Female athletes from Iowa are special in many ways; here at the IGHSAU we work to recognize the “Iowa Girl” and share our enthusiasm for the good that she represents. There is something unique in every Iowa Girl, whether that be leadership, dedication or compassion. Each one has a story worth sharing.
Welcome to the Iowa Girl Project. Join fellow Iowa Girl Mia Laube as she shares the stories of Iowa Girls who are taking the skills they learned through their education and athletic career above and beyond. These women are making a positive impact on their communities, big and small. They inspire the next generation to compete in sports and conquer the challenges ahead.
Proud to be an Iowa Girl!
Iowa Girls DREAM BIG.
Toronto Raptors assistant coach Brittni Donaldson might be coaching the best in the world, but the biggest supporters in her life live outside the realm of the NBA— starting with her dad, Jeff Donaldson, a Briar Cliff alum and IHSAA Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.
That’s because Donaldson, a multi-sport high school athlete who studied actuarial science at the University of Northern Iowa, is far more interested in the little things than the flashy plays.
At Sioux City North, her attention to detail helped her team to a 4A state championship in 2009 under Coach Kirk Walker.
Walker didn’t make it easy on a young Donaldson, and for that, she called him “one of the best coaches in the state to ever come through.”
He taught her key lessons about accountability and responsibility, and how to “live a little more selflessly.”
“He didn’t let us cut any corners. He didn’t let us take anything for granted,” Donaldson said.
She recalled that a turning point for her was when she was doing a few things on the court Walker wasn’t pleased with, and he made the team run for her while she watched. “If I fail, the team fails,” she said.
Despite being tough, Walker had confidence in her, even when she was scoreless in the state championship game. She recalled him saying, “I don’t care if you’re 0-50… we need you to shoot the ball.”
“When I didn’t have any confidence in myself, he still had confidence in me,” she said.
Other mentors include former Panthers Jacqui Kalin and Adam DeJoode. Kalin taught her things she felt she wouldn’t have learned until college. DeJoode “helped me (Donaldson) find my voice and place in the sport” by giving Donaldson an opportunity to play travel basketball with older players, and was a large part of her recruitment to UNI.
When four knee surgeries in college forced her to re-evaluate her dreams of professional basketball, she found another way to stay involved in sports— data analytics.
Donaldson applied to upwards of 100 jobs, regardless of the sport, just to be involved in the sports and team atmosphere. Her persistence paid off when she ran into Raptors Head of Analytics Keith Boyarsky at an NBA summer league game. One thing led to another, and Donaldson found a home in Toronto’s front office.
Donaldson’s advice to the younger generation is not to think there’s an A to B sequence to a successful career, and “don’t close any doors.”
She never dreamed of coaching NBA players, but after two years as an analyst, she holds the title of NBA’s youngest assistant at 26, and tenth female NBA coach at that.
“I believe that I belong here, and I know I worked hard to get here,” Donaldson said.
She puts her personal touch on the team by continuing to do the little things right.
“I just want to be the best coach I can be, and that means learning everything from the brilliant people I work with every day,” Donaldson said.
She “used to think it was a bad thing” that she doesn’t set many long-term goals, but it’s helped her have an open mind about what comes next.
“My long term goal is to leave this place better than I found it, whatever that looks like,” she said.
Donaldson gives credit to the Iowa community, especially the basketball community, for having her back through her personal journey.
She even found fellow Iowans up north in Toronto— Head Coach Nick Nurse of Carroll and assistant Nate Bjorkgren of Storm Lake— that give her familiarity when it gets isolating in a different country.
Donaldson’s dedication to her dreams make her a true Iowa Girl, and she shows that anything can be achieved through hard work.
She still carries the people with her who taught her life lessons and gave her confidence, and encourages all girls to do the same.
“Take advantage of where you’re from, and be proud of it. I sure am.”