Somehow, Baylor trio ended up in Waco

Originally Published: March 21, 2005
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS – It's so strange how the best-intended and planned things can go nowhere, while sometimes random-chance things work out almost perfectly.

Sophia Young
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesAt 15, Sophia Young left the West Indies for the chance to get an education and play sports in the United States.

Baylor has done a lot of planning to build the women's basketball program to the level of national-championship contender in Kim Mulkey-Robertson's fifth season. But she'd be the first to admit "good fortune" has blessed the program, too.

Sophia Young came from St. Vincent, West Indies. Abiola Wabara arrived from Parma, Italy. A third starter, Chelsea Whitaker, is from good old Dallas, just up Interstate 35 from Waco. Yet she didn't begin her college career at Baylor.

So how did all three end up there?

"I'm sure there was a reason for it," Young said.

Whitaker's take: "I think it's pretty much destiny."

Somehow, pure accident doesn't seem likely.

Maybe by now, you've heard Young's story. If not, we'll quickly summarize: At age 15, she left home to go to Shreveport, La., for the chance of getting an education and playing sports in the United States. At the time, she didn't know how to play basketball, but she did understand hard work and persistence. She finally got a local AAU guru to watch her, and he happened to be the father of Baylor assistant Jennifer Roberts.

So Mulkey-Robertson came to see Young, watched her briefly and said, "OK, that's it. Let's get her signed right now."

She says in reflection, "Really, those kinds of things – where you just make a surprise discovery – really don't happen very often."

Except at Baylor, it's happened twice. Second story: Wabara.

First off, we'll tell you her dad is an architect, she speaks four languages, she wants to be a doctor and she confirms that it's impossible to find truly great alfredo sauce in the United States.

Anyway, there are smart kids and then there are SMART kids and Wabara is definitely in the latter category. Her English is very good, but sometimes, of course, she doesn't quite know the word for something.

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  • Such as "that game you play with swords."

    You mean fencing? Yes, fencing. It seems when she was 13, a friend wanted to go learn to fence, and requested that Wabara accompany her. She did, and the gym they went to had a basketball office right next to the fencing office.

    Somebody connected with hoops took one look at Wabara, who even at 13 was clearly an athlete, and asked if she'd like to play basketball. She replied she didn't know what basketball was – although she could deduce that it didn't involve swords – but she was willing to try.

    Then she got good at it and watched people like former Houston Comets star Cynthia Cooper, who played 11 years in Italy. Wabara knew by the time she was finishing high school that the next step was to try to play in the United States. One of her aunts went to Truett Seminary at Baylor.

    And you can figure out the rest, right? Most coaches would get the e-mail from an "aunt with a niece who is a great player" and if they satisfied their curiosity ... they'd find out that the niece was 4-foot-2 but worked really, really hard and could even dribble with her left hand.

    Baylor, however, had someone like Wabara walk into the office.

    Coaches search high and low for players like Young and Wabara, while Baylor more or less stumbled upon them. There's always the adage the harder you work, the luckier you get. And Mulkey-Robertson and her staff have worked very hard. But, still, that's pretty darn lucky.

    (Aside: It reminds me of when I was really little, and there was this mysterious-looking dirt road we passed every time we were driving to see my aunt. So I somehow started daydreaming that if you actually turned down that road [which my parents never did], at the end of it was a magic restaurant where all the food was completely free but no one knew about it. I totally imagined that as soon as I was old enough to drive, I'd go there. But you grow up and decide any kind of thought like that is so totally silly just in principle – because whatever is worth discovering, plenty of people must already know about. And yet that's not always the case. Sometimes, you do go down a path and something really great just happens to be there.)

    Abiola Wabara
    AP Photo/Michael ConroyAbiola Wabara got her start in hoops at age 13 -- when a friend dragged her to a fencing office.

    Mulkey-Robertson couldn't put Wabara through a workout because of NCAA recruiting regulations at the time of her visit.

    "She trusted her instincts," Wabara said.

    And Mulkey-Robertson trusted an old friend and teammate from Louisiana Tech, Janice Lawrence. She'd played several years in Italy and saw the young Wabara competing in club basketball.

    "Sign her," Lawrence told Mulkey-Robertson.

    OK, then there's Whitaker, who incidentally is Wabara's roommate and explained that they have to endure each other's "odd" eating habits.

    "This child eats pasta all day and no meat," Whitaker said of Wabara. "I'm from Texas, and we eat a lot of beef. Anything she cooks for me, she has to cook a pound of meat to go with it. Anything I cook for her, I have to 'de-meat' it, I guess.

    "She eats dinner really late and has weird snacks, and meat is nowhere to be found in any of that."

    Note the "I'm from Texas" part. Even so, at first Whitaker wanted nothing to do with Baylor. She ignored the school totally during the recruiting process and went to Virginia.

    Things didn't work out there, while simultaneously Mulkey-Robertson was changing the whole atmosphere at Baylor. Whitaker came back, sat out the required transfer year, and became another integral piece of the puzzle.

    Now here they all are at Baylor, along with plenty of other important players who made the decision to come to Waco. Sometimes they think about it, Texan Chameka Scott said, about how if any one of them had gone someplace else, they might not have this national-championship opportunity.

    "Whatever led us all here at this point in time," Scott said, "was just meant to happen."

    Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail her at mvoepel@kcstar.com.

    Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.