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Texas A&M’s Jordan Nixon: ‘It’s OK that my marriage with basketball is on the rocks’

The junior guard has graduated while still starring for the Aggies, despite dealing with all the stresses of life

Jordan Nixon, starting point guard for the Texas A&M women’s basketball team, has played in big games all her life. A McDonald’s All American and five-star recruit out of high school, she led Mary Louis Academy to its first New York State Catholic High School championship in 2017. In last season’s NCAA tournament, she scored 35 points in the Aggies’ memorable 84-82 overtime victory over Iowa State. But that was nothing new, either: She’s hit at least two other buzzer-beaters in her college career. This season, she’s averaging 11.3 points, 4.2 assists and 3.5 rebounds for the Aggies.

Texas A&M guard Jordan Nixon (center) celebrates with teammates after a college basketball game against Iowa State in the second round of the women’s NCAA tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio on March 24, 2021. Nixon’s basket at the buzzer gave Texas A&M an 84-82 overtime victory.

Eric Gay/AP Photo

My name is Jordan, but most people call me Jordy. My nicknames have nicknames, but just one will do for now. I’m a girl from Harlem, New York City, and a graduate of the Mary Louis Academy — a small, all-girls school in Jamaica, Queens — gearing up for an SEC game [Feb. 13] against the LSU.

Over the last few years, I’ve played alongside national champions and McDonald’s All Americans — I was one myself. I’ve played an integral part in disappointing losses and observed triumphant wins. As an ineligible player and fan, I’ve cheered so hard that my head hurt, and my ears rang. I’ve flown on chartered planes and stepped on foreign soil because of a game that I’ve loved for the last 12 years. I’ve bled and cried for the world to see. Your favorite basketball player gave me a shout-out on Instagram, and America heard my ode to trust and the 12th man with their morning coffee.

One might say that I’ve had the ultimate collegiate experience. But no, I wouldn’t do it all over again.

In June 2018, I set foot in South Bend, Indiana, ready to take on the challenge of higher learning at Notre Dame. Midway through the year, I wasn’t as enthusiastic about what lay ahead. And yet, after a full year of memories I’d like to forget, I was falsely accused of trying to steer a recruit away from the program two days after being back on campus to start my sophomore campaign. That young recruit has since gone on to a different school. I wonder if I’m the reason.

The old me had an opportunity to represent my country as a USA 19 & Under team member before I asked to be dismissed for personal reasons. I didn’t know what a panic attack was until I found myself on the front steps of my apartment on July 5, 2019 — the first day of training camp — struggling to breathe normally. I didn’t know what hyperventilate meant until after interacting with a former Notre Dame coach I associated with my freshman year distress three weeks after we skipped out on saying our goodbyes — yes, very personal mental health reasons.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Jordan Nixon in the second half against the Boston College Eagles at Purcell Pavilion.

Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports

I spent my newfound free time mourning my Notre Dame decision, battling a sinus infection and a head injury. Those around me didn’t know I had renounced basketball for what it did and how it felt. I became a shell, or rather — as [Louisville coach] Jeff Walz so gracefully put it — ‘a dud.’ And no one likes a dud.

For the first time in my young adult life, I was forced to be something other than a basketball player. It may have been one of the best things to ever happen to me, in hindsight.

I discovered that I loved to write that fateful summer when my secret journal overflowed. I hadn’t the slightest idea about my love for creating and problem-solving until I wrote a screenplay starring my dream self on the nights when insomnia inspired me to eat a six-pack of mint chocolate chip cookies. Granted, only three people have been privileged to read my makeshift masterpiece — on the nights when insomnia inspired me to eat a six-pack of mint chocolate chip cookies. Until that point, my love for movies had never been enough for me to dream of participating in their production. For every step forward that summer, the darkness shrouding the next year made me want to turn back.

At age 19, on a full scholarship at Texas A&M, one of the best schools in the country, I had enough money in my pocket to DoorDash too much for my own good. I had a clean, ventilated, two-bed, 2.5-bath apartment to call home after classes and time in the Aggies’ multimillion-dollar facilities. But while basking in the bliss of my blessings, on a night in October 2019, I pondered potential newspaper headlines about Jordan Nixon, A&M basketball player, being found unresponsive in her apartment.

Self-harm, however it manifested itself, was a way for me to legitimize my concealed distress.

I intended it to be an outward expression of the casualties of the war going on inside of my head. Admittedly, it was also a desperate countermove for the unrelenting numbness. I survived 100% of my worst days unharmed, and for that, I am proud.

Anxiety-induced depression. That’s what I chose to call it — silently, of course. Low grades, 20 additional pounds, insomnia, panic attacks and tremendously low lows accompanied by numb fingers, frequent bouts of nausea, an inability to focus, difficulty breathing and performing daily tasks. Yet, I didn’t have the right to lay claim to these words and all of their gravity. Or at least that’s what was said, at some points implied, and well understood by me.

Enter Pandemic stage left

Three people dear to me died within three weeks in 2020. Two from COVID-19, and the other from a massive heart attack. More newspaper headlines. More panic. More sleepless nights and repeat days while ‘the city that never sleeps’ – a colloquialism for NYC, the greatest city on earth – took naps. Regular weekly calls with the therapist — free counseling from our school’s sports psychologist was a perk I was reluctant to surrender. No peace.

