You might recognize the woman sitting on the bench of the Seattle University men’s basketball team these days.
That’s because the past two years Courtney Ekmark was one of the Pac-12’s top three-point shooters at Arizona State after being part of two national title teams at Connecticut.
But what you probably don’t know is that while Ekmark was finishing her senior season at Arizona State, she also was finishing her second year of law school. She will finish that degree this spring, but she doesn’t plan to be a lawyer.
She wants to be a coach, and that’s the reason you see her at Seattle U, listening and learning from coach Jim Hayford, who Ekmark has known for many years.
“I’m trying to help out as much as I can, just by bringing energy, and I’ll rebound for the guys whenever they need it,” said Ekmark, who joined the program a couple of weeks ago as a graduate assistant.
The path to Seattle started with a November call to Hayford. Ekmark was playing professionally in Switzerland and taking online classes. But she had reached her limit of online credits with ASU and needed to finish her degree in the United States.
“He said I could come be a GA (graduate assistant),” she said.
At the same time, she is finishing her law degree from ASU as a visiting student at Seattle U.
But her passion is basketball. Her goal is to coach a women’s college basketball team, but she thinks the chance to help with a men’s team will help her.
“It something different, men’s college basketball,” she said. “I feel like I have a pretty clear understanding of how women’s college basketball works. You can learn something from the men’s side and the women’s side and this gives me a chance to add more (knowledge.)”
Ekmark is a very eager student of the game.
“Jim is a great coach, and just the opportunity to learn from him is a reason why I wanted to be on the men’s side for a semester,” she said. “I’ve always followed his teams throughout the years and they always have a great offensive team. I’m just kind of being a sponge and learning as much as I can from him.”
She has learned from others as well, including father Curtis, her high school coach at Saint Mary’s High School in Phoenix, legendary women’s coach Geno Auriemma at Connecticut and then Charli Turner-Thorne at ASU.
Ekmark, a state high school player of the year in Arizona, had high aspirations heading to Connecticut, where she joined current Storm star Breanna Stewart. But Ekmark suffered a stress fracture in her foot early in her freshman year and played sparingly in two seasons with the Huskies.
UConn was 74-1 during Ekmark’s two seasons there, and she said the prospects were good to see more playing time as a junior. Still, she said the time was right to come home and play for Turner-Thorne, who Ekmark had known since she was 8.
But what she learned in two seasons under Auriemma was invaluable.
“Just the standards that he sets every single day,” she said. “He doesn’t settle, he sets extremely high standards and that’s why his teams are so successful.”
Ekmark also has high standards, finishing her bachelor’s degree at ASU while sitting out her first season because of transfer rules.
Fitting in law school with all of the requirements as a Division I basketball player was not easy, but she excelled at both. She was third on the Sun Devils in scoring as a junior (9.7 points a game) and second as a senior (9.7), and her 68 three-pointers as a senior were the second most in program history.
“It was tough, and a really busy couple of years,” she said. “I would eat as fast as I could, and I was always sprinting out of class. But after you get into the rhythm of it …”
She has no plans to take the bar exam after graduating, but she said the law degree will still help her with coaching.
“It teaches you critical thinking skills that you can transfer to coaching,” she said. “In law school, they teach you to see both sides of things and to think through what your arguments are going to be and what your opponent’s arguments are going to be. So that’s like game planning and coaching.”
Hayford was happy to find a spot for Ekmark.
“I think she’s brilliant, but more importantly, the guys really do, too,” Hayford said. “There is just a ton of respect for her. She’s played on national championship teams, she’s played professional basketball and she was at the top of her game in college basketball, which is easy to respect.”
Ekmark already has a long list of questions for Hayford that she will bring to him after the season. She hopes to be able to use that information as a coach at a women’s college program next season, joking “so spread the word.”
Hayford is confident she will be successful.
“She’s excelled at everything she has set her mind to,” Hayford said. “I have no doubt in my mind that while she is still in her 20s, she will be a Division I head coach, probably with the women, but maybe this experience will open her eyes to either side, male or female, because she has been a great addition to our program.”