Steve Waite returns to UI a success off the court
Original publish date: August 14, 2014
As the maker of arguably the greatest 3-point play in the history of the Iowa men's basketball program, Steve Waite is a source of pride for Hawkeye fans.
It's been that way for more than 34 years, ever since Waite made a basket and a free throw in the closing seconds to defeat Georgetown 81-80 on March 16, 1980 with a berth to the NCAA Final Four on the line.
Iowa hasn't been back to the Final Four since then, which probably helps to fuel the mystique surrounding Waite's shot. However, no disrespect to Waite's late-game heroics, but it's really just a tiny part of who he is now at the age of 55.
Waite, more than anything, is a shining example of how an athletic scholarship is supposed to prepare a person for life after sports. He was given a rare opportunity coming out of West High in 1977, earning a full-ride athletic scholarship to Iowa for basketball. Waite enjoyed tremendous success as a student-athlete and then for 30 years with Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., where he held a number of leadership positions before recently resigning to start a new chapter in his life.
Waite will take what he learned during three decades as a businessman and apply it to his new job in the MBA program at the University of Iowa as Business Director for the Strategic Innovation Career Academy.
"I have had quite a bit of experience in the business world," Waite said Wednesday. "I've been in one company, basically, but a large company in a lot of different roles. So I have that to share, and we can talk about that.
"I have had to make some pretty significant decisions in in my life. And I think that's always good to talk with the students about."
Waite didn't just wake up one day and say, 'It's time for a career change.' It was a gradual process, helped by his desire to return to Iowa City and by his growing interest in working in a college environment. His job with Pioneer has kept Waite in the Des Moines area for the past three decades.
"It's not something where I said, 'OK, on this date I'm going to leave Pioneer and do something in academia,'" Waite said.
Waite sees his new job as an opportunity to give back to a university that impacted his life in so many positive ways. He cherishes his time as an Iowa basketball player under former coach Lute Olson, but playing hoops never was his top priority during college.
Even though he stood 6-foot-10 and had a variety of skills, Waite used basketball as a way to get an education. He played professionally in France for one year after graduating from Iowa before returning to his alma mater to pursue a master's in business.
"I definitely didn't want to waste that opportunity," Waite said. "So I took school seriously and I've always thought career and school should be first. And the basketball side of it should be second.
"Unfortunately, a lot of people don't think that way. When you're 17- or 18-years old you don't necessarily think that way. We all get older and more mature and wiser. And fortunately, I think I had my head on straight at that time and I knew what my priorities were and what I wanted to do. But having the scholarship was unbelievable. It was something that I definitely appreciate."
Waite has been working at his new job for about four weeks. His office is located on the fourth floor of the Pomerantz Center on the UI campus.
"It's a totally different style of work and a different environment," Waite said. "I think I'm going to enjoy working with the students. It'll be something special. I've been in their shoes, and that's really what my job is all about here."
Waite used the phrase "eye-opening" to describe how much the university and his hometown have changed since he last lived here in the early 1980s.
Waite grew up on the west side of Iowa City, or what used to be considered the far west side of town.
"I lived in University Heights, and at that time, that was about as far west as it got, where we were living," Waite said. "You had the apartments that were just south of the Fire Department there, and that was it. There were some houses sprinkled in and some things between there and West High. But now it just goes all the way past West High."
"This university and this town have just grown so much."
Waite and his wife, Karen, are currently shopping for a house in the Iowa City area after most recently living in Johnston. They have two daughters — 21-year old Kristen and 20-year old Stephanie — who are entering their senior and junior years at Iowa, respectively.
Waite's mother, sister and brother-in-law live in Coralville and he looks forward to being around his relatives more often.
Waite also looks forward to classes starting next week at Iowa. This is the calm before the storm with his new job.
Most of the students in the MBA program already have had previous job experience in the business world.
"This job is very different, working with — I'm not going to call them kids because most of them have probably been in a business and a job for three, five or six years," Waite said. "They're coming back, wanting to change their career. Most of them have a few years of work experience.
"Compared to me though, they're younger. So I'm really looking forward to working with them and helping them with 'What courses should I be taking and how should I think about the next step in my career and what are the things that I can do to improve skills?' and things like that."
Waite doubts that he'll talk much basketball with his students because he assumes most of them are too young to know his background. He still thinks about his game-winning 3-point play every now and then, but never has dwelled on it. Fans still bring it up on occasion, but less and less over time.
"When you think about it, I'm 55 years old now and you think back to when I was playing, unless you're 45 to 50, you probably don't know anything about it," Waite said.
Waite milked everything he could out of his college experience. Basketball was a path to a better life and now that path is headed back home 30 years later.
"I do still think about it," Waite said of his playing days at Iowa. "But it was so long ago. You transition. I was ready to try something else. I just decided early on that I wasn't going to make basketball my career. I didn't have the talent to do that like other guys. I might have been able to make it work for a few years. But at some point, you have to get on with the rest of your life. So that's what I've done."
Today's student-athlete would be wise to follow that advice.
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.