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By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2001
TALLAHASSEE -- Despite her vast national team experience and immeasurable skills, Florida State forward Brooke Wyckoff has preferred playing a supporting role.
"It's silly," Wyckoff confessed. "It's almost selfish that I haven't always been using my ability to help us. When I took a step back and looked at it, I finally realized, 'Come on. This is ridiculous. You're just afraid to fail.' "
She's over that. She finally has taken the lead, without the slightest hint of trepidation or reluctance, and has helped carry the Seminoles to the brink of their first NCAA Tournament bid in a decade.
The Seminoles, picked to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference, finished tied for third in the league, a high-water mark, and as the No. 4 seed meets No. 5 seed Maryland in the ACC tournament Saturday in Greensboro, N.C. With a win at national powerhouse Duke on their resume, the Seminoles (17-10, 9-7) are a serious contender to get on a run this weekend and perhaps next.
The difference is a take-charge Wyckoff.
She leads the team in scoring (15.3 points), is second in rebounding (6.7) and is among the ACC's top 10 in field-goal percentage (46.7), free-throw percentage (80.4) and blocks (1.0). Wyckoff was named first-team All-ACC, the second FSU player so honored, and to the All-ACC defensive team.
But of late, she has been far better, far more assertive in deed and even word.
"Every time they need a big bucket, not just in our game but in several games I've seen, she's the person who's going to make things happen for them," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. "In the past, when games have been tight, they've struggled a little bit. This year, they're not struggling the way they were and that's because of Brooke."
In FSU's 80-78 overtime win at North Carolina, Wyckoff hit the winning free throws, then blocked a potential tying shot in the waning seconds.
"She's never really been a very vocal leader, but in the second half of the ACC (season), she's stepped up and done a great job of taking that part of her leadership role and that's helped us out a lot," FSU sophomore forward Katelyn Vujas said. Not that Wyckoff, 20, found it easy to be that person.
FSU coach Sue Semrau has been trying to nudge her into that role for years, but she shoved her after a loss to Wake Forest on Jan. 14. Semrau let Wyckoff know that without a "radical shift in our leadership," the team wouldn't realize its goals.
FSU lost four of its next five before Wyckoff, who has spent the past three summers with USA Basketball and started for the World University Games and Jones Cup teams, shed her old skin.
A key was a hard-fought 75-72 loss at then-No. 15 Xavier, a game in Wyckoff's hometown. FSU conducted clinics at her younger siblings' schools and was greeted by hundreds of FSU fans at the game. "They had come to see who I had become in four years and I needed to prove to myself that I had done something in four years, that I had matured as a player and a person. And coming out on the losing end was another motivator for me to step up."
FSU won four straight, including at Duke.
"Part of Brooke's success has been stepping outside her natural personality, which is to be someone who blends in more and someone who's so unselfish that she is satisfied with other people stepping up," Semrau said. "Stepping into that role, she's now saying, 'I'm comfortable with it being my turn.' She has the skills, she has the talent and the ability and work ethic and getting that mental edge has been really important for her this season. "
And the team.
"It is easier to be in that other spot," Wyckoff said of her long preference to be a complementary player. "It can be scary to step into that (lead) role, but it's part of my maturing process. It's taken a while to be able to do that, to take that risk."