The madness of March is heating up heading into this weekend’s Sweet Sixteen matchups. All eyes are on Indianapolis as top seeds and underdogs alike strive to “survive and advance” in the tournament affectionately known as the Big Dance, vying for a coveted Final Four berth. 

Meanwhile, fans from coast to coast are rooting on their teams, keeping tabs on their brackets and chalking up bragging rights over friends, family members and coworkers. Hoops fever is indeed in full swing at Coca-Cola headquarters, especially among a group of employees who played college basketball before entering the workforce.

Get to know eight inspiring players-turned-fans and find out how what they learned on the court has guided their careers off the court...



Jason McAlpin

Jason McAlpin

Position: Brand Manager, Atlanta, Ga.
Years at Coke: 3
College: University of Maryland (2006-2008) 
Position: Shooting guard/small forward

What was your greatest on-court experience or achievement? 
Being named team captain my senior year, and having that vote of confidence from my teammates and my coaches. My greatest memory was going into UNC-Chapel Hill when they were ranked No. 1 with an 18-0 record and beating the core team who would go on to win the national championship the next year.



Jason McAlpin

What do you love most about the sport? 
I love the team and camaraderie aspect, and the power that can be unlocked when all teammates are on the same page. I love the singularity of focus you can have; it’s all about winning the next game and having the best possible season. I love the leadership that basketball teaches you, and I love the never-ending chess match that happens between coaches. I love how complex the game is and how it's always evolving. In a nutshell, I love everything about the game. 

What did you gain from the college basketball experience, and how has the game benefited you in your professional career? 
Basketball has taught me so much that has translated to my professional career. I think the biggest skill basketball instilled in me is the ability to be mentally tough. We all hit challenging spots in our career. What basketball teaches you is that you have to put setbacks behind you and move on. When playing, you’re going to turn the ball over, miss a defensive rotation or take a bad shot (and if you’re me, you’ll do that multiple times a game), but you quickly learn that the game continues and does not wait for you to feel bad for yourself and then recover. 

What does March Madness mean to you as a player-turned-fan? 
This, for me, is the absolute best time of the year. My birthday, summer, holidays – they all follow behind March Madness. I remember playing in the tournament (in fact, against a young Stephen Curry while he was still at Davidson). Those games mean so much – they're the culmination of months of hard work, weightlifting, sprints, running stairs, 5 a.m. workouts, studying film and more. To see guys realize their dreams, see their hard work pay off, represent their schools with pride, and give more than they thought they ever could is really exciting to see and be a part of. 



Tiffany Stone_Now

Tiffany Stone

Position: Director, Customer Marketing, Atlanta, Ga.
Years at Coke: 18
Schools: College of William & Mary (1987-1991). The WNBA hadn’t debuted yet – that’s how old I am! I had the opportunity to play in Europe but at that time, they only allowed one American per team and I felt like playing would be just delaying the inevitable entrance to the real world. Plus I was very passionate about pursuing a career in sports marketing.
Position: Post

What was your greatest on-court experience or achievement? 
I was fortunate enough to make two free throws with no time left on the clock to beat George Mason in overtime at William & Mary. I averaged a career double-double (double figure points and double figure rebounds), and my school career rebounding record stood for 16 years after I graduated. It was a special moment for me when I had the chance to present an award to the young lady who broke my record the night of the game she passed me in the record book. I also was named to the Colonial Athletic Association’s Legends Team in 2003. However, I would say that my proudest accomplishment would be my efforts to protect women’s basketball at William & Mary after the Athletic Department threatened to cut the sport my senior year, 1991, due to budget challenges. My co-captain and I launched a campaign via the dorm pay phone (no social media back then!), found a pro-bono Title IX attorney and were able to influence the administration to reconsider their position. We made national news in Sports Illustrated and USA Today. I'm proud to say the program has continued to develop and provide young women the opportunity to compete.     



Tiffany Stone_Then

What do you love most about the sport? 
I love the camaraderie and trust of a true team and the critical importance of each player selflessly playing their role to achieve success. I also love the lessons basketball teaches young women on and off the court. I think participation in sports helps prepare women for so many things off the court – teamwork, focus, how to lead/influence a group with diverse personalities, time management, how to compete, perseverance, how to win and lose gracefully, and the importance of attitude in all pursuits. My passion for the significance of young women’s participation in basketball has led me to become a volunteer high school assistant coach in my spare time. I’ve spent the last six seasons as a volunteer coach – the last three seasons at St. Pius X High School where I’ve been in the huddle with the nation’s #1 college prospect and McDonald’s All American Asia Durr and to be part of two state championships under the leadership of Head Coach Kyle Snipes. Additionally, in 2011, I started a scholarship fund at Whitefish Bay High School in Wisconsin in the name of my high school coach, Jack Nagle, who passed away in 1991. 

