AS A movie buff, San Antonio's Sophia Young loves comedies. But as a basketball player, her taste runs to thrillers. Case in point: With 1.3 seconds left in Game 2 of the WNBA Western Conference finals last Saturday, Young received an inbounds pass near the right elbow, turned to her left and flung up a shot. The ball hit the glass as the buzzer sounded, bounced off the rim and off the glass again before it dropped through the net, giving San Antonio a stunning, season-saving 67--66 win over the Los Angeles Sparks. A day later the Silver Stars eliminated the Sparks 76--72 in Game 3 to move on to the first WNBA Finals in franchise history. The Finals were set to begin on Wednesday night.
Amazed by what she called her "once-in-a-lifetime" shot, "I did a backflip," said Young, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds in the game. "I didn't even know I could do one."
We may have only begun to see what this gazellelike 6-footer, with a vertical leap of more than 31 inches, is capable of doing.
Says San Antonio coach Dan Hughes, "It's not just her athleticism and her skill; it's that she makes those plays in the heat of the most intense moments."
On a team noted for its chemistry and balance, Young stands out for her consistency on both ends of the floor. She averaged 17.5 points on 47.8% shooting in the regular season (and 18.7 points and 50.0% through the first two rounds of the postseason) and made the league's all-defensive team. "I think she's the league MVP," says point guard Becky Hammon, a candidate herself for that honor. "She put in a complete season of being the best player on the best team in the league."
That's an impressive feat for someone who had never played the game before coming to a Shreveport, La., high school from St. Vincent in the West Indies as a sophomore exchange student. Determined to earn a college scholarship, she begged Bo Roberts, a renowned AAU coach, to help develop her skills. Impressed with her potential, Roberts worked with Young and helped her earn a free ride to Baylor, where his daughter, Jennifer, was an assistant. In her junior year in Waco, Young led the Lady Bears to the 2005 NCAA title.
Since joining San Antonio as a rookie in '06, she has continued to gravitate to people who can help her elevate her game. Young credits San Antonio assistant Olaf Lange with helping her develop both post moves and perimeter skills. "Her secret is she knows how to listen," says Hughes. "She doesn't just learn through repetition, she visualizes what it is that makes her better. She