When he stepped off the plane in California last week, Phariz Watkins was excited just to see the sunshine. He could only imagine what the next four days of the NCAA’s annual convention would bring.
Jam-packed days – “early morning to late nights” – left Phariz totally fired up about his future career, the new friends and contacts he made, and the knowledge he gained about branding and marketing, leadership development and the impact that Division III athletics has with the Special Olympics.
He called the experience “absolutely unforgettable.”
“I gained so much knowledge about my future career field, as well as contributing my opinion on the issues in Division III athletics,” said Phariz, a junior basketball student-athlete at Heidelberg.
Phariz was selected to represent the Ohio Athletic Conference and Heidelberg at the Jan. 22-25 conference in Anaheim. He expressed huge appreciation to ’Berg AD Matt Palm and President Rob Huntington, who nominated him to receive an OAC grant to attend, and to OAC Commissioner Tim Gleason for the opportunity.
In addition to the multiple sessions he attended on topics of interest, Phariz also made some meaningful connections with such influencers as Angel Mason, the athletic director of Berry College in Georgia, and former Ball State student-athlete and motivational speaker Trey Moses.
One of his favorite sessions dealt with the marketing and branding of the NCAA. Another session, “Growing our Next Generation of Leaders,” featured four successful athletic directors who gave perspectives to future ADs like Phariz.
“As one of the youngest people in the room, they showed me that I can do the job I want to do in the future,” he said. “They have mastered their craft, and that gave me confidence … a mindset that if I put in the work and take the time to learn, I can do whatever I want (with my career).”
He made a great connection with Mason during a conversation after this session. “Angel is blunt and straight forward, like me,” he said. “She gave me a ton of confidence and some basic but important advice as a young person coming up in the industry.”
As a communication and sport management double major with a minor in athletic coaching, Phariz has his eye on grad school and coaching. “I want to work my way up the ranks to AD, then director of basketball operations at a university and hopefully president of a university one day,” he said. But he’s keeping his options and his eyes open for other opportunities.
In addition to learning and networking, Phariz also brought home some special memories from a field day-type event where NCAA conference participants spent time with Special Olympians.
“That was absolutely my favorite part of the trip. Seeing what they do with less ability inspires us to push harder. There was so much inspiration that day, seeing continuous energy, joy and excitement. You really get a grasp for a different side of life and you learn that things are never as bad as they seem.”
On a personal level, a new friendship formed with Moses, who now plays professionally overseas; the two first connected at the NCAA Honors Celebration. “He made a big impact on me,” said Phariz. They shared conversations about leadership, mental health issues and the importance of caring about others.
Now that he’s back on campus, Phariz looks back on the NCAA convention experience with a deep sense of appreciation and a strong sense of confidence.
“I know that if I look inside myself, I can obtain the goals I set for my career. If I really focus and have the right connections, anything is possible,” he said.