I danced on the decision to walk away from two years’ worth of forgettable but formative moments as a college athlete at the onset of the pandemic because the experience of being at a Power 5 school was not worth me. The burden had grown too big to bear, or so I thought. For my scholarship, I am forever grateful. But for the nights I didn’t think I’d make it through, I am forever afraid.

I owe my life to a clunky, secondhand full-frame Canon 5D classic camera. Without it, my worst days would have gotten the best of me. I found peace in carrying an old-style camera around the streets of Harlem alongside my mom and dog. At the pandemic’s peak, I brought that camera back to College Station, Texas, and created magic. I built a small brand rooted in repurposing the meaning of a term often used to keep people on the margins and stuck in circumstances beyond their control. ‘A problem’ — or rather, ‘aprblem,’ for the sake of self-promotion — was built for those who, like me, felt broken by their circumstances, unable to move forward, and feeling undeserving. To be ‘aprblem,’ in the way that I mean, is to create your bigger picture with the broken pieces.

Maybe that’s what carried me through the subsequent school year. The tears streaming down my mom’s face when she begged me ‘to get the degree’ may have also played a factor.

It’s been said everything you go through will prepare you for the things you’re asking for. I have to believe that being out for two months before my first season as an eligible Aggie provided me the patience I needed to accept my internal battles and brave them every day throughout the first COVID-19 season. I have to hope that living in hotels — first, after my roommate contracted COVID-19, and again for several months after an unprecedented winter storm displaced us — taught me to adapt. I have to think that cursing my curves taught me how to love myself enough to stop valuing the opinions of others. I also have to believe that what happened in March 2021 in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament was not the peak of my college basketball career and that I am not speeding downhill fast, but actually on the fast track to better.

From the instant ‘celebrity’ I gained from a third game winner on the season, tacked onto a 35-point performance and overtime win, I’ve learned the power of the number of people who hit your follow button; it’s life-changing. And just as quickly as it comes, so too can it leave — overnight sensationalism at its finest.

I spent last spring dodging talks about the impending season, the past one, and ducking folks who know better or think they do. I didn’t accept an invitation to try out for the national team. I chose inexperience and uncertainty over basketballs and storied gyms. And to hell with all of the people who disagreed. I wanted to be booked and busy, and I can still recall the moment because I chose myself for the first time.

I chose myself for a second time when I walked away from all basketball-related activities as a last battle cry in the three-year war in September 2021. Dear September, you were good to me. In the context of who I am, instead of what I do, I returned, taking 19 credits while on academic probation. I chose the familiar uncertainty of a season and my teammates. I decided to return to basketball, and in making that choice, I suffered a panic attack during our game against DePaul; breathing is hard enough playing at their pace. I endured nagging pain in my right knee, initially diagnosed as ‘something that would persist until I stopped playing.’ That turned out to be a partial meniscus tear. I contracted COVID-19 for the second time this year — the first was back in late April — several days before my graduation ceremony. On Dec. 18, 2021, I got the degree in the comfort of my living room — top two in all-time accomplishments, and probably not two. Refer to Drake’s ‘Gyalchester.’

Texas A&M Aggies guard Jordan Nixon against the LSU Tigers at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

Dawson Powers/USA TODAY Sports

As an early graduate, I decided not to pursue my master’s degree at Texas A&M for no other reason than wanting to get one in journalism, communications is my best bet, but isn’t offered until the fall. Confession: I fell out of love, and into solace while telling stories. I’m hoping that we remain good to one another even as basketball and I try to figure things out. Now I spend my days taking courses on subjects I have little curiosity about, playing basketball, and doing things that continue to save me over and over again i.e writing, socializing, reading, etc.

Don’t look at the screen that way — I am not the first person to fall out of love with the game that has given me so much, nor will I be the last. I’ve played this long for my mom and people who’ve patiently waited and experienced my success with me. I’ve played for the city that urged me to make it out. I’ve played thinking of the people around the country who see a regular Black girl from New York City beating the odds. There’s power in purpose, and all those things combined made mine.

It’s OK that my marriage with basketball is on the rocks and that we’re living out our final days together. We’ve hit the midseason mark, and I haven’t lived up to my expectations, let alone those of my coaches, teammates and loved ones. I am in the process of exhausting the possibilities, attempting to revive what’s left of my playing career, and failing miserably, but remaining hopeful. I’ve continued playing through the season, injured and questioning my love, because I love my teammates and I love being an Aggie. And no matter what happens, I am thankful for this opportunity. As far as this team is concerned, no, we haven’t been the team we thought we’d be, standing at a 3-7 conference record, but we’re figuring it out. One practice, film session and game at a time until we don’t have any more— continuing with today.

I fell out of love and into solace while telling stories. I hope that we remain good to one another even as basketball and I try to figure things out. I’m welcoming change without knowing that those who made this journey possible will do the same, and I am OK with that, too.

I hate roller coasters, and this has been both wild but necessary. Yes, I found myself in four years, but not before losing myself time and time again along the ride.

‘A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but on its own wings.’ — Unknown