Jessica Gelman: Harvard Legend of Ivy League Basketball

Jessica Gelman: Harvard Legend of Ivy League Basketball

By: Jessica Gelman, Harvard Women's Basketball Legend

What comes to mind when you think about the Ivy League?

Highly capable people who are driven to learn and grow across the full spectrum of who they can be as a person. Academically, of course, you are challenged. I found myself learning the most outside the classroom, things like: different approaches to studying, how to train better and even how to have difficult conversations. 

How do you feel your Ivy League experience helped prepare you for your career?

There are 4 ways that my Ivy League experience transformed how I approach life and prepared me for my career: time management, practice/student of the game, leadership, and resilience. First, time management is key. Today, as the CEO of a growing technology company with two small children, the importance of prioritization is critical. This is no different than similar decisions I had to make around school work, sleep and social life in college. 

Second, just like practicing is really about honing your skills and becoming an expert in a sport, success in the business world is about constantly improving and being a "student" of the trends in the industry or management. Third, as a point guard at Harvard, I learned that a critical part of leading is about setting others up to be successful. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of my work colleagues, and communicating these to them, is critical. Helping define a path for their growth is equally important. 

Last, failure is going to happen, but the resiliency to learn from that defeat is a value I learned in sports that has benefited me in my career. When I was a sophomore in college, we lost a game that would have won the Ivy League title and sent us to the NCAA Tournament. It was painful, but we went on to win back-to-back titles and set a record for most consecutive wins in the Ivy League. That was driven by resilience, a desire to be better and to be better together. In my career, I've had numerous setbacks and failures that, like our journey to success in the Ivy League, has pushed me farther.
What makes an Ivy League experience different from other schools?

The people. Obviously, my college teammates remain some of my closest friends, but Harvard allowed me to meet amazing people who excelled outside of athletics. Whether as an outdoor leader or just in the dining hall, the exposure to those with a passion for the arts or science was equal to the passion I had for basketball. Many colleges separate the athletes from the rest of the student body and that wasn't the experience I envisioned. Plus, at most other schools, the athletes would be revered, but in the Ivy League, you do not standout. This is important because after you graduate, you will have to succeed on your other merits. Additionally, I've been lucky to befriend a number of other Ivy League athletes post college—including from Yale—and this common bond of surviving and thriving through the workload academically and athletically is unmatched.
What athletic accomplishment are you the most proud of/has the most significance to you?

Being the first Harvard basketball team—men's or women's—to go to the NCAA Tournament and the first women's team in Ivy League history to go undefeated through League play.  

How did your Ivy League experience compare to your expectations?

Far exceeded. Kathy Delaney-Smith is an incredible role model and mentor. She has created a legacy which, while rooted in excellence on the court, is truly highlighted by the women she has coached who have gone on to be leaders in their field.

What would you share with a prospect deciding on attending either an Ivy or non-Ivy League school?

Playing in the Ivy League allows you to compete at the Division I level while getting the best possible education. You may play basketball after college, but that is very unlikely to be your career. In going to an Ivy League school, you get the best of both worlds. You will never regret going to an Ivy League school, but you may regret not going.
How has the Ivy League community impacted your life or career?

I joke that it all comes back to Harvard basketball. The truth is that it does. While I loved my four years playing basketball at Harvard, I have now had 20+ years since that time. I never would have imagined befriending those I competed against, but some of my closest friends are former foes who I met playing basketball after college.  We have much more in common with our Ivy League competitors than not. However, the broader Ivy League athletic community has impacted my life the most. My wife ran cross country and track at Yale.

Are you still involved with your alma mater, and if so how?

Yes, very much so. I am on the board of the Harvard Alumni Association and the Harvard Varsity Club. I am also on the Visiting Committee for Harvard Athletics. Taking my boys to Harvard hoops games is pure joy because they get so excited (and they are too young to really understand basketball). I'm only trying to brainwash them a little—they have never visited Yale.


Jessica Gelman was a Harvard women's basketball student-athlete from 1993-97. She is a member of the 2018 Class of Legends of Ivy League Basketball that will be formally honored during the 2018 Ivy League Men's and Women's Basketball Tournaments on Saturday, March 10, at The Palestra in Philadelphia. Purchase tickets at

Authentic Ivy is Ivy League student-athletes, coaches and alumni, in their own words. Stay tuned to for more Authentic Ivy features throughout the 2017-18 year.