Story by Maddyn Johnstone-Thomas
At the age of 16, Isabella DiGiovanni wanted to quit basketball after she had only begun during the seventh grade. The Seton Catholic basketball player was dealing with some physical obstacles where her bones were growing more than her muscles, causing her to perform poorly.
“I was coming out of injury and I was trying to play in front of these coaches…and just these coaches were calling my coach and saying, ‘Oh she’s too slow. She’s never going to play Division I basketball,’ and my body just wasn’t in the right place,” DiGiovanni recalled.
However, it was Tiffany Tate, who passed away in 2018 after a battle with cancer, that helped give DiGiovanni the courage and confidence to keep pushing forward and not quit. It is one of the main reasons that she is now headed off to play Division I basketball at Dartmouth University in the fall.
“I think she really just taught me to stick with something that I’m passionate about,” DiGiovanni said. “She kind of turned my mindset around and I’ve definitely matured a lot since then and I think that she plays a big part in that.”
Not only is DiGiovanni headed to play Division I, she has also started her own business with life-long friend, Connor Nannen. DiGiovanni got inspiration from her mom, who owns Santa Barbara Design Studio, selling canvas totes. Everything took off from there.
“We’re doing canvas tote bags but custom sayings and some cities and stuff,” DiGiovanni said. “We thought of it one day and we knew there was kind of a demand for custom tote bags so we thought it was the perfect thing to go into and we just took our idea and ran with it.”
A portion of the sales from their business, called Sand Custom Designs, will be sent to India to help benefit a local school supporting and educating women.
Seton Catholic head coach Karen Self thinks that DiGiovanni starting her own business shows a lot about her character.
“(It shows) her ability to put others’ needs before herself, which I think is so important,” Self said. “Just having that bigger picture that there’s people out there that are in need and if she can do something about it, she has the biggest heart in the world so I think that she’s going to do everything she can to try and help others.”
DiGiovanni’s drive to succeed also translates onto the court.
“Bella has shown a level of perseverance that is rarely found in a kid her age,” Self said. “Her ability to stay positive and continue to work and really her dedication to improve, improving herself physically so that she can compete. It’s just been so impressive and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Despite the two going to separate colleges, DiGiovanni and Nannen plan to continue growing their business, adding in new products and coming up with new ideas. Their goal is to come up with at least $5,000 to send five women through a two-year nursing program, in order to empower more women.
She’ll head to Dartmouth in the fall, majoring in Economics with plans to get her postgraduate degree in Business. Self is looking forward to watching her compete and succeed in college.
“She always has a smile on her face and is always laughing and joking with people and I think that she’s the kind of person that draws others to her,” Self said. “She’s just a bright light and fun to be around.”