50 Years of Women’s Varsity Athletics: Spotlight on Women’s Basketball

4 min read

Duke is celebrating 50 years of varsity women’s athletics in 2021-22. This is the fourth installment of a year-long GoDuke The Magazine series reflecting on the Blue Devils’ 14 women’s sports programs.

For more from the university, see dukengwsd.com/dukewomens50 or #DukeWomens50 on social media.

LEGACY TALK • Dr. Georgia Beasley

Duke Class of 2001 | Basketball team 1998-2001

Georgia (Schweitzer during her Duke career) was a two-time ACC player of the year for the Blue Devils and was a key figure in leading the program to its first Final Four in 1999. She played three seasons in the WNBA and worked as a Duke assistant coach under Gail Goestenkors.

Georgia then headed to medical school, graduating from Duke in 2008, doing her residency at Duke as well, then serving a fellowship at Ohio State.

She is now a surgical oncologist, associate professor of surgery and a melanoma specialist at Duke. She was inducted into the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.

People sometimes describe the decision to attend Duke as a 40-year decision, not a four-year decision. Now that you are in your 40s, have you found that to be true?

Yes. A hundred percent. Both my parents went to Ohio State, my high school coach played at Ohio State. It’s in my backyard and all my family went there. It was an extremely tough decision. When I came here on my recruiting visit it was nice weather in late October and I just had this sense about (then head coach) Gail Goestenkors. They were a good program, don’t get me wrong, but they weren’t an elite program yet.

But I just had the sense she was going to be the one. I had a feeling. I was also interested in going to medical school at that time and when I came here I thought I could do both, play on the team with med school right next door. Those are the reasons I came, and now in my 40s here I am. I was kinda able to do it all, play and now I’m a surgeon at Duke. It’s pretty crazy to go all the way back and think, “I made the decision for these reasons, and it worked out.”

What are some of the things that remain strong, enduring memories from your time at Duke, given all the success with a Final Four and a couple of ACC championships?

There’s no doubt. That’s an easy answer. It’s when we beat Tennessee (in the 1999 NCAA regionals to reach the Final Four). We were underdogs, but that was brewing. The year before when I was a freshman we had Nicole Erickson and Michele Van Gorp (as transfers) who were able to play and we had a really successful year that year, and that was really the first year all of us were playing together.

So when we came into (1999), no one else expected it but we had some pretty high expectations. We had some bumps in the road, but we had some talent, and I think a lot about that team and that game. Literally overnight one game really did put the program on the map. Going into the game we were joking around that the other team had already bought their tickets to the Final Four.

A lot of us still get together and watch it and we laugh because when they go to the announcers, their faces are blank. They can’t really believe what’s going on. And the same thing with the Tennessee folks. When I was a senior in high school the Women’s Final Four was in Cincinnati and I had gone and sat way up high and thought, “Wouldn’t it be so awesome to ever be down there?” Two years later I couldn’t believe I was down on the court for the Final Four.

What was it like for you during those years in the WNBA and coaching when you were in between your college career and your medical career?

I feel really lucky that I got to try out every career I was thinking about. Because when I was coaching, I really did love it. I could have seen myself doing that. It was such a great opportunity to give it a try. By the time I was ready to go to medical school, I knew that was it. There wasn’t any doubt. I had tried some other things. Playing professionally was awesome. That league is super elite.

There’s 112 or so of the best (players) in the world so that experience is like no other to know you are playing against the best in the world. Coaching was so much fun. We had so much talent here… Monique (Currie), Iciss (Tillis), Alana Beard… To watch them and help them develop from the coaching side of it — I mean, I had to practice with them every day too — it was a really great experience.

Now I have medical students and residents and there are a lot of similarities in the teaching (aspect), so I learned a lot about teaching and developing your own style. It was a really fun time. I’m glad I did it all and I don’t regret it for one minute — even though I went into something that took 13 years to train after.

Speaking of that, being a leader on the basketball court is one thing — how did you find that translated into being a leader in other areas of life?

I remember Coach K one time talking about how the best leaders give everyone else the credit when it’s going well, but there’s only a finger here (pointing at yourself) if you are a true leader. I’ve really tried to stick to that philosophy both as a player and now. Women in surgery is a very similar topic — there are some, but it’s sometimes a challenge.

I’m super super committed and I have a lot of female residents that work with me in research, and I want nothing more than to build them up and set them up for success, and prioritize their success. So I think I’ve definitely carried over the idea that a true leader prioritizes the success of the team and other people. It can’t just be about your own success. The same thing goes with patient care.

I obviously take it very seriously but I do think that when things aren’t going well, it’s on me. At what point in your journey did you know that specializing in melanoma was the way to go? I knew I really liked surgery. A lot of athletes, when you do surgery, it just feels right because it’s very team-oriented, team dynamics, and there are many athletes who end up as doctors going into surgery.

It’s like an automatic fit. Like a lot of people I thought I wanted to do orthopedics but then I realized I was a little bit nerdy and liked biology. And I met this doctor (Doug Tyler) who was a surgical oncologist and he did melanoma and he taught me it all and that was the main reason.

Also there have been dramatic revolutionary things happening in melanoma so it’s a great place if you want to have a research career because there is so much happening and it’s fast-paced with a lot of exciting changes taking place.

Overall how do you feel about being a part of the 50 years of women’s athletics at Duke?

I think about a lot of the other amazing female athletes I had the ability to play with or watch develop both before and after me. I’ve got a daughter now, and a son, and we take them to Duke women’s soccer games, basketball, volleyball and see (these student-athletes) competing at such an elite level, and they are such great kids.

Some of the soccer players came to one of my daughter’s practices and they were just so great. I think that’s what Duke women’s sports is all about. Elite competition and trying to be the best, but also being a good human, are equally important here.

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