Look across the sports landscape in America and you’ll find some of the biggest personalities in any industry. With constant media spotlight and attention from fans worldwide, it is easy to understand how many star athletes value themselves and their personal success more than their surrounding world. Americans have become obsessed with these personalities in sports, many times for all the wrong reasons.
For Colorado State women’s basketball star Ellen Nystrom, a flashy me-first sports personality could not be farther from the truth.
Over the last three and a half years, the Lulea, Sweden native has grown into the Mountain West’s best player. But just by watching the way in which she conducts business on the court, or listening to her postgame press conferences, an unfamiliar fan could not tell Nystrom from any other player on the team.
Nystrom’s altruistic mindset can be attributed to the way she was raised in her native town. Rather than boast about one’s accomplishments, Swedes are expected to remain humble through and through.
“It has a lot to do with where I’m coming from,” Nystrom said. “I’m from Sweden and you’re not supposed to do that. We have a law, kind of a social law, where you’re not supposed to be better than anybody else. You’re not supposed to say that you’re better or worse. Everybody is equal.”
Those morals translate directly onto the court in a clear way. Though she is as talented as any player she plays against, Nystrom is always looking to set up others before scoring herself. And when a teammate sets a new career high or goes the extra mile in practice, she’s the one raving about it.
As a junior, Nystrom led the 2015-16 Rams to a perfect conference record and first NCAA tournament berth since 2002 en route to being named Mountain West Player of the Year.
Now in her senior year with the Rams, Nystrom continues to improve on the court. Through seven games of conference play, she ranks in the top 10 in the conference in scoring (3rd), rebounding (9th), assists (4th), field goal percentage (8th), free throw percentage (5th), steals (2nd) and assist/turnover ratio (2nd).
Currently, Nystrom leads the Rams in seven different categories. She is a star in all aspects of the word.
Perhaps the greatest quality of a star she possesses, though, is one uncommon to most Americans: she doesn’t care about any of those numbers or the fame and recognition that comes with them.
“It’s not anything that I think about, honestly,” Nystrom said. “I wouldn’t be anything without my coaches or my teammates, they play a really big role (in my success).”
Although she may not focus on her numbers on the court, others certainly take notice. Along with the Player of the Year nomination, Nystrom’s outstanding 2015 and 2016 seasons have earned her the College Female Athlete of the Year award from the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
Nystrom will become the ninth recipient of the award in CSU history, joining former Ram Becky Hammon as the only other women’s basketball player to be honored.
Big deal, right?
“It’s an incredible honor, but it’s nothing I really think about when I play or practice,” Nystrom reiterated. “It’s great, I don’t really think that I know how big it is, honestly. But it’s really nothing that makes me say ‘whoa this is so big.’”
Instead, Nystrom’s humble mind has always been focused on what she can do for her team. After the team lost its two leading scorers Jamie Patrick and Keyora Wharry from a season ago, Nystrom has been the one to change her game and fill that void.
Defensively, she is the heartbeat of the nation’s fifth best scoring defense. Head coach Ryun Williams understands the massive role that she plays in the team’s success.
“Ellen’s got to take care of the ball, she’s got to score for us, she’s got to usually guard a really good player, and she leads us in rebounding,” Williams said.
But just as remarkable as her play on the court is Nystrom’s success in the classroom and involvement in the Fort Collins community. The business administration major is a two-time Mountain West All-Academic selection and has been noticed for her volunteer work around the city.
Most notably, Nystrom and other members of the team have partnered with police officers in Fort Collins to speak with those in need of assistance. The team also spends time reading to elementary schoolers in the area. Along with fellow Swede Elin Gustavsson, Nystrom has worked out with young girls in the community, acting as a mentor for them.
Her all-around success as a player, student and member of the community have made Nystrom a candidate for yet another personal accolade, the 2016-17 Senior CLASS Award. This award values senior student-athletes who have excelled in four areas: character, classroom, community and competition. One of thirty finalists, Nystrom has a chance to join a prestigious group of winners that includes Breanna Stewart, Elena Delle Donne, Maya Moore and Sue Bird.
Still, Nystrom’s mind hasn’t swayed from what matters to her.
“I just want our team to do good and I want us to get to the NCAA tournament,” Nystrom said.
And when a team’s best player is also its most humble, that goal certainly becomes highly attainable.
Collegian sports reporter Colin Barnard can be reached by email at sports at collegian.com or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_