In four months, Oregon senior Oti Gildon will graduate from the University of Oregon. She will be wearing a green robe with a matching cap, along with a yellow sash that will read “Student Athlete” on one side and “Basketball” on the other.
And in the crowd, her mother, Talesha Roberson, will likely be shedding tears. Not just because her oldest child will be graduating college, but because Gildon will be the first in the family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university.
“I’m proud. When I think of her, I just get chills,” Roberson said. “I want to cry because she’s my inspiration. Her nickname in the family is ‘Hope’ and when you look at her, that’s exactly what you see — hope.”
Over the past four years, as a forward for Oregon’s women’s basketball team, Gildon has used this accomplishment to fuel her family-focused motivation in following her basketball passion, and along the way became one of the Ducks’ leading bench scorers.
“She’s a leader,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said. “Oti Gildons don’t come around too often. I’d take about 15 of them on every team.”
There was no doubt in Roberson’s mind that Gildon would grow up to love the sport of basketball. In fact, it was in the family blood as both she and her siblings had played. Standing at 6-foot-1, Gildon was the first in the family to follow the passion and play competitively.
“I’ve always just loved basketball,” Gildon said. “I’ve tried other sports, but I always just kept coming back to it.”
In 2014, Gildon set two records when she committed to play for the Ducks. As an incoming freshman, her recruit ranking of No. 37 in the nation by ESPN Hoopgurlz was the then-highest recruit in Oregon program history. And, by committing to play collegiately, Gildon had the opportunity to become the first in her family to graduate from college.
It was something she always dreamed of doing to make her family — her constant motivation — proud.
“It’s awesome,” Gildon said. “It’s always good to be the first for something. … I’m a big family person. I like to make them happy and be somebody they can look up to.”
Gildon is one of Oregon’s first players off the bench. She provides a powerful presence under the basket, grabbing important rebounds and securing valued layups. During her sophomore season, and so far in her senior year, she led the team in points off the bench.
“Oti is the consummate student-athlete,” Graves said. “She’s a great teammate. You know, here’s a young lady that has kinda had a lesser role so-to-speak in terms of production and stuff, but she’s just as important to our team as anybody, and everybody on our team would say the same. I’m really glad she has stuck this out. I think it shows the character that she has, and I would trust her in any moment, regardless of time, score and magnitude of the game.”
Inspired by watching her daughter chase her basketball dreams, Roberson decided to go back to school and earn her bachelor’s degree in humanities at Eastern Washington University. She has watched her younger children develop the same goals because of Gildon.
“She was my inspiration,” Roberson said. “[Gildon’s siblings] all look up to her. Just with her attitude and the way she displays herself, they just all really respect that.”
Gildon plans on playing basketball overseas after graduating in June. She’ll be even further away from her family in Spokane, Washington. Gildon’s decision couldn’t be more of a motivation to her mom, who is already working on getting a passport.
“Her smile and her award-winning attitude, she’s just one of a kind,” Roberson said. “People know looking at her, that all things are possible with hard work and dedication. And that’s something that’s always built up [in her].”
Follow Maggie Vanoni on Twitter: @maggie_vanoni