"Mother, this is absolutely incredible. I am floored."
That was Nicole's text message last Sunday, sent during first official photo shoot as a UCLA Bruin.
This relatively recent, annual tradition with the women's basketball team is rumored to cost tens of thousands of dollars. More importantly, it is intended to set the tone for a season of excellence.
Her brother calls these pictures "over the top." Her dad is not a fan of the long hair and makeup. I will always prefer her hair in a ponytail, so I can appreciate her cheekbones.
Yet I must share a key story behind the scenes of this photo shoot.
Location: Quizote Studios in West Hollywood
The girls are getting the full hair and makeup treatment, emerging one by one for their individual pictures.
It's Nicole's turn to put on "her blues."
She sees this jersey for the first time.
Nicole emerges from the green room into the open studio, where production assistants, basketball coaches, and other team employees are hanging out waiting.
"Nicole, when you walked out, when I saw you in your uniform, I almost cried." said Luke the videographer.
"I felt it too, Luke." Nicole replied.
She tells me later on the phone that this is the feeling she had always dreamed about: a mix of joy and pride, satisfaction and belonging.
According to my journal, it was one year ago tomorrow when Nicole mustered up every ounce of strength, called her coach at the University of Oklahoma, and told her she wasn't happy. That she wanted to play basketball in California.
It was one year ago tomorrow when Coach Sheri Coale offered to grant Nicole a release.
As they say, the rest is history. But not without much doubt, tears, risk, faith, and incredibly hard work, sitting out a full year and practicing like every day could be her last.
I can assure you, Nicole has never felt this satisfied. Stimulated. And gratified.
She has never worked this hard for anything.
She adores and respects her teammates.
Her classmates, coaches and teachers aren't too shabby either.
Every day in California is an adventure.
Plus, she keeps running into people like OKC's Russell Westbrook.
If there is a lesson to learn for the rest of us, it is to never give up on your dreams.
The biggest rewards often require the biggest risks.
I have a feeling this will be one heck of a basketball season.