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A Second Chance and a Top Basketball Honor

Kaitlyn Read (CAS ’17, SPS ’19) came back from an injury to win the prestigious Jostens Trophy, awarded annually to a Division III player who excels in academics, athletics, and service.
photo: Kaitlyn Read dribbling a basketball

Kaitlyn Read (CAS ’17, SPS ’19) doesn’t really remember life before basketball. The University Park, Texas, native grew up in one of those athletic households where the TV was more or less permanently tuned to ESPN, and her grandfather started teaching her to play back before she could even fit her arms around the ball. After an early growth spurt—she was about 5’ 7” by 7th grade—coaches started talking to her about her future in the sport.

This March, Kaitlyn—who has written herself into NYU’s record books at no. 2 on the all-time scoring list, no. 1 in assists, and no. 2 in steals—traveled to Salem, Virginia to accept the 2018 Jostens Trophy, which is awarded to one female and one male NCAA Division III basketball player chosen from among 10 finalists each year. “My mom was crying so hard she had to put on her sunglasses,” Kaitlyn says, recalling her acceptance speech at the awards banquet. “It was so sweet.”

The moment represented the culmination of years of disciplined work in athletics, academics, and service—the three areas considered by the committee that chooses the winner. But Kaitlyn’s path to that point wasn’t always so certain.  

She was a star on her high school team, but when it came time to apply to colleges, Kaitlyn considered giving up the sport to ensure she had enough time to focus on her studies. “I was pretty much ready to end it because I wasn’t really interested in going to school where basketball would take up my entire life,” she says. “That’s when I started exploring Division III and how academic it can be. Playing is competitive but it’s not a full-time job.”

Kaitlyn knew she wanted to study politics—she loved thinking about government, the electoral process, and what made campaigns successful—and once she got to NYU, she realized the credits she had from high school could free up a spot for a second major. She chose Spanish, which challenged her to build confidence in public speaking, often in classes where she was one of a few students who hadn’t grown up speaking the language. 

Basketball may not have been quite a full time job, but with practices five or six days a week, sometimes starting at 6:30 or 7 a.m., and the coursework for two majors, Kaitlyn found her time management skills put to the test.

photo: Kaitlyn Read holding a basketball

“Lots of people say this, but being on a team really forces you to be good at it. If there’s only one set time when you can get something done, and if you care about that thing, you’ll make sure you do it,” she says.

Being on the team also meant a commitment to several service projects, both in the city and beyond. Kaitlyn especially loved running sports clinics for young girls in the area—“empowerment through basketball, basically” she says—and a team trip to Italy to work at a summer camp for children with illnesses that limit their mobility.

In her “spare” time, Kaitlyn still managed to visit different corners of the city that she fell in love with the moment she arrived, taking frequent trips to Central Park and exploring the improv comedy scene with her teammates. One summer they joined a city basketball league that brought them to courts all over town, including the famous ones on West Fourth Street. “When we played on them I was thinking, ‘This is so cool!’ You see them on commercials. They’re really tiny though,” Kaitlyn laughs.

Kaitlyn had only visited New York once—with her grandmother when she was in 4th or 5th grade—before applying to NYU, but the city was a strong factor in her college search. “Honestly, it was the diversity that attracted me,” Kaitlyn says. “I kind of wanted a culture shock, and the independence of living in a city. It’s very different from where I’m from.”

photo: Kaitlyn Read shooting a basketball

But as it turned out, Kaitlyn ended up bringing a big part of her home with her: Her mom actually moved to New Jersey during the basketball season so she wouldn’t miss a game, and her dad often flew in to watch her play as well.

Then, when she was a junior, her younger sister Mikaela announced that she’d committed to playing basketball at NYU, too. And like Kaitlyn, she’d decided to major in politics.

To say the two are close is an understatement. “She’s my best friend,” Kaitlyn says. “We hang out every day.” 

Despite all her subsequent accomplishments, Kaitlyn still cites as among her most cherished basketball memories the moment when, in one of her final high school games, she was subbed out and replaced by Mikaela, who was then a freshman on the team. “She looks up to me, so it was such a cool moment,” Kaitlyn says. “I thought the odds of us every playing together again after that were nil.”

It was poised to happen again, with Kaitlyn a senior and Mikaela a freshman at NYU, but then a foot injury kept Kaitlyn off the court for what would’ve been her final season. “The doctors said there was a chance I could finish the season, but also a chance that I’d go in and one wrong move would end it,” she says. “It was a tough decision.”

After graduation, Kaitlyn started a master’s program in global affairs at the School of Professional Studies—and because she’d sat out the previous season, she was eligible to play one more. Finally reunited with her sister, she set single-season program records with 577 points and 148 assists, was named University Athletic Association Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. These feats helped make her a candidate for the prestigious Jostens trophy.

“I’m really superstitious, so for a while I didn’t even want to know about all the different stats,” Kaitlyn says. “Winning the Jostens Trophy felt almost surreal. But I played a really good last year of basketball, and I’m so grateful I had that opportunity.”

When she thinks about her future, Kaitlyn’s focus is on her career—her concentration is in transnational security and she envisions herself working on peacekeeping in developing countries—but she isn’t sure her days on the court are quite over. “It’s hard because my body is so worn down, and right now I just want to finish school,” she says with a big smile. “But if I could somehow manage to stay in shape and keep playing, my mom would love that.”