LILLINGTON — Tresa Brown-Tomlinson, legendary UNC-Chapel Hill women’s basketball powerhouse, grabbed fans’ attention when she led the team to victories in the early 1980s.
On Feb. 23, she grabbed an audience’s attention again as she shared with Central Carolina Community College students her message that there is a champion inside each of them. She encouraged them to launch their own successful futures by right choices and right attitudes in the present.
Brown-Tomlinson, now assistant superintendent for programs at the N.C. Department of Correction's Harnett Correctional Institution, in Lillington, was the Black History Month featured speaker at the college’s Harnett County Campus.
“We were born to be successful,” she told the gathering. “There’s a champion in all of us. All it is waiting for is for you to develop and nourish it. You have what it takes to become what you are striving for. It is never too late.”
Brown-Tomlinson illustrated her point with stories from her own life and those of people she knew, such as Michael Jordan, who was at UNC-Chapel Hill when she was.
“He was always the first in the gym to practice and the last to leave,” she said. “He had a work ethic, commitment and was always dedicated.”
Brown-Tomlinson was born in New Bern but did most of her growing up in Raleigh. She was the oldest of five children of a pastor father and a mother who taught them standards, responsibilities, and commitment.
She grew to be 6-foot, 2-inches and loved basketball, playing for both Garner and Sanderson high schools. Several universities recruited her but she chose to go to UNC-CH because she felt she could help strengthen its women’s basketball program.
“I wanted to go to a place where I could make a difference,” she said.
She certainly did.
Brown-Tomlinson, who still bears the nickname “Tree” given by her teammates, played for UNC-CH from 1980 to 1984. She helped launch the university as a national women’s basketball powerhouse. She was named a Kodak All-American, MVP of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament and was an All-ACC selection her senior year. She ranks third all-time at UNC in career field goal percentage (.547) and sixth in all-time scoring with 1,931 career points. She is among UNC’s top 10 in career scoring average, total rebounds, and blocked shots. In 1995, she became one of the first women's basketball athletes to have her jersey retired by the university. In 2008, she was selected as an ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament Legend.
After impressing her CCCC audience with the mention of a few of the honors she has received, Brown-Tomlinson said that, no matter what one achieves, it is critical to have a good attitude.
“If you don’t go through life with the right attitude, no one wants to honor you,” she told the audience. “So often we go through life thinking, ‘It’s all about me.’ While focused on that, we miss out on so many experiences that come our way.”
Brown-Tomlinson earned her degree in Recreation Administration in 1984. She then played professional basketball in Span and Italy for two years. No one looked like her, no one talked like her, but she chose to embrace the diversity and learn to appreciate the people, their cultures, and their life experiences. She encouraged her listeners to do the same with the variety of people they meet in their lives.
Brown-Tomlinson asked how many in her CCCC audience were leaders and only a few hands went up. She then defined a leader as anyone who influences even one other person. When she asked how many leaders there were now, all hands went up.
“We need more leaders with integrity, with character and with right attitudes,” she said. She challenged them to live the three “Rs”: respect for self, respect for others, and responsibility for all one’s actions. She also urged them to have “B-attitudes,” including be a participant, be faithful, be enthusiastic, by supportive of others, be approachable, and be an example.
Among those who heard Brown-Tomlinson was Letty Lomogilio, of Spring Lake, a cosmetology student at the Harnett Campus.
“I was very excited to hear her talk. “Lomogilio said. “It was inspiring and very impressive, particularly when she said stay on the course of your dreams, be disciplined but never, ever give up. My dream is to own multiple salons. That’s a goal I’ve had a long time. Now, I’m a 44-year-old grandmother and I’ve come back to school to start fulfilling that dream.”