Student athlete Zae Sellers demonstrates leadership on the court and in class

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The captain of George Brown College’s women’s varsity basketball team, Zae Sellers, knows all about grit. Earlier this year she led her team as it rallied back from a 20-point deficit to beat the top-ranked team in the province

“Nothing on the court comes easy and nothing in life comes easy. You have to work hard. You may not always be the best. You just have to understand how to work through it,” Zae said. “You need hard work, dedication and perseverance—you can’t just quit in basketball. If we would’ve just quit when we were down by 20 against Algonquin College, we would’ve lost.” 

Zae played and attended college at North Dakota State College of Science and Ohio Valley University before coming to George Brown. She's posted impressive stats since becoming a Husky, including: 

  •  a career-high 31 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals in a game against Georgian College February 21, 2020 

  • she's ranked third in the province for threes made (45), tenth in three-point percentage (34.4%) and fourth in free-throw percentage (81.1%) 

In the 2018-19 season Zae was number one in the Ontario Colleges Athletics Association (OCAA) for three-point shooting percentage and third for steals. She was named an OCAA East Division Second-Team All-Star, OCAA All-Academic and a CCAA (Canadian Collegiate Athletics Assocation) Academic All-Canadian for the 2018-19 season.  

Lessons from sport translate to class and career 

Zae was a psychology major in the United States before making the shift to engineering and moving to Toronto. She’s in her second year of the Civil Engineering Technology program and hopes to become a water engineer. 

“I'm very passionate about getting clean water to different people,” she said. 

So, why the shift? She grew up around builders (her father runs a garage door business and her uncle owns a construction business) and says her psychology background has come in handy in this new field and new college. 

“One thing that’s been cool for me is using the skills from the psychology theories and background and translating them into what I do here," she said. “I think that’s a main reason why I’m in the position I’m in as class representative because I’m able to communicate and speak with different people and understand the different issues.” 

“And being the captain of the basketball team, the psychology has helped because everyone has their own way of learning, of understanding things, and so my previous education helped me understand that and gives me the ability to adapt to each of my players.” 

Warren Williams, the coach of the women's basketball team, said Zae is the "epitome of leadership."

"She is the example in the classroom, where she has been honoured as an Academic All-Canadian; she is the example in our school as a member of the Black Students Association and our Athletics department events crew; she is the example for a team that has gone 27-6 over the last two years in the regular season.  She is the unquestioned leader whose faith guides her leadership and whose position is solidified by two league all star nominations but is always seeking the perspective of her teammates so the team can be better," he said. "She truly encapsulates our team philosophy of Doing the Best You Can, Doing the Right Thing and Treating Others as You Would Like to be Treated."

Zae is so respected by her fellow players that the team visits her hometown of Minneapolis over the holidays, he added.

Career goals — working to secure clean, accessible water 

Zae says she wants to become a problem-solver when it comes to improving water infrastructure. She hopes to invent a technology in the field and to share her experience and education with others.  

Ultimately, it’s about justice, she said, and exploring issues around lack of access to clean water for certain populations. 

"The real issue is why is it the way it is? Why is it that there are people who don’t have clean water?” she said. 

She hopes to launch her career in her hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota and plans to complete her program internship there, in the public works department. 

Words of advice 

When asked what advice she has for girls and young women who would like to follow a similar path, Zae stressed the importance of self-confidence. 

"Just do it. Even if your knees are shaking. Even if your voice shakes and your palms are sweaty. Speak up. Say it. You never know who it’s going to impact, and women need to stop limiting ourselves,” she said. 

“Even if you’re the only girl in the class. There have been so many times where not only am I the only girl but the only person of colour in a group. You don’t have to represent the whole female population or the whole Filipino population or the whole black population, whatever, you’re doing it for you.” 

Photo credit: Cintia Freitas