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VU basketball great Foster relates crucial role of mentors

Feb. 28, 2019, 10:00 AM

Shan Foster, all-time leading scorer for Vanderbilt University’s men’s basketball team, reflects on the strong mentors that shaped his career, both on and off the court.
Shan Foster, all-time leading scorer for Vanderbilt University’s men’s basketball team, reflects on the strong mentors that shaped his career, both on and off the court. (photo by John Russell)

by Kelsey Herbers

Vanderbilt Behavioral Health (VBH) recently hosted Shan Foster — former basketball player for the Vanderbilt Commodores and Dallas Mavericks — for a Black History Month presentation on achievements that stem from strong mentors.

Organized by the VBH Culture Committee, the program also featured musical selections from the United Voices of Vanderbilt Choir and a poetry reading by staff.

As Vanderbilt’s all-time leading scorer, Foster’s basketball career was full of highlights, including being drafted as the 51st overall pick in the 2008 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft and earning the 2008 Southeastern Conference “Player of the Year” title.

While hard work and determination helped him gain the skills necessary to draw attention, Foster credits his success to the people who helped him along the way.

“Time and time again, I’ve had coaches, teachers, administrators — people who didn’t look like me — who gave me the opportunity to pursue a dream I didn’t know I could achieve,” said Foster, as he recalled several coaches who offered to drive him to and from practices when transportation barriers kept him from joining their team.

As Foster’s high school graduation approached, he found himself with scholarship opportunities from top schools across the country. So, when a coach from Vanderbilt — a school he wasn’t aware existed — approached him with a similar offer, he had no interest in accepting. He agreed to make an unofficial visit to campus only due to encouragement by his father.

The first person Foster met at Vanderbilt was David Williams II, former vice chancellor and athletics director, with whom Foster bonded over stories of life in rural parts of Mississippi, where both men had family.

After asking which schools Foster was considering, Williams replied, “You could go to those places, and you could be compared to all the other great players who have come through their doors, follow in their footsteps and do amazing things. Or, you can come to Vanderbilt and have everybody else be compared to you.”

“It struck something in me that has never gone away,” Foster recalled. “David promised me not that I would be a great basketball player, or that I would accomplish great things… but that I’d be a better man.”

Williams died Feb. 8 after an 18-year tenure as a university vice chancellor.

“He left this world a few weeks ago, but he left here keeping his promise,” said Foster.

While Foster is grateful for the recognition he received during his basketball career, it’s his current work that he considers his greatest achievement. Serving as the vice president of external affairs and AMEND Together at YWCA Nashville and Middle Tennessee, Foster focuses on eliminating violence against girls and women by holding honest conversations with men and boys.

“One out of every four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. One out of every five women are sexually assaulted. It’s not just a statistic. It’s the people we love, the people we care about, the people we see every single day,” said Foster.

Foster encouraged attendees to go home and open a dialogue about violence with the people they care about most.

“If we don’t do anything else, but we make Nashville the safest city in the world for women and girls, we’ll end so much other violence.”

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