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Bridget Pettis has no regrets about leaving WNBA to concentrate on her Project Roots nonprofit

The former Sky assistant coach is working to educate the Phoenix community on growing its own food and supporting the homeless.

Bridget Pettis
Chicago Sky assistant coach Bridget Pettis talks on a timeout during a game against the Los Angeles Sparks at Staples Center on August 11, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

Bridget Pettis inherited her green thumb from her mother.

Growing up in East Chicago, Indiana, the former Sky assistant coach remembers watching her mother spend countless hours in the garden tending to her flowers. Eventually, Pettis got plants of her own, starting with tomato vines, collard greens, red chives and various herbs that she grew in her backyard.

Pettis’ passion for gardening has blossomed into Project Roots, a nonprofit organization she launched last December that works to educate the Phoenix community on growing its own food and supporting the homeless.

“We became pretty well known throughout the community,” Pettis said of Project Roots’ growth over the last few months. “We’re a bigger distribution of getting organic and natural foods out into the homes of our community.”

After being a part of the WNBA for more than two decades, Pettis resigned from her position with the Sky before the start of the 2020 season, citing safety concerns with the league’s proposed bubble. In announcing her resignation, Pettis said she was fully dedicating herself to growing Project Roots.

Now, four months and a full WNBA season later, Pettis, who had been part of the WNBA since its inaugural season, looks back at her decision with no regrets, saying there was more to her choice than the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was more natural,” Pettis said of her transition away from the WNBA. “I wasn’t in a panic stake about my health. I had already started Project Roots, so I think this just was a good time. I look at the doors in life that God gives us, and when it’s a trying time like this — for me it just became more not about my own personal career and plan of coaching basketball, but it became about how can I become an asset in the community? How can I help with what’s going on? What’s going on in the world is bigger than me and basketball, so it was just time to make a change.”

Pettis tuned in to some games this season. And she’d be lying if she said she didn’t miss some aspects of coaching.

However, Pettis said she felt like God was calling her to do more off the court.

“My focus is the service that I’m here to do spiritually and just taking steps and strides [in life], and this is the next step,” said Pettis, whom the Mercury selected seventh overall in the WNBA’s first draft in 1997. “I’m just living life and moving forward. I miss my players, the coaches, I miss all those guys.”

Even though her WNBA days are over — at least for now — basketball is still very much an important part of Pettis’ life. She hosts youth basketball camps across the nation as part of the Bridget Pettis Foundation. During the camps, Pettis puts an emphasis on physical and mental health. She teaches the attendees the differences between fresh and processed food and hosts an hourlong yoga session between scrimmages.

“Life has definitely become much more fuller,” Pettis said. “Basketball gave me an opportunity to get out and see life and to live life, and I’m grateful for that, but I just feel like my life calling now is more in a humanitarian way and to give that back.”

Will she ever go back to the WNBA?

“I don’t know,” Pettis said. “I’m just walking in life.”