For Andraya Carter, it all started in Flowery Branch.
From the time she could dribble, growing up in southern Hall County, the former Buford High and University of Tennessee standout knew that basketball was going to be in her life.
She just couldn’t imagine, at the time, which direction it would take her.
Now 27, Carter is a full-time basketball analyst, calling games for ESPN.
A big change from where she thought her life would be at this age, but still just as fulfilling.
“I 100 percent thought I would play professional basketball until I couldn’t walk,” said Carter, who averaged 13 points per game her first three seasons at Buford High. “It came a lot earlier than (I) expected. I had the hardest time with just everything.
“People say athletes have the hardest time when their career is over. That is real.”
Carter missed her senior season of high school with a knee injury, but was ranked the No. 21 prospect nationally by espnW.com, and had her scholarship locked up to play at the University of Tennessee.
The Hall County native flourished at Tennessee, but was forced to stop playing in 2016, due to mounting knee injuries.
In 2015, as a red-shirt sophomore, Carter started 31 games and led the SEC with 80 steals.
The following season, Carter averaged five points, two rebounds and two steals per game.
Even though she never fulfilled the professional dreams, Carter never regretted the decision to attend Tennessee and play for the legendary Pat Summitt.
“I am so thankful for Tennessee,” said Carter, who was named to the SEC All-Freshmen Team for 2013-14. “It was more than basketball there. (Basketball) did not workout for me, but because of where I was so many other things happened for me.
“Especially when the ball was done bouncing.”
Carter learned about hard work and discipline, coming up through the Buford High program and playing for the legendary Gene Durden. She was one of the driving force behind three straight Class 2A state championships for the Lady Wolves (2009-2011).
Growing up, Carter was always especially close with her grandmother Gloria Carter, who she called Nanna, and both were avid followers of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball program.
Now, no matter where her travels take her, Carter thinks back fondly on those memories of her grandmother, who lived in Flowery Branch.
Carter’s grandmother, who died in 2015, never saw Andraya rise the ranks in the broadcasting world or cover a game on television.
The rise to fame comes with some advice to the future generation from Carter.
“What you do now will stick with you,” Carter said. “If you quit in your sprints, you will quit when things get hard. If you are passionate about this sport and it does not work out, a passion burns in you. You will find it in another area.
“I want them to fall in love with the game, regardless who is listening.”
The decision to stop playing the sport she loved was a difficult one to make for Carter.
Her playing career ended after the 2015-2016 season as a redshirt junior.
This was her crossroads.
Carter still loved the game, but because of continual ACL injuries it was hard to play the game.
Carter’s vision of her future was to be in a professional uniform either with the WNBA of overseas. The constant knee injuries, however, cut those dreams short.
Carter said she did not want to be the player on a weekly contract, hanging on for a roster spot. Carter started thinking about her future.
The communications studies major started her master’s program in kinesiology and sports psychology. Her thoughts about life after basketball were becoming a public speaker.
She also considered going into education as a special education teacher.
In attaining her master’s degree, Carter earned a graduate assistantship through the academic and athletic department.
Then she was later approached by “The Vol For Life” production team on campus about calling Tennessee basketball games online for ESPN3 in 2016. She asked everyone plenty of questions in her first season with the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
Carter was given some games the following season and a seasonal contract in 2019.
Getting to the full-time contract this season was not easy for Carter. Despite being around the game, she really was not in the game. She was struggling to get motivated about life after basketball.
Her first year playing with the Lady Volunteers was derailed seven games into the season with a right shoulder injury.
Slowly, the injuries mounted, even though Carter remained highly productive.
Once her playing career ended, Carter pursued other opportunities before broadcasting came along.
She took a position with a former basketball acquaintance Bria Young as a fitness instructor through Orange Theory in Buckhead.
That provided Carter the flexibility to chase broadcasting dreams, which required 30 trips from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C. during a two-month stretch
Carter got a taste of life behind the microphone through fellow ESPN broadcaster LaChina Robinson’s Rising Stars media bootcamp for women.
She took the opportunity and ran with it.
“It is rare for you to run across someone like Andraya who is intentional and as disciplined as she is about her goals in life,” said Robinson, who played at Wake Forest from 1998-2001. “She is a young woman who has her eyes set on what she wants to be in life and the legacy she wants to leave on the world.”
Robinson was equally impressed with Carter as a player.
“I remember being blown away by this incredible ball of energy (on the defensive end),” Robinson said. “She always embodied what (Hall of Fame head coach) Pat Summit was about … I was impressed with who (Andraya) was.”
Now, Carter is fully entrenched in a fulfilling career, while not even being 30 years old.
The same hard work Andraya applied to playing the game is the same effort put into working in professional broadcasting with ESPN.