“What is your proudest accomplishment?”
It was a pretty amorphous, definitely cliché question, thrown out near the end of the very entertaining hour I spent with Pam Rosanio at Einstein Bros. Bagels in the Summit Square Shopping Center.
But with it, we finally got to the heart of her story.
Pam — I’m going to refer to her on a first-name basis, because even though I only know her via two journalistic interviews, 10 years apart, I feel like she’s my friend, or my sister, and I guarantee that the young girls she works with as a basketball trainer understand what I mean — is one of the top women’s basketball players ever to come out of Bucks County. She played her way into the Archbishop Wood High School and University of Massachusetts record books, then traveled around Europe playing professionally, well into her late-20s. She earned a spot on the Italian National Team in 2015.
She’s obviously proud of all that. But when asked to single out a highlight, she pauses, then goes in an unexpected direction.
“I’ve had agents, or people, tell me I was too fat to play in Italy,” she says. “They said they like this (gestures to her face) but my body wasn’t in good enough shape. And I’m like, ‘I’m playing 40 minutes a game! I might not look super fit, but I will shove you across the floor!’ It’s stuff like that, being told you’re not good enough, and that’s constantly what my career was. I was never the first one of my friends to sign a [professional] contract every year. I was always a late sign. Mentally, it was like they were saying I wasn’t good enough.
“I think with stuff like that, I can relate to girls in the sense that, it’s not super easy, if you don’t have a chiseled body. It’s a thing: people telling you you don’t look a certain way…”
She doesn’t come out and say this, but she lived it: By believing in herself and the abilities she worked so hard to hone, and never letting doubters or perceived obstacles stand in the way of her success, Pam Rosanio created for herself a stellar career in basketball. It’s what makes her, now, a perfect role model for her sport’s next generation.
One of Pam’s many jobs, and she doesn’t see herself as someone who can do just one job, is one-on-one basketball training. Right now, she estimates she has five regular weekly clients. Five girls who dream of following in Pam’s footsteps.
This is remarkable, even in spite of Pam’s impeccable credentials. Yes, she would light the court on fire at Archbishop Wood with 1,417 career points, earn an NCAA Division I scholarship, then set the UMass record for career starts AND minutes played (she was on the cusp of reaching that milestone when I first profiled her for the Bucks County Courier Times in January of 2008.)
But, growing up in Southampton, Pam says basketball was her “third-best sport,” behind soccer and swimming.
“I was a really good swimmer, but I was bored out of my mind,” she says with a laugh. “I was breaking records left and right, but I was bored. I would train for six hours and race for 30 seconds and I can’t talk under water.
“I started to specialize in basketball when I was 12 or 13, but that’s because I had a goal,” Pam says. “I saw what my sister was doing. She played Division I [basketball,] so at that time, I just wanted to be better than her. Basketball wasn’t always my best sport, but sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and go with what you like. Sure, if I stayed with swimming, maybe I would’ve been an Olympic athlete. You never know. But basketball is more fun, and I worked hard to be better at it.”
“Working hard” sounds like another vague cliché, but it really was the key to Pam’s ascendance in the basketball world. It was the message she wanted to deliver to the crowd at a local AAU tournament a few years back, as a keynote speaker. She remembers the tourney organizer telling her she might be someone who, “when everyone is on their phone, you could grab some of their attention.”
Pam was — is — exactly that person.
“The girls were at the age when they were trying to get recruited,” Pam recalls, “and it’s like, you’re not going to get recruited if you’re just showing up to practice every day. You actually have to go outside and work — without someone telling you, ‘Hey, you need to do a workout,’ or ‘You need to go get some shots up.’ You need to have that self-motivation, whether it’s in basketball, or if you were going to be a chef, or a painter. You have to work for it and practice it, and that’s how you’re going to get better.
“Practicing is how you get confidence, and I think I could give that little insight, that it’s not just going to happen. Some people are just honestly blessed. They have the right body, the right skill set, just naturally. That was never me. I worked hard.
“That’s what I can give to young kids, to say, ‘Hey, you’re not always going to get on the best team. You’re not always going to be the best player. You have to work for it. Earn it.'”
With her speech, Pam piqued the interest of so many parents and their young athletes that she started taking on personal training clients and running workouts for high school teams. She’s exploring other coaching options to fit into her schedule, alongside a job handling adoptions at the Women’s Animal Shelter in Bensalem, and a side gig doing eyelash extensions.
Yes, this pro basketball veteran who can throw you across the floor can also fix up your face for your next formal occasion. I can attest, sitting across from her on a Friday morning with chapped lips, oily cheeks and tired eyes — under a baseball cap, of course — Pam’s makeup was flawless.
Her training style mirrors her personality.
“I want to make it fun, like, you can have fun, but you have to work hard,” she says. “It’s a fun balance. We can laugh, but when I say ‘Go!’ we’re going.”
Pam’s advice to aspiring college athletes and their parents comes from personal experience. Even after playing professionally for 10 years, she looks back on college basketball and the commitment it required as an experience beyond compare. She considers herself fortunate that she made it through four years of college with her body intact — well, mostly; she played through many “minor” injuries at UMass — while retaining her love for the game.
“There are so many different levels [of college basketball,] and I think a lot of kids, and especially parents, get hung up on this ‘Division I athlete, gotta do it,’ and Division I just isn’t for everyone,” she says. “It’s hard. It is a full-time job. I don’t think people, unless you’ve had a kid go through it or you’ve personally gone through it, you don’t realize what the extent is.
“You can have just as fabulous a career at Division II. You can still go pro from Division III. It’s not unheard of. I played with girls who played Division II basketball, and they’re still professional athletes.
“What I was told was, you have to like the school. Say, if your career ended that day…would you still be happy at that school, and do you have friends, do you have family, whatever is important to you. And as far as sports, you have to really love it, because it’s hard. It’s an honor, I think, to play college sports. Everyone says that’s the best time of their life. But it’s not always good. There are ups and downs. There are bad coaches and bad teammates, bad experiences. I think people just have this ideal of what they want their kids to do, and it doesn’t always pan out that way, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It kind of all happens for a reason. You take these paths and you have to go with it.”
Pam’s long, winding path through pro basketball led her to that infamous agent who questioned her fitness. It led her to many long, anxious months back in the United States between European basketball seasons, training and practicing and believing in herself while also wondering if her agent would find her a team and a contract for the next year.
It also led her to the love of her life. While playing in Sweden, she met her husband, Richard, a Swedish native who played on the men’s basketball team in her city. The pair has traveled all over the globe together, living everywhere from Spain to a hurricane-stricken Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Now, Pam and Richard are back in Southampton, her old hometown, looking to buy a house and trying, as she says, “to be normal people.”
As a living example and mentor for young girls, Pam wants anyone who comes into her orbit to aspire to more than normal. But her approach is very down-to-Earth.
“With young girls now, it’s not just basketball,” she says. “Whenever I take on a client, I always talk to their parents first and then the kids and ask certain questions like, ‘What is your goal? What do you think you’re good at? What are you bad at? What do you want to improve?’
“One girl I’m working with has no confidence, so for me, I’m trying to build her confidence on the floor, and from being confident in basketball, I think that trickles out into your social life. It will eventually. Not right away. But at some point, it will translate to your social life. You might not be a really confident person now, but you will be, and that’s what I want to bring to the girls I work with.
“I can tell them the good, bad and ugly. You’re going to have awesome coaches, and you’re going to have coaches who are really mean to you and don’t like you as a player, and you have to still play a whole season with them. It’s really hard, and then there’s things like body issues, being ‘not fit enough,’ and playing as a woman, you deal with different things, and that’s stuff…I just want to be there for them.”
Many thanks to Pam for making time in her busy schedule to have coffee and chat with me. To contact Pam/inquire about her training services, e-mail her at email@example.com. If you have someone you think would make a good “Coffee Convo” subject, e-mail me at @firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a tweet @jenwielgus.