Alumni Spotlight

Sebnem Kimyacıoğlu, Class of 2001
Written by Bailey Heit ’17

Shouts from 50 friends in the Panther Pit pale in comparison to the 16,000 spectators at the Rio olympics. Every high-achieving athlete is born somewhere. For this Turkish basketball player Sebnem Nezahat Kimyacıoğlu, that place was Pinewood. Pinewood set a foundation for Kimyacıoğlu’s athletic and academic dream.

“Pinewood (and this could be said for Stanford as well) does a great job of teaching you to dream big... and encourages their students and gives them the courage to have Wall Street goals,” Kimyacıoğlu said.

Basketball has been a focal point throughout Kimyacıoğlu’s life, but the olympics came as an unexpected surprise to her. After graduating from Pinewood in 2001, she played 4 years at Stanford and continued her career in Turkey playing in the European League. Between 2008 and 2015, she graduated from Santa Clara law school, and won two Turkish league championships and a Euroleague title. Just when she was ready to give up basketball for good in 2015, she was offered a position on the Turkish national team. Months of hard work and one olympic qualifier later, Kimyacıoğlu’s team landed a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Competing against the top athletes in the world, taking part in the opening ceremony, and sitting two seats down from Michael Phelps at breakfast were among some of the memories Kimyacıoğlu will never forget.

“To be in that setting and to say that I earned a spot to be here. I’m not just a visitor. I am one of these athletes. It was a pretty incredible feeling being amongst greatness...I had to pinch myself, because there was no way this was really happening,” Kimyacıoğlu said.

Kimyacıoğlu led her team to the quarterfinals, defeating Japan, Belarus, and Brazil along the way. Kimyacıoğlu was proud to even make it this far, considering she never even dreamed of playing in the olympics.

After a long career in basketball, Kimyacıoğlu hopes to carry these lessons forward as she prepares for the next step in her life. Kimyacıoğlu’s long term goal is becoming an executive at a sports franchise like the Warriors or Clippers. In the meantime, she is still transitioning away from her basketball career.

“I feel like I have a PhD in basketball but now I have to put that aside and start over. It’s a scary place to be in; what am I going to do for the rest of my life? I definitely struggled with that,” Kimyacıoğlu said.

Kimyacıoğlu shares her story to show that bringing a hard working, dedicated attitude to everything—college, sports, and life— can result in unexpected, unbelievable opportunities.

“My advice would be to get goals—dream big. You never know what’s going to happen. If you dream big, even if you fall short of that dream, you will land somewhere pretty great. But know that dreaming isn’t enough. Know that you have to work for it every single day. It is having that dream in your mind that motivates you to get you to work every single day. It is following through with those goals and having the motivation to never let down,” Kimyacıoğlu said.

Posted: October 2016

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