What does March Madness mean to you as a player-turned-fan? 
March Madness is the real season. You play the regular season to get to the post season where everyone is 0-0 again, no matter what happened in the regular season. I also love the idea of "survive and advance" as you see athletes' true characters come out in the face of a season being over. You learn a lot about who can step up to lead under pressure. Plus, anything can happen on any given night, and that’s the beauty of sports and competition. And of course, you’ve got to love the Cinderella stories. The William & Mary men’s team was one game away from their first CAA Conference Championship this year and their first automatic bid to the tourney. They lost a heartbreaker, but you better believe I was glued to the TV!



Chris King_Now

Chris King

Position: Project Manager, Coca-Cola Refreshments (CCR), Atlanta, Ga.
Years at Coke: 16
Schools: Barat College of DePaul (Lake Forest, Ill.)
Position: Point guard and shooting guard

What was your greatest on-court experience or achievement? 
As a player, I loved and still love to shoot. I remember making five three-pointers in a row one game. As a referee, so far my biggest accomplishment has been working two bracket-buster games in New York.



Chris King_Then

What do you most love about the sport?
I could always jump higher than most, so the element of surprise from a fast break dunk or a great block brought many cheers from fans and teammates.    

What did you gain personally from the college basketball experience, and how has the game benefited you in your professional career?
Teamwork. Strategy. Leadership, when to lead and when to follow. Planning and performing under pressure.

What does March Madness mean to you as a player-turned-fan? 
Being from a small town in Oklahoma, and playing for a small university, I typically root for the underdog during March Madness. I am forever connected to basketball as it’s my first love and has helped me in many ways to this day. Officiating college basketball allows me to travel and stay in shape, and I’m still close to the action and wild fans (and coaches)! Both my wife and I played college ball and to this day we still coach youth league teams in Decatur, Ga. and play in adult leagues. Being a Division I college official keeps me close to the game I love.



La Rita Spencer_Now

LaRita 'L.A.' Spencer

Position: District Sales Manager, Atlanta, Ga.
Years at Coke: 10
College: Central Arizona College (1997-1999) and Auburn University (1999-2001). I also played professionally for Miami Sol, Germany and Switzerland (2001-2004).
Position: Point guard 

What was your greatest on-court experience or achievement? 
Winning the 1998 NJCAA national championship and making it to the finals the next year. My greatest personal achievement was coming back from a 10-month knee injury and scoring 50 points in the De Opel Swiss Championship game. That was the last time I played competitively.

What do you most love about the sport? 
It allowed me to travel the globe, and compete against the best players in the world. It paid for my college education and taught me how to plan, train and develop myself along with my teammates.



La Rita Spencer_Then

What did you gain from the college basketball experience, and how has the game benefited you in your professional career? 
Sports taught me to be competitive in everything I do, how to interact and communicate with people, how to collaborate as a team, and to never settle for average. Sports fostered collective thinking and helped me harness my planning and delegation skills. It also gave me confidence to take on multiple tasks at one time. Since transitioning into corporate America, sports has given me an advantage in engaged thinking and how to devise strategies to win. When at work, I decide whether to take an offensive stance or a defensive one. I judge my strategies and modify accordingly each day. This definitely involves clever thinking, which comes naturally to me from a sports background.

What does March Madness mean to you as a player-turned-fan? 
Every year, March Madness brings back great memories I had at Auburn. As a former Division 1 athlete, March Madness to me means "Win or Go Home." This is a time of year when anyone can win regardless of how they finished the regular season. You are on stage competing and the entire country is watching. You lay everything you've worked hard for on the hardwood. I get anxious every year when March Madness comes around. I have a ritual I follow which consists of waiting three days after Selection Sunday to fill out my brackets, because this gives me enough time to read up and watch sports analysts offer advice. I usually fill out two brackets, one competitive, and one my Area Sales Manager BJ Jones manages for his team.



George Schell_Then

George Schell

Position: Chief Marketing Counsel, Coca-Cola North America
Years at Coke: 19 
Schools: University of California at Santa Barbara (1976-1978)
Position: Forward

What was your greatest on-court experience or achievement? 
Scoring back-to-back dunks and 10 points as a sub against nationally ranked UNLV.

What do you love most about the sport?
The thrill of competition at the Division 1 level!

