She can still remember that fateful phone conversation at her
home in Anderson, S.C., back in 1992. It was already July, and
Saudia Roundtree was hoping to enroll at Georgia in the fall, so
her ACT test score had been rushed straight to the Georgia
basketball office. By the tone of assistant coach Carla Green's
voice, Roundtree knew immediately that the news was bad. She had
missed being eligible to play for the Lady Bulldogs by one
point. She had never gotten below a C in any course, but now her
chance to play at Georgia was gone. "Everything I've done,"
Roundtree thought, "what was it for?"
Devastated, she announced she was quitting basketball, to which
her mother, Jeanette, responded, "Then what are you going to
do?" After all, basketball had never been just something
Roundtree did after school. Roundball would be a more apt
surname for her. She started playing street ball with the
neighborhood boys as a third-grader and would practice alone so
she wouldn't be the last one picked for a team. As a
sixth-grader, she went over to Westside High--where her mother
had been a cheerleader and her father, Delano, a drum major--and
played against the upperclass girls, bowing to none of them. As
an eighth-grader, she started at point guard for the high school
varsity at Westside, and she was South Carolina's player of the
year in her junior and senior years. "We'd never had a player
like her before and haven't since," says William Roberts, the
girls' basketball coach at Westside for the last 43 years. But
now her dream was over.
Or so it seemed at the time. In truth, the dream was merely
deferred. After moping around the house for a month, Roundtree
accepted an offer to play at Kilgore (Texas) Junior College. Her
first season there she averaged 17.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per
game and led the Lady Rangers to the national junior college
championship. The following season she was named national junior
college player of the year and was finally ready to make her
debut in Athens.
It didn't come a moment too soon for Georgia coach Andy Landers,
either. In the fall of 1993, Landers had welcomed to campus six
players who made up what many people called the best recruiting
class in women's basketball history. La'Keshia Frett (the
national prep player of the year that season), Rachel Powell,
Tracy Henderson, Brandi Decker, Tiffany Walker and Kedra Holland
were all marvelous talents, but they had one problem. They
weren't as competitive--especially against each other in
practice--as Landers wanted them to be. "They like each other so
much, they don't always tell each other what they need to hear,"
They needed a catalyst, and Landers hoped it would be Roundtree.
He had first seen her play in grade school, and as much as she
dreamed of playing for Georgia, he dreamed of having her run his
team. "When I first saw her, she was an eighth-grader who was
beating--and I emphasize that word beating--juniors and seniors
in high school," Landers says. "It's not unusual to see young
people who are talented, who can handle the ball and shoot it,
but it's not often you see one who's that competitive."
He hoped that Roundtree, as an outsider, would come in and
impose her aggressive attitude on his group of super sophomores.
It was a nice idea, but there was one catch: Roundtree was soon
as nice as the rest of them. "They ruined her right away,"
Landers says with a smile.
Playing mostly at point guard, Roundtree was as good as
advertised in most regards. She scored 14.8 points per game and
led the tough Southeastern Conference in assists, with 6.8 per
game. She also helped lead Georgia to its first Final Four berth
But when the Lady Bulldogs got to the Final Four in Minneapolis,
they showed that they still lacked a certain collective bite and
were pounded by SEC rival Tennessee 73-51 in the semifinal.
After the loss, Landers admitted that his team, which has all
five starters back, still needed more toughness to be able to
grab hold of a national championship.
Roundtree says she has learned a lesson from last season's
mistakes. Last year she caught herself saying, "Oh, I'm so
sorry!" if she shoved a teammate while going for a rebound--but
that won't be happening anymore. There certainly were no
apologies on the asphalt back home in Anderson last summer.
Roundtree played basketball there for hours every day, except
late in the summer, when she traveled to Taiwan with the U.S.'s
bronze-medal-winning Jones Cup team. She pronounces herself much
tougher for the experience, and that should make the team better.
"When I came here, I was tough," Roundtree says. "This is the
nicest bunch of girls I've ever been with, and they've softened
me up. As far as my development as a person goes, that was
great. On the basketball court, it wasn't. But this year I have
a whole different attitude. Last year we let people bully us,
and that can't happen again."
Not if the Lady Bulldogs hope to end their season with a
national championship. The members of that talented recruiting
class, who are all juniors now, won't be happy with anything
less. Says Henderson, "We think of this year as our last chance
because we don't want to win a championship without Saudia. She
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Confessing that her too-nice teammates "softened me up," Roundtree has vowed to put some teeth in the Bulldog attack. [Saudia Roundtree]