury in the first week of practice that prevented her from playing. She tore her ACL, MCL and meniscus and had to undergo ACL surgery, sitting out for seven months. Hadley says the injury was a learning moment for her. “Looking back on it now, it probably was one of the better things for me because I had to grow up faster in a lot of ways,” Hadley said. “It was six months of recovery; you can’t sit there for six months and cry about it. That made me better for later on.” At season’s end, the women’s basketball team, with Hadley watching on the bench, won the Big West Conference title, earning a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Hadley saw her first collegiate action against Montana during the 2010-2011 season. Determined to give it her all, Hadley led the team in rebounds on five occasions and continued to prove herself every year. From being named to the Big West Conference Honorable Mention Team her sophomore year to being ranked 13th in the Big West Conference in scoring her fourth year, every year the center showed improvement. She ended her UCR career in the top 10 all-time in games played, games started, blocks, total rebounds and field goals.
A sociology major with a minor in French, the five years that she studied in Riverside taught her a lot. From learning discipline to knowing that people have to do things that they don’t want to, Hadley explained that the things she learned will benefit her in the long run.
Her fascination with French has also driven her to pursue playing professional basketball in France. Hadley loves the idea of being able to play overseas, but will have to undergo surgery once again. She explained that her main priority is to recover and be healthy, saying, “I want to start looking for work, but with this, my recovery process is going to be nine months so for the first four months, I’m just looking to get healthy.” If she is unable to continue playing, she would love to find happiness in a career that allows her to feel fulfilled. She knows that she will find something she truly loves.
Hadley’s future is yet to be written, but as of now she will always be remembered for being the resilient warrior of the women’s basketball squad.