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Baylor's diamond shines brilliantly

When Sophia Young left the West Indies for Shreveport, La., five years ago, she had never played organized basketball. Now she is an All-American.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published April 5, 2005


INDIANAPOLIS - When Sophia Young arrived at Baylor three years ago, she had two years of organized basketball experience and a potential star label, but even her teammates couldn't foresee how much potential.

"She had on these strange clothes that made her look foreign. She was all chipper and happy, and she didn't look like she could play at all," Baylor guard Chelsea Whitaker said. "I remember thinking, "This is who we recruited?'

"Then in our first pickup game, she almost knocked the backboard down. Her arms were so long, and she was strong and athletic. I knew then we had a diamond in the rough."

Five years ago, Young was a foreign exchange student at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, La., and had never played organized basketball. She is now a 6-foot-1 All-America junior forward who will lead Baylor in its quest for the school's first national title tonight against Michigan State.

It's one of those feel-good, American dream stories even Young has a hard time believing.

"It has all been so very overwhelming and exciting and a lot of fun," she said Monday. "It's such a dream for me, and I never really thought that it would happen."

To get a sense of her unique journey from St. Vincent, West Indies, to Waco, Texas, and now Indianapolis consider: The 29,000 fans at Sunday night's semifinal games outnumber the population of Young's Caribbean island hometown.

"There are 17,000 people in my whole country, and basketball is not very big," she said. "People like more of track and volleyball."

When she arrived in the United States, Young knew basketball was something she wanted to pursue. She excelled in track but felt compelled to learn basketball extensively. She made constant calls to Louisiana AAU coach Bo Roberts until he agreed to work with her.

By Louisiana High School Athletic Association rules, foreign exchange students can't play consecutive seasons. So Young played as a sophomore, practiced with the team and kept stats as a junior and played as a senior. She averaged 26 points and 15.3 rebounds (in her final season).

She was "discovered" by Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson among the many tips college coaches receive in the run of a year. But this source was reliable. Roberts told his daughter, Jennifer, a Baylor assistant, he had a player she needed to see.

"She said, "Dad says we need to go to Shreveport. This kid's a diamond in the rough,"' Mulkey-Robertson said. "It took me about five minutes, and I said, "Let's don't say one word to anybody. We need to sign her before anybody knows anything about her."'

Young, 21, is Baylor's leading scorer (18.1) and rebounder (9.3) and has been outstanding in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 22.4 points and 8.4 rebounds. She was named an AP and Kodak All-American last week.

Among her postseason highlights: the arrival of her mother, Annie Christopher, who has attended all of Baylor's NCAA Tournament games - the first time she has seen her daughter play. Visas are tough to come by since Sept.11, Young said. Her father, Denniston Young, brother and several other relatives also will be there tonight.

When the season began, Young wrote down six goals: Big 12 title, Big 12 tournament title, Final Four berth, be an All-American, make her teammates better and win a national title.

Five down. One to go.