LAWRENCEVILLE — With an oversized, pink Washington Mystics jersey draped to her feet, 2-year-old Zoe Nielsen smiled behind her blonde hair, of which the wind blew locks into her face.
It’s not every day a young fan meets the person whose name is printed on the back of their replica jersey, but on Wednesday, Zoe was posing for a picture with Washington Mystics point guard and 11-year WNBA veteran Ivory Latta.
“We love Ivory to death,” said mother Carrie Nielsen, who has been an Atlanta Dream season ticket holder for 11 years.
Zoe is too young to have witnessed Latta average roughly 12 points per game during her 2008 sophomore WNBA season for the Dream, but perhaps Latta still left a lasting effect on the toddler in a different way. Latta and former Brookwood and University of Georgia football standout Rennie Curran were both promoting their recently released children’s books at Sports Medicine South in Lawrenceville. The physical therapy office was crowded as children shuffled from face painting to an ice cream stand and inflatable slide before heading inside for autographs from authors Latta and Curran.
Both books share the theme of championing the underdog. The cover of Latta’s book, “Despite the Height,” depicts a young Latta dribbling a basketball between her taller brothers, whose socks nearly match her height. The book, Latta said, challenges young readers to discover which traits make them successful and focus on perfecting their craft, rather than listen to naysayers.
“I had roadblocks in high school,” Latta said. “I had one of my favorite players at the time tell me, ‘You’re too small. You’re not going to make it in the (Atlantic Coast Conference).”
Needless to say, Latta made it. At University of North Carolina, Latta finished her college career as the all-time leading scorer for Tar Heel women’s basketball and her No. 12 was one of the program’s two retired numbers.
In Curran’s book, “What Does It Take To Be a Star?”, a child learns from different “famous” people — including an athlete, a musician and an artist — which positive character traits reflect that of a “star.”
“It really draws them in with what they perceive as success and tells them the truth about success as a person, and how that’s the most important thing,” Curran said.
He said it draws on lessons he learned through his years as a touted high school recruit for the Broncos, who finished state runner-up in Class AAAAA during his junior season. Curran was a four-star recruit out of Brookwood, and continued his football career at Georgia as a linebacker. Curran played in 11 games during his freshman season when the Bulldogs beat the University of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, and he was named one of Georgia’s team captains during his junior season in 2009.
The Tennessee Titans picked Curran in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, and he saw action in nine games during his only NFL season.
The book Curran promoted Wednesday is his second published children’s book. His first book, “Free Agent,” was published in 2013. He said he’s shocked even himself regarding the career path he followed. Hardly a bookworm as a student, Curran began consuming motivational and self-help books while playing in the NFL. Now his career has led him back to the community where he grew up, and he visits schools to showcase his book and give inspirational speeches.
“Now to be an author and speaker is, No. 1, surreal and crazy,” Curran said. “No. 2, I’m thankful for those who stayed on me. Beside my parents, having a great community like this with coaches, teachers, who all I’m still connected with through my book.”
Latta’s book was published midway through the 2017 WNBA season, her first season since undergoing knee surgery during the 2016 season. This year, the Mystics finished runner-up in the Eastern Conference finals to the eventual WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx. Latta was presented with the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award at the conclusion of the season. The 5-foot-6 WNBA veteran said she also tried to reflect some of her struggles from recovering from surgery in her book, which also includes blank pages to use as a dream journal.
“I easily could have gave up, just (said) ‘I’m done, my career is over,’” Latta said. “There’s a page in the back of my book. It says, ‘Never give up,’ and I want kids to write down their dreams.”
Curran’s hope is that through his public speaking and writing he can influence children to start reading at a young age. Perhaps that will trigger a cranial light bulb similar to the one that clicked in Curran’s head years ago, and inspired him to turn his thoughts into pages.
“A book is something to leave with them,” Curran said. “You can talk all day, but a book is a resource they’ll always be able to refer back to.”