Columbia women’s basketball sophomore forward Devon Roeper CC’17 has been nominated for the third-annual Allstate WBCA Good Works Team, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and the National Association of Basketball Coaches announced Wednesday. The award recognizes a select group of college basketball student-athletes who represent the sport’s finest in the areas of leadership and charitable achievements amongst their peers.
Roeper began her Good Works before stepping foot on campus in Morningside Heights. After her freshman year at The Bishop’s School, she went on a two-week medical missions trip to northern Uganda where the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had been decimating the region and its people for a number of years. Roeper, along with her family, served 700 people a day in makeshift medical clinics, visited orphanages and worked with the small impoverished community of Mukono, outside of the capital of Kampala.
Roeper’s work with the Mukono community continued as she teamed up with a friend, James Lock, and used basketball as the universal language to connect with the community she just left. Roeper and Lock put a plan together to build a basketball court in a jungle area outside of Mukono. After countless hours of negotiation and strategizing, the tribal king donated the land. Plans started coming together through Skype meetings with local contractors and $15,000 was raised by basketball, family and friendship circles to help fund the court. Roeper called upon her high school and Adidas for jerseys and new or lightly used shoes.
The court became a vital piece of the Mukono community and served as a focal point and safe gathering place. Since construction was completed three levels of both boy’s and girl’s teams have been formed and those teams compete in the amateur National Basketball League of Uganda, which brings a sense of hope, pride and belonging to the Mukono community. The court empowered young, female basketball players, whose previous social standing had been much different. Today women have uniforms, shoes, equipment and the right to use the court with their male counterparts.
Before the start of her senior year of high school, Roeper got to see her vision that has strengthened Mukono’s community as a reality when she visited the court. Her mission continued for her two-week trip as she led a basketball clinic for the recently formed teams and Mukono’s youth with friends, family and fellow basketball players that traveled with 20 additional pieces of luggage filled with jerseys, basketballs, shoes and training aids such as cones and speed ladders.
Currently in her second season as a Lion, Roeper has “earned the respect of her teammates through her relatability and her unselfish work ethic,” head coach Stephanie Glance said. Not only does Roeper excel on the hardwood, but “she also excels academically while attending one of the most prestigious, selective and demanding universities in the world. She has a passion for learning, and is always seeking to ask questions and gain knowledge. She applies what she has learned in the classroom to communicate, think critically, and lead in everyday life. Devon enhances organizations in which she is involved, and because of her, Columbia University is a better place.”
Not only has Roeper brought her selfless attitude to the Columbia campus, but she continues to share it with the project that fueled her passion of giving back. On top of managing a student-athlete calendar, Roeper has co-founded an organization called “Team Phenom,” which is administered under the 501 c3 non-profit organization, Children’s Heritage Foundation, and a “Teammate” program that pairs up a basketball player in Mukono with a player, family, school, team or corporation in the United States. These partnerships are sealed with a contract that holds the players to a noble citizenship standard of excelling in the community and in academics. Along with the contract, the American teammate provides the funds for the Mukono player’s vocational or college education. With this promise, the emphasis on education helps “Team Phenom” truly create the “student-athlete” culture in an area where it has been absent for so many years.
In addition to her work with Mukono, Roeper has participated in a variety of volunteer projects over the years including trips to Mexico, Tijuana and Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. She is also dedicated to the Challenged Athletes Foundation efforts and has helped organize a number of fundraising events such as triathlons and dinners.
While jump shots and rebounds earn recognition on the hardwood, the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team helps tell the stories of goodwill taking place off the court that often go unnoticed. It is those players who demonstrate the exceptional ability to balance academics with athletics while donating their limited free time to serving others, that have been nominated by their respective colleges and universities for this prestigious honor.
From the 93 WBCA nominees, special voting panels will select two 10-member teams comprised of five student-athletes from the NCAA Division I level and five student-athletes from NCAA Divisions II, III and the NAIA. WNBA Basketball star Tamika Catchings, who played at the University of Tennessee, will headline the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team panel. The final roster of 20 award recipients will be unveiled in February.
Members of the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team will be recognized during the 2015 WBCA Convention and at the 2015 NCAA Women’s Final Four in Tampa Bay, and will also participate in a local community project.