DURHAM, N.C.— Over the summer, the Blue Devils are catching up with Duke women's basketball alumnae to see what they have been up to since leaving Durham. Our next alumna is 2009 graduate Abby Waner.
Waner, a member of the 2006 NCAA Final Four squad, concluded her career as the top three-point shooter in Duke history with 222 three-pointers made and 691 three-pointers attempted. The 5-10 guard also totaled the Blue Devil single-game record for steals with 10 against Utah Valley in 2007. Waner became only the fifth player in ACC history and the second Duke player to register over 1,400 points, 400 rebounds, 400 assists and 300 steals. She won two gold medals with USA Basketball in 2005 and 2007 and started 111-of-131 contests over her four-year career at Duke. Waner was a three-time first team All-ACC Tournament selection.
Since graduating from Duke, what have you been up to?
For the first few years, I stayed in the basketball world as both a broadcaster and then as a coach at the University of Denver. During that time, I reconnected with a man I used to call the Italian Stallion when we were kids - and it just so happened, I totally fell in love with the Italian Stallion as an adult and we got married in 2013. We then lived in Italy for six months while I finished my master's in marketing. I was fortunate enough to land in the world of real estate and I now work as a broker and developer. My world was totally flipped upside down when I had a baby girl last November. We named her Ella and she is absolutely everything. Don't you worry, she's already worn a #4 Duke jersey on several occasions.
Have you been able to keep in touch with many former teammates/coaches?
Yes! I keep in touch with Ali Bales, Laura Kurz, Brittany Mitch, Joy Cheek, and Bridgette Mitchell on a semi-consistent basis. Instagram has made it easy so I can keep up with everyone's daily lives. No one has migrated to Denver quite yet, even though I have made a strong push!
Do you still follow DWB and watch games when they are on television?
I do follow along with DWB every season. I had a vested interest in Rebecca Greenwell's career as I spoke with her as a high school senior when she was making her decision as to where to play. I also wanted to make sure she didn't steal my three-point attempts record, so kept a close eye on that.
Have you been able to make it back to Durham recently?
I try to make it back to Durham every few years. My husband, Dad, and I were back two seasons ago and caught both a men's and women's game. It has changed so much and I am so excited to continue witnessing the growth.
Since leaving Duke, who are a few DWB players you have enjoyed watching play?
As mentioned, I love Becca's game...and of course, Tricia Liston for the same reasons. Us three-point jackers have to stick together! Lexie Brown was obviously a really special player and she reminded me so much of Lindsey Harding. I found myself thinking, "I would have loved to play with Lex!"...but then again, I kinda did when I got to play with Lindsey for a few years!
Do you get a chance to play basketball any these days?
My working out is relegated to yoga and running. My husband played basketball at MIT and was the second-leading scorer in the nation our senior year, right behind Steph Curry. Which is to say, he's a pretty good shooter. However, when Jimmy was playing professionally in Iceland, I once beat him outright in a game of H-O-R-S-E while wearing flip flops. He was quite embarrassed regarding that one game of H-O-R-S-E (Jimmy, if you're reading this, don't you dare try and deny this game happened!). It almost fractured our relationship because we are both so competitive, so I try and take it easy on him when we do shoot around!
When looking back on your days at Duke, what are some of your favorite memories?
The game when we beat UConn to go to the Final Four still remains one of the most special memories of my life. It was a big decision for my family when it was clear Duke was the spot for us. My sister transferred from the University of Colorado and my parents sent their baby girls thousands of miles across the country. But we made the choice because of the academics at Duke and the fact Duke had never won a national championship - it was a challenge for us. I remember when that game ended and I looked up at the stands and saw my parents - the chance to play for a National Championship was a reality, and it solidified so many years of hard work and sacrifice for our entire family.
What was it like playing at a NCAA Final Four and being on that stage?
You know, there is a lot of buzz surrounding the event itself. There are press conferences, autograph signings, police escorts, fancy meals, etc. But at the end of the day, it's a basketball game.
The teams that make it to that point have the ability to step on the court and just play regardless of the stage. Of course there is additional jitters and excitement that comes with getting off the bus and taking your first shot in warm-ups, but soon enough, you realize the court is still 94-feet long!
While playing you were able to represent your country at international events. What was that experience like to be able to wear USA across your jersey?
It just gave chills thinking about it again. There is something really special that comes with representing your country. I remember one time we were walking through a market in Tunisia and we were all wearing our USA gear because we came straight from practice. People continuously stopped us and asked us if we knew Michael Jordan. While the Tunisians might not have any idea about Duke University or much less about Abby Waner, there is a global reach of USA athletics and it was really neat to somehow, someway be associated with the greatest player of all time simply because he was American.
Do you ever look at your gold medals?
I really don't look at my medals - but that doesn't make the memories any less special. That being said, I am really excited to someday be able to sit Ella down and tell her the story of how her mom played basketball for the USA all around the world. And not only that, but I won gold medals. If I can make her even the tiniest bit proud, that is all I need.
Have you developed any new hobbies, etc., that you are involved with these days?
Gosh, having a baby really keeps these so-called "hobbies" in check! When I'm not working, I am soaking up every moment with Ella. I am still an avid reader and book club is my one social commitment I have stuck with these days. I also am a big believer in yoga. Summer will be happy to know I have finally found the importance of taking care of your body the right way!
And those who know me knew I was so excited to come to Colorado. I have really enjoyed making up for all of those years when I was in the gym instead of outside. We try and hike as much as possible in the summer, but of course, my knees force me to keep the serious hiking to a minimum.
How has a Duke degree helped you?
A degree from Duke has helped me in so many non-quantifiable ways. Most recently, it helped me do a complete 180 as I entered a career field in which I had zero experience. I realized that while I may not have immediate industry-knowledge, I know how to write, I know how to think critically, and I know how to problem solve. An education at Duke requires those things and indirectly helped me find my way in a career that I will maintain and grow for the rest of my life.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to our current student-athletes?
You have limited time. Be in the gym early every practice. Get your body in tip-top shape every off-season (and that includes resting when appropriate). Get in the gym not to work on what you've already mastered, but get in the gym to work on your weaknesses. You can never watch enough film. It's important to have a social life, but be that person that goes home early. You are at a prestigious university - take advantage of it. Spend your time outside of class with professors. Join a club. Write for the newspaper. Get an internship for the summer instead of going home. Which is all to say, push yourself now. When it's all over, you'll have time to devote to friends, family, and other hobbies - but basketball is limited, as is your time at Duke. And lastly...know you're in a place that is unique, soak it all in.
Do you remember a specific class and/or professor at Duke that you really enjoyed while in school?
I loved my Shakespeare class. It was a stretch class for me (but let's be real, Shakespeare is a stretch for everyone!) - but I thoroughly enjoyed trying to wrap my hands around Shakespeare and his writing. Since then, my mom and I have gone to several Shakespeare events including the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder.