This article was written by Olivia Puttin for GeorgiaDogs.com. To view the original article please click here.
There are certain traits that are achieved if one goes through the process of being a student-athlete. For alumna Brandi Hunter-Lewis, it is apparent how she has used those traits to create her own path to success. Dealing with loss, hardship and overcoming it with perseverance, Hunter-Lewis is the epitome of what a Lady Bulldog is. She looks back on her career in Athens with joy and nostalgia, sharing memories about Coach Landers, her teammates and her favorite moments wearing red and black.
Olivia Puttin: What made you decide to leave Minnesota and play basketball at the University of Georgia?
Brandi Hunter-Lewis: “My best friend and I, Tracy Henderson [Edwards], were being recruited by a lot of the same schools. I went to North High, she went to Henry and we played on the same AAU basketball team, which gave us a lot of exposure. We were open to the idea of going far away for school so that didn’t intimidate us at all. Georgia was our very first recruiting visit and we were blown away by the experience, we loved the people, the coaching staff, the team, the campus it was love at first sight. We compared every other visit to Georgia, but we knew we would attend UGA after that first visit.”
OP: What was it like playing for Coach Landers and how has he impacted your life after basketball?
BHL: “Coach is tough, he is going to get the best out of you whether you like it or not. He commands the best, he pushed us to be better than we even thought we could be. My experience at the University of Georgia shaped how I view the world, how I approach business, how I mother, because it pushed me to limits that I didn’t even think I could go. We had fun in the process because although he was tough, he showed a lot of love as well. We were far from home and didn’t get to go back often so they really became my second family. It’s been 23 years and we’re still very close and I think that speaks to the environment that Coach Landers created there. Even though he was gritty, you still respected him. He balanced it out with a lot of love and support.”
OP: You came in as part of the “Super Six,” one of the most celebrated recruiting classes in women’s basketball history. How did it feel to be a part of that? Do you keep in touch with your class today?
BHL: “When you’re in it, you don’t realize the magnitude of it because you’re just living in the moment. We understood it, but not to the degree of how people on the outside perceived it. We were a group of girls from all over with different experiences, but we came together and were inseparable. At the time, there were only two of us that had cars, Rachel and Tiffany, of course they were small too. All six of us would squeeze in them and go wherever we had to go. We truly bonded and I love them, they are my sisters. Just the experience of learning what we did, breaking old habits and coach getting the best out of us, it made us closer as a group. We worked hard and had some really good times.”
OP: Being from Minneapolis, how did it feel to make a homecoming at the Final Four and play at the Target Center?
BHL: “That was a dream come true. We knew we were good, but it’s never a guarantee you’ll make it to the Final Four. To play in my home city, it was incredible. They ended up giving us a key to Minneapolis and declared March 31st ‘Brandi Decker and Tracy Henderson Day.’ So they made a big deal about it, we didn’t win the championship but to be so young and have that experience was absolutely incredible.”
OP: Do you have a favorite moment playing for the Lady Bulldogs?
BHL: “When we beat Colorado in 1996. We went on a stretch where we played some tough competition with close games. That game was so intense, and we had so many huge plays, it was incredible. To beat that team the way we did, cut down the net, that was one of my fondest moments.”
OP: While playing at Georgia, you were a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, how did you balance that out while being a college athlete?
BHL: “It was insane, if my coach knew everything I had to do, he probably wouldn’t have allowed it. It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever experienced, because I was playing basketball at the highest level and it demands the absolute most of you. Then my commitment to my sorority, it required a lot from me. It was a huge undertaking and looking back I have no idea how I had the time to do all of that and keep my grades intact. When I speak about how my college experience shaped me as a woman, it was the experience of me pledging and playing basketball. I credit my upbringing from my parents, but also being pushed as an athlete. It truly played a huge role in my work ethic and time management. Even how I relate to people, you must be selfless and get to know others. Becoming a Delta, a lot of what I did on my team helped me in my sorority.”
OP: During your time in Athens, you mentioned your all-time hero in athletics was Wilma Rudolph. Why did you choose her?
BHL: “She was iconic, she overcame a lot of challenges as a young woman. She had overcome a debilitating disease and still managed to be one of the most well-known, decorated female athletes of her time. As a woman of color, she smashed a lot of barriers that were in front of her, which was always amazing. Wilma Rudolph was also a member of the same sorority I was in, which was another reason why she was significant to me.”
OP: Since graduating from Georgia, you have become a very successful realtor in Atlanta. What did it take for you to achieve such a well-respected reputation?
BHL: “It took a lot of grit and determination. Real estate is a business that you need to build brick-by-brick. In this business a lot of people start and don’t make it a career because it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. People have this perception that you go out and sell pretty houses all day, that is not what we do, there is so much more involved. A lot of what I learned at UGA, and my upbringing, gave me the strength to do it and I’ve applied it to my regimen and business. There is so much opportunity in this world and there was a certain sector I wanted to dominate. I knew from the beginning, I wanted to be a highly touted luxury agent. God aligned and orchestrated things in a way because that’s what I set out to do. My assertiveness and focus on customer service have really played a big role in my reputation, I make certain that I meet the needs of my clients.”
OP: As someone who has many worked with many well-known figures, do you have any fun stories that have come with that?
BHL: “Cardi B and Offset are hilarious, they’re just fun to be around. There was one showing that we went on in Fayetteville and the house had almost 100 acres. The agent that showed us the property took us in a golf cart to show us the land. We saw all kinds of forest animals while on those carts and their commentary was absolutely hilarious! Outside of their celebrity, they are just fun, down to earth people. I had a great experience with them. We worked together for almost three years before we found the home of their dreams, so they became like family to me.”
OP: How did being a Georgia Lady Bulldog help you become successful?
BHL: “I’ve never been pushed to my limits like I was at the University of Georgia. I’ve had some unfortunate things happen in my life since I graduated. When my husband was killed, I became a widow and single mother of three small children at 29. You don’t know a lot of the characteristics you have until you’re put in certain situations. I had the unimaginable happen, and with that I was forced to create a life for myself and my children. There was so much uncertainty, but all I knew was that God would not fail me and my boys. I was determined to turn that tragedy into triumph. What I learned at Georgia gave me an edge. I told myself that I can do this, I can raise my kids by myself and put them in a position where they could thrive and become the fine young men they are. I’m remarried now to my love, Ryan Lewis, and God has had his hand over all of our lives. I know my faith and foundation in God, my loving and supportive parents, and my experience at Georgia has played a huge role in my success today.”
OP: As a former college athlete, what is it like to watch your kids excel in their sports and go on to play collegiately?
BHL: “It’s so gratifying. On Facebook they show you memories and it pulled up a photo from 11 years ago with me and my three babies. They were all young and had on their football jerseys, it showed me that’s where we started and look at them now. I have two in college and one in high school, he’s at one of the top prep schools for basketball in the country and one of the best in his class. My oldest son is playing football at Western Kentucky now. My middle son is at Clemson and will be a redshirt freshman this year on the basketball team. They’re all doing well and I’m proud because they’ve all carved their own path in spite of who their father was or what he did. Nothing is going to be given to them, they needed to work hard and they’ve done that. It makes me sit back and admire how they’ve grown into these fine young men, they’ve made their own mark so I’m extremely proud of what they’ve done.”
OP: Do you still follow the Lady Bulldogs and are you excited to watch them play this year?
BHL: “Being a busy mother of a blended family, I have bonus children who are also playing in college. We’re all over the place supporting, but prior to the pandemic we made an effort to go to as many games as we could. However, I will still check scores and I follow my Lady Dogs on Instagram. I love Joni [Taylor] and what she has done with the program, so I will support them any chance I get and will come back for alumni events. Once a Bulldog always a Bulldog, that pride is always there. I love watching them and their success, so yes I do.”
OP: What makes the University of Georgia so special?
BHL: “I graduated about 20 years ago, but there will always be a sense of pride knowing I went to school at the University of Georgia. I support all of the sports and athletes, because that comes along with being a Georgia Bulldog. Athens looks a lot different now than when I was there, but every time I go back, I relish in it. I love that place, my affinity I have in that school will be in me as long as I live.”