Grimaldi Finalist for Wooden Cup

Grimaldi Finalist for Wooden Cup



By Meggie Butzow

Currently ranked No. 20 in the nation by the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team has some lofty goals for the season.  The three captains chose to print “April 06” on their practice jerseys as a constant reminder that they plan to be playing in April, when the National Championship is played. 

For one Commodore, though, basketball has a higher purpose.  Erica Grimaldi plays the game because she loves it, but basketball has played a primary role in her life in many different ways.  The senior captain who walked onto the team as a freshman embraces the opportunity to help her teammates improve on the court, and she also integrates her love of basketball into the many types of community service she does.  For her inspiring attitude, she was recently named one of six finalists for the Coach Wooden Citizen Cup, presented by Athletes for a Better World.

The award, named after legendary coach John Wooden, recognizes one collegiate and one professional athlete as people who exhibit “excellence both on and off the field, and are role models both as performers and persons.” 

“It’s an honor,” Grimaldi said.  “John Wooden was an amazing coach and an amazing man, so it’s an honor, especially nationally.”

The nomination recognizes the dedication, hard work and service that she has put forth through years of work on the basketball team.  It’s not uncommon to see her arrive early for practice or stay later, either working on her own game or willingly helping teammates with theirs. 

“It comes from the grace of God, the gift of being able to work hard,” she said.  “You can’t control how athletic you may be, but one thing you can control is how hard you work, and your attitude. 

“And my parents set a great example to follow,” she continued.  “They work so hard, day in and day out.”

When she was five, Grimaldi’s family made a decision that changed their lives: they chose to begin taking in foster children, and have since sheltered over 30 kids and adopted five.  With as many as 15 people in the household at once, she admits that her life was often chaotic, but she gives her parents complete credit.

“Basketball was my escape, from chaos, drama, frustrations,” she explained.  “It was something I had that no one else had.  That’s not so much the case now, in college, but it was growing up.

“My parents are amazing people.  I don’t think I’d be able to do what they do.”

That question may be up for speculation, but Grimaldi has certainly found other ways to impact the world, which often somehow include basketball. 

She has always made community service a priority, and she gracefully erases the boundaries between being an SEC basketball player and one dedicated to service, combining the two priorities in ways that ultimately enhance each one.  Bringing her love of basketball into her community services projects is important to her, but she also talks of basketball practice in terms of serving her teammates.

“You just make [service] a priority,” she said.  “I’ve been blessed; how can I help others?  It’s about making it a mentality, a lifestyle.  How can I serve others, my teammates?

“[Basketball] is one area where I have been blessed,” she continued.  “I think, how can I use the pedestal we’ve been put on [as Vanderbilt basketball players]?  Basketball, I think, will always be a part of my life, how I give back, and what I do.”

Such a generous and giving attitude has not gone unnoticed by her teammates, either.  Recognizing her work ethic, competitive nature and drive for improvement, they voted the walk-on, reserve guard one of their three captains for the 2005-06 season.

“It’s an honor, because your teammates vote on it,” Grimaldi admitted.  “To know they trust you, I just appreciate that from them, and the trust we have on this team.  You earn your respect just by working hard, and your teammates see that.  I’ve learned that [basketball] is not about me, it’s about making the team the best it can be.”

The impact of her selfless attitude toward her team can already be seen in the Dores’ 7-2 start this season.  Even during the games in which she doesn’t step foot on the court, there is no doubt that Erica Grimaldi’s presence is felt with every win, bringing the team one step closer to the their goals of postseason glory.