When you think about college athletes, a number of thoughts run through every crevice of your mind. “Pretty damn cool” is probably not at the top of the list, but UCR women’s basketball player Tre’Shonti Nottingham fits that bill. From her affable personality to her tenacity on the court, Nottingham is a warm presence within UC Riverside athletics. When I interviewed the senior point guard, it was quite easy to forget that I was conversing with one of the most talented athletes to suit up for the Highlanders. What wasn’t easy to forget was the player’s internal drive to see not only herself but others succeed.
Nottingham began her UCR career on a high note as she helped the women’s basketball team win the Big West Conference championship her freshman campaign. The 5-foot-4-inch guard— channeling her idol Chris Paul—knocked down four clutch free throws to help the university advance to its third NCAA tournament appearance.
Since that year, Nottingham has continued to exemplify a winner amid personal and professional hurdles. Her senior year proved to be the most demystifying. The Moreno Valley native was enjoying her best statistical year, averaging over 18 points per game. She led the entire NCAA in scoring at one juncture and carried her team to a solid record for the season. The year took an unfortunate turn when she sustained a season-ending thumb injury.
“My senior year was a bittersweet moment because I believe it was one of the best years I have had since I’ve been here,” Nottingham explained in an interview with The Highlander. “I enjoyed the beginning and got closer than I’ve ever been with the team. The bittersweet moment came when I had to get surgery done.”
While practicing in a rebounding drill, Nottingham felt pain in her thumb after colliding with another player. MRI results showed she had suffered a stener lesion and after three weeks, would not play another game her senior year. Nottingham explained that when she received the news, she pulled her car over and started to cry. “I was emotional because it was the end of my career.”
The team had difficulty adjusting without their point guard as well as other injuries and wound up finishing last in the Big West standings. Nottingham, however, concluded her UCR career as the highest career free throw shooter in school history and ranked top 10 in nearly every important statistical category in program history including points, steals, three-point percentage, assists and minutes.
Despite the sour end to her senior outing, Nottingham is still optimistic about the future of the women’s basketball team. With Brittany Crain and Natasha Hadley at the helm, the Highlanders will look to march on with one ultimate goal in mind. “They all want to make the tournament. I think you will see progress in them,” said Nottingham. “They just need to stay together. If you have chemistry off the court, you will definitely have it on the court.”
As a starter for the majority of her career, Nottingham has noticed the crowds for women’s basketball games dwindle at the Student Recreation Center. Oftentimes there is a substantial difference in the amount of spectators for the two basketball programs. “The guys can have a five-year losing streak, but their attendance level will be amazing. But with the girls, they don’t show up. It’s mandatory for the girls to go to the boys game. And you see so many people and it’s like: Why can’t we get this?” Nottingham said. “Having a big crowd pumps us up because everybody is screaming and yelling… When there is seven people in the crowd, you’re like: Is this a scrimmage? And with the cheerleaders—we only have like five cheerleaders. And the guys have the whole dance team. They have the orange. They have Scotty.”
When asked about improvements she would like to see within the program, Nottingham responded: “Try to keep it equal even though it’s hard. You have to remember there is girl’s basketball, too, doing a little bit better.”
The Moreno Valley, Calif. product shares a special bond with two of the basketball team members: coach John Margaritas and fellow player Brittany Crain. Her relationship with “Coach Marg” has seen its highs and lows. They have wrestled for control since the day she stepped foot on the court, but the pair never lost sight of their dedication to winning. Nottingham shared stories of the duo calling each other in the middle of the night to discuss personal issues or Coach Margaritas bringing her snacks before games. “From my freshman year to now, he’s always helped me outside of basketball,” she said. “With my problems—with me going to his office and just crying … To this day, we are really close. I still call him ‘dad’ and he still checks up on me every week.”
Nottingham’s friendship with freshman Crain has also developed into a tight-knit bond that sees the pair celebrate their friendship anniversary on the eleventh of every month. UCR’s two highest scoring guards even wait for each other to return from a quick shower break. “It’s going to be hard leaving her behind because I always wanted a little sister in basketball and she fulfilled that spot,” Nottingham explained. “She is always bubbly and full of fresh air… No matter where we go; we are at the hip. We’re family. We spend every single day, twenty-four-seven together.”
So what’s next for Tre’Shonti Nottingham? The sociology major sets her sights on a professional career overseas before reaching her ultimate goal of becoming a firefighter. After joining in on a firefighting training session, Nottingham fell in love with the idea of helping save lives. She carried strenuous equipment with ease and impressed every firefighter at the presentation. “I fell in love with the atmosphere and them being a hero,” she said. “I told my mom ‘I think God wanted me to help others because I want to do this.’ I know that’s going to be my next passion after basketball.”
Nottingham will leave UCR as one of the greatest basketball players to play at the university. She stated that her speed and quickness are defining characteristics of her career, but her legacy would be centered on her ability to win despite her height.
“The shortest people are the ones with the biggest heart. Height doesn’t matter when you want to play the game you love,” she stated. “I want to be remembered as the guard that wasn’t scared to go out there and battle regardless of her height.”
The next time you ponder about what a college athlete is, remember Tre’Shonti Nottingham, a diminutive, feisty basketball player that had a massive, caring heart.