Former Nebraska women's basketball player Danielle Page did not expect to play in the WNBA. She did not expect to play professional basketball for eight years, and even though she grew up near the home of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, she did not expect to be an Olympian.
Sometimes life exceeds expectations - especially at Nebraska.
For Page, who came to Nebraska in the late-summer of 2004 as a paper-thin, 6-2 freshman forward from Monument, Colo., her growth as a basketball player has exceeded her expectations. Her opportunity to play for the Serbian National Team in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro (Aug. 6-20) is beyond a dream come true in a series of unexpected successes as a professional basketball player.
"The absolute best and most surprising part of it all has been the opportunity I was given to play with the Serbian National Team and participate in the Olympics," Page said. "Never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted something like this would happen for me. Honestly almost every single step of the way has been a surprise for me."
Page, who made a few Serbian connections at Nebraska by playing alongside Jelena Spiric, Ivana Drmanac and Bojana Samardzsiska as Huskers, completed the required paperwork to gain Serbian citizenship following the end of her 2014-15 season. Page proceeded to lead Serbia to the gold medal at the 2015 FIBA EuroBasket Championships and gain the country's first-ever bid to the Olympics in women's basketball.
Page will become Nebraska's second Olympian, joining another former teammate Chelsea Aubry, who was a captain for the Canadian Olympic Team at the 2012 London Games.
Page, who helped Nebraska to four consecutive postseason appearances including back-to-back NCAA Tournament bids in 2007 and 2008, was a role player for the Huskers early in her career. After suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee in late-June of 2006, following her sophomore season, she returned nearly three months earlier than expected and emerged as a weapon at both ends of the court her final two seasons.
After averaging 7.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game as a junior in 2006-07 and leading the Huskers to their first NCAA Tournament berth in seven seasons, Page poured in 12.0 points, grabbed 6.5 rebounds and and swatted 2.4 blocks per game as a senior. She helped the Huskers to the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament for just their third NCAA Tournament win in school history.
"My most memorable experiences of my Nebraska career have to be hearing our named called out on the 2007 NCAA Selection Show for the first time my junior year, and of course the triple overtime victory against eventual national champion Baylor my freshman year," Page said. "While those might be my most memorable experiences of my career, the times I think about most often are just the everyday experiences of being able to play the game I love with girls and coaches who I consider family...including my best buddy Nikki Bober!"
Page's emergence at Nebraska started with a surprise recovery from an ACL tear, and has continued ever since.
Although she was not drafted into the WNBA, she became an extremely rare rookie free agent roster inclusion for the Connecticut Sun in the summer of 2008. She spent her rookie season with the Sun as an undrafted free agent, and her professional career has grown overseas ever since.
While she has not returned to the WNBA since the 2008 season, she has enjoyed a remarkably successful professional career.
Following her four-year career at Nebraska where she produced 946 points, 636 rebounds and 207 blocked shots (No. 3 in Husker history), and her season in the WNBA, Page has played professionally in Bulgaria, Israel, Hungary and for the past four seasons as one of the top players in France. In 2015-16, Page led CJM Bourges Basket to the EuroCup Championship.
"Leaving Nebraska I had hoped to play a couple years overseas because I just wasn't ready to give up basketball when my college career ended," Page said. "I had no idea that I would get the opportunity to spend a season in the WNBA with Connecticut or that I would spend eight seasons in Europe playing professionally."
Page said she has enjoyed nearly every surprise that professional basketball has brought her along the way, thanks to the preparation she received at the University of Nebraska.
"Being able play basketball professionally, especially for as long as I have, has been an absolute blessing. I love the game so much and it has afforded me so many incredible experiences both on and off the court," Page said. "I just consider myself so incredibly lucky. I have gotten the chance to travel places and meet people I would have never been able to without basketball. But its more than that, to be able to make a living while pursuing my passion has been a dream come true, and I try my best to appreciate every single day of it."
The surprises will keep coming for Page even after the Olympics in Rio. When she starts her ninth professional season in Europe with Uniqa Sopran in Hungary, she will be joined by former Husker teammate Yvonne Turner. While Page played for the French champions in 2015-16, Turner played for the Polish champions Wisla Can-Pack. Uniqa Sopran was the Hungarian champion in 2015-16.