What did you gain personally from the college basketball experience, and how has the game benefited you in your professional career? 
The biggest benefit is understanding the value of teamwork and of understanding your role. The best teams are the ones whose roles are clearly defined and teammates are accepting of and stay in their roles. The key is understanding there is more power in team achievement than individual achievement. I always like to meet other college athletes as they tend to understand the discipline it takes to get to that level. This sometimes translates to business.

What does March Madness mean to you as a player-turned-fan? 
March Madness is a great time to see how the better teams deal with pressure and how the challenger teams sometimes play way above their previous achievements. It's an exciting time to be a fan because so many folks are focused on it... it becomes infectious. 



Mike Winters_Now

Mike Winters

Position: Senior National Sales Executive, Albuquerque, N.M.
Years at Coke: 21
Schools: University of New Mexico (1983-1987)
Position: Guard and forward

What was your greatest on-court experience or achievement? 
I broke the school record for games played (133) and never missed a game in my four-year career. 



Mike Winters_Then

What do you love most about the sport? 
Basketball requires you to play both offense and defense, and you must master numerous motor skills for shooting, dribbling, rebounding, defending and more. However, I think the one aspect I enjoyed the most was the fast-paced mental game that's required. You have to train yourself to constantly observe your teammates and opponents and evaluate a course of action to take in response to their actions. 

What did you gain personally from the college basketball experience, and how has the game benefited you in your professional career?
I learned the importance of teamwork, time management, perseverance, and mastering the fundamentals. I learned to prepare mentally and adjust my game plan as needed. The skills/values I learned playing basketball all transferred over to my professional career. The college basketball experience teaches you to work with many different individuals from very diverse backgrounds. You learn to balance the demands of your sport with the demands of school to achieve what you want from both experiences.

What does March Madness mean to you as a player-turned-fan? 
March Madness takes me back in time and stirs up some of the fondest memories from my time in sports. I take vacation the first and second day of the tournament to watch the games. It's an exciting time to be a fan because the tournament is a "one-and-done" format, not a best of five or a best of seven series. This format makes it possible for the underdog to upset the favored team.



Lisa Stoppenbach

Lisa Stoppenbach

Position: Senior National Account Executive
Years at Coke: 27
Schools: University of Missouri (1977-1981)
Position: Strong forward and post

What was your greatest on-court experience or achievement? 
Becoming a defensive specialist, getting the “honor” of defending the strongest player on the opposing team (if she was a post or a forward), and shooting 100% (14 for 14) on the free throw line against our biggest rival Kansas University.



Lisa Stoppenbach

What do you love most about the sport? 
The teamwork that has to happen in order to play well, and the discipline and dedication all the players had to have to compete. 

What did you gain personally from the college basketball experience, and how has the game benefited you in your professional career? 
Hard work, and a commitment to learning and getting stronger in whatever your endeavor will deliver success, and a positive attitude will create endless opportunities and open doors. 

What does March Madness mean to you as a player-turned-fan? 
I love March Madness and the opportunity to watch so many talented teams play their hearts out, and see the extraordinary talent among these young men and women. Playing college sports is one of the most difficult and challenging things I have ever done, and the sacrifices and work were all worth it and I would most definitely do it again!



Alan O'Rainge - Now

Alan Rainge

Position: Executive Support Manager, Office of the Chairman, Atlanta, Ga.
Schools: University of Maryland (1991-1993)
Position: I was a Point Guard on the team

What was your greatest on-court experience or achievement? 
The best memory I have is when we beat the University of North Carolina on our home floor on 3/1/92 -82-80. The fans stormed the court like we'd just won the NCAA championship. Their team had all the big names, but on that day we were the better team.



Alan O'Rainge_Then

What do you love most about the sport?
I love being immersed in the moment. You just go and do! No time to think, you have to act. When you are in the zone, the feeling is inexplicable. There is no better rush in the world. The game to me is like artistry with maximum concentration. It feels like the most natural thing I could do. When you are in the zone and cannot miss, make the perfect cut, pass or rebound, it's as close as you can get to heaven.

What did you gain personally from the college basketball experience, and how has the game benefited you in your professional career?
Basketball taught me to be keep improving myself in ways I can measure. I learned to work hard and do things the right way.

What does March Madness mean to you as a player-turned-fan? 
March Madness is the best time of year because this is when dreams come true. From the time when you were young, you worked so hard to get the opportunity to play on the big stage with a chance to win the NCAA title. You hope to make history and be a part of one of the best sports game ever played.