DURHAM, N.C. — Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie was attending the funeral of an ex-teammate's daughter who died by suicide when she knew she had to do something.
McCallie and the Blue Devils are hosting what they say is women's college basketball's first "Mental Wealth Day" before and during their game against No. 13 Syracuse on Sunday, with former Tennessee and WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw serving as the keynote speaker for a pregame discussion about mental health issues.
"I think everybody needs to be in a place where they can feel like they can get help without a stigma attached," McCallie said Saturday.
The women's basketball program partnered with the NBA, the university's counseling services department and the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit that works with colleges and high schools on suicide prevention, to hold the event.
McCallie came up with the idea while consulting with her staff members, Dr. Danielle Oakley of the university's counseling department, and Shawn Zeplin, Duke's director of behavioral health, upon her return from that funeral last summer.
"I was in the church, and call it an epiphany or call it grace or whatever you want," McCallie said. "That was my breaking point, to try to do something — (but) I had no idea what something was."
McCallie's goal is threefold — "awareness, education and an openness," she said — and added that one key was the inclusion of Holdsclaw.
The Southeastern Conference's career scoring leader (3,025 points) and Tennessee's career rebounding leader (1,295 rebounds) also made six WNBA All-Star teams and has become a speaker on mental health issues while discussing her own off-court struggles, which include a 2006 suicide attempt as well as a 2012 arrest that resulted in a probation sentence.
"If you play free in basketball, that's always such a great analogy — 'I just played free, that basket seemed like it was bigger,'" McCallie said. "To me, that's playing free. In this regard, you need to be free. I want individuals to understand, to work on that freedom. Whatever that issue is, that it doesn't define them."