"I am so excited to get the opportunity to play with VT again. I loved our time together at Nebraska, and it's so comforting knowing that I will have such an outstanding player and person on the same team as me again," Page said. "VT has been tearing it up in Europe, and I am so looking forward to lining up next to her next season instead of having to play against her as we did this past season. Basketball is such a small world and things like this happen from time to time. I didn't even find out we were on the same team until the official roster was announced in May."
But before Page and Turner can reunite after spending their 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons together at Nebraska, Page can focus on the biggest tournament of her life at the Olympics in Rio.
"This past season my team in France played 62 games, and we had more than 200 practices, and it took a toll on my 'old' legs a little bit," Page said. But after some down time, I am feeling much better and really looking forward to getting started again with my squad in Serbia."
Page returned to the United States to spend time with family in Colorado and Virginia after her European season ended in late-April. After some welcome rest, she has begun rebuilding strength and stamina before her time with the Serbian National Team begins in early July.
"When my season in France ended, I headed back to Colorado. I took a little bit of time off to let all the bumps and bruises I accumulated throughout the season heal, and then I got back at it - high-altitude style. I've been hitting the weight room for lifting and conditioning sessions with my strength and conditioning coach. I've done a little outdoor cross-training using the mountains and trails, too. Also, of course, I have been putting in some court time and getting shots up. I've got to make sure my jumper is ready when I hit training camp in Serbia in a couple weeks."
Page said she will leave her home in Colorado Springs for Serbia on July 9. After approximately four weeks of training camp and a few tune-up games, she will be off to Rio, where her family will be eagerly waiting to see her on the court.
"To say my father (Fred) is excited would be an understatement. My mom (Lynn) has her entire family and foundation on the ready to watch me on television. Really my whole family has been gearing up for the Olympics since we qualified almost a year ago," Page said. "All told I will have 11 family members heading to Rio to cheer on Serbia. I am so fortunate to have a family willing to rearrange their work schedules and travel all the way to South America to watch and cheer me on during such an important event in my life."
Page is hoping that her stay with Serbia in Rio is long and productive. Although she knows the competition at the Olympics will be unmatched, she also knows that she and her Serbian teammates already made history by qualifying for the Olympics.
"The Olympics are composed of the very best teams and the very best players from around the world, so there will be no easy games and no blowout wins," Page said. "This Serbian team has a chance to do great things in Rio, but there is also the possibility of getting bumped out after the group stage. The difference in talent between the teams is just so small it is hard to predict what the results will be. Our coach (Marina Maljkovic) is one of the very best in all of Europe, and she will have us prepared going into the tournament. And from there it will be on us to have the right mentality and perform on the court."
Page expects to carry "the right mentality" to her Olympic performance from the mental toughness she gained at Nebraska.
"While I was going to school and playing basketball at Nebraska, we were asked to be mentally tough from the very first day we walked on campus. I thought I understood what that meant at the time, but being the naive freshman that I was, I didn't get it quite yet. But by the time I graduated, Nebraska had taught me what it meant to be mentally tough," Page said. "It meant that I had to push myself past what I thought were my limits in order to get better and reach my full potential. This has been an absolutely invaluable lesson for me. Learning this lesson so early in life, I believe, has been integral to the person and player I am today. I cannot thank the Nebraska coaches, staff, instructors and community enough for giving this to me."
Page is hoping to share the lessons she has learned at Nebraska and in professional basketball, along with the experiences she hopes to gain in the Olympics with the next generations of players in the future. During her past few offseasons, she has worked with a club program in Colorado and loved the experience to the point that she sees coaching in her future.
"I have been working with a really great organization up in Denver the past couple summers. Unfortunately, I really don't have the time this summer to coach a team, but I will be helping out while I'm in town," Page said. "It is such a great experience being able to connect and pass along my knowledge to a younger generation of player. Once I hang up the sneakers for good, I would like to pursue coaching at the collegiate level. I just have such a passion for the game and have found the limited coaching I have been able to do so rewarding."
While Page has a vision of her extended future, she knows her immediate focus is on the Olympics.
"Right now, the Olympics is still kind of dream that I can't believe is really happening, but in just a few weeks, it will be a reality. I am looking forward to being part of the celebration, but I am also definitely focused on winning games in Rio. This is the first-ever trip to the Olympics for the Serbian National Team, and our team is focused on making the most of it."