WNBA's Young: 'God is the center of my world'
Wednesday, Apr 22, 2009
By Joshua Cooley
SAN ANTONIO (BP)--Sophia Young, it’s safe to say, was not born with the shy gene.
A few years ago, Young, now entering her fourth season with the WNBA’s San Antonio Silver Stars, wanted to introduce herself to Robert Horry. Yes, that Robert Horry. “Big Shot Rob,” the owner of seven championship rings, is considered one of the NBA’s all-time great clutch shooters. Among his many last-second heroics was a three-pointer with 5.9 seconds left in overtime to give the San Antonio Spurs a Game 5 victory and a 3-2 series lead over Detroit in the 2005 NBA Finals, which the Spurs would win two games later.
All this mattered little to Young. She had seen Horry many times at San Antonio’s AT&T Center – which plays host to the Silver Stars and the Spurs – and simply wanted to meet him. So the slender 6-foot-1 forward strolled up to the 6-foot-10 behemoth and confidently asked, “Do you know who I am?”
Horry smiled. It’s not every day that a rich, famous NBA star hears that question.
“Yeah, I know who you are,” he said.
He’s not the only one. WNBA fans are quickly getting to know Young, who will soon put her remarkable skills on display again when the WNBA season tips off June 6.
In just a few years, Young has become one of the league’s preeminent stars. Last season, the 25-year-old finished ninth overall in league scoring average (17.5) and set additional career highs in free-throw shooting percentage (75.9) and assists per game (2.3). She earned All-WNBA first-team honors for the first time and helped lead the Silver Stars to a league-best 24-10 regular-season record and the franchise’s first trip to the WNBA Finals.
Even though San Antonio got swept in three games by the Detroit Shock, Young did her share. In nine playoff games, she averaged 17.7 points and 5.9 rebounds. The highlight of her postseason was a last-second play that kept the team’s playoff hopes alive. With San Antonio trailing the Los Angeles Sparks, 66-65, in Game 2 of the best-of-three Western Conference Finals, Young took an inbounds pass from halfcourt, spun around in desperation and hit a buzzer-beating 14-footer to force a decisive Game 3.
“It really was an incredible shot,” said Dan Hughes, San Antonio’s head coach and general manager. “She is one of the few athletes who could get that shot off. That’s exactly where her development can take her. That play, it was on display.”
To see Young dominate now against the best players in the world is to marvel at her astonishing progress from humble beginnings. She grew up on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, where she favored netball, a much more sedentary cousin of basketball that is popular in places like the United Kingdom, the Caribbean, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. In netball, a 7-on-7 game with no backboard on the hoops, players are restricted to certain areas of the court, must pass or shoot after three seconds of ball possession, and cannot dribble or run with the ball.
It’s almost humorous to think of such an athletically gifted player once favoring such a restrictive game.
“I’d pick up a basketball just to shoot around, but I really didn’t like it when I was younger,” said Young, who played for St. Vincent’s under-16 national netball team.
In 1999, at age 15, Young immigrated to the United States, settling in Shreveport, La., as an exchange student at Evangel Christian Academy. Soon, she met Bo Roberts, a local Amateur Athletic Union basketball coach who “came into my life my senior year of high school, helped me get a scholarship at Baylor [University in Waco, Texas] and taught me about 90 percent of what I know about the game,” she said.
Young’s skills were quite raw early on at Baylor, but she quickly evolved into one of the nation’s best players, earning All-American status twice, the 2006 Big 12 Player of the Year Award and Most Outstanding Player honors at the 2005 Final Four, when she led the Bears to their first NCAA championship. She left Baylor as the Big 12’s all-time leading scorer with 2,480 points.
Drafted fourth overall by San Antonio in 2006, she has started all 114 games since then, including 14 playoff contests. With her explosiveness, strong post moves and deft shooting touch, she earned All-Star nominations in 2006 and 2007 and All-WNBA first-team honors (overall and defensively) in 2008. In January, she signed a contract extension that will keep her in San Antonio through 2012.
“She has quite literally established herself as one of the best players in the league,” Hughes said. “You can use her in the post or the perimeter, and she can guard both positions.”
Young’s spiritual birth preceded her basketball stardom. On St. Vincent, she grew up attending a Pentecostal church but lacked a fatherly presence. Her mother, Annie Christopher, and father, Denniston Young, never married, and only recently has she started growing closer with her dad. With St. Vincent’s lax drinking laws, Young started sinking into the island’s party lifestyle as a teenager.
Before long, though, the Holy Spirit convicted her at a church crusade, and she placed her trust in Christ at age 15. Once in the United States, her new faith continued to grow through the influence of a Christian host family she lived with in Shreveport.
“That family was truly an inspiration,” she said.
Now, Young is surrounded by believers. At least five of Silver Stars teammates – Erin Buescher, Shanna Crossley, Becky Hammon, Sandora Irvin and Ruth Riley – all profess the name of Christ and get together for Bible studies as often as possible. Young reaches out, too. For the last five years, she has been sponsoring a young Rwandan boy through Compassion International.
“She is a very balanced person, from knowing who she is to having a strong faith,” Hughes said. “She has some gifts athletically, but she has greater gifts as a person than she’ll ever have as a basketball player. That’s the charming thing about Sophia.”
Young treats her faith like basketball – she is constantly hungry for more.
“I’m always growing spiritually, but there’s always room for improvement,” she said. “I try to wake up every day and spend one to 1˝ hours with God and get his perspective. God is the center of my world. Whatever he says, I’ll do.”
Earlier this month, Young got a taste of her first championship in professional ball when she and fellow U.S. transplant Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx) helped Galatasaray, a highly successful sports franchise in Istanbul, Turkey, win the EuroCup title. Young led all scorers with 27 points in the final against Italy’s Cras Basket Taranto on April 9. It was the second WNBA offseason that Young played in Turkey.
Now, she is turning her attention to helping San Antonio win a championship, too. Despite her rapid basketball ascent, she knows she can improve in several areas, including ball-handling and versatility.
When it comes to basketball, more than anything, she wants to hoist the WNBA trophy. It’s a tall order. But then again, Young has never been intimidated by tall. Just ask Horry.
“The fact that we were able to make the finals in three years says a lot about our team chemistry and how hard we worked,” Young said. “Of course, it was disappointing that we didn’t win [the championship]. When you’re competing, you want to win the main prize. I’m pleased, but not satisfied.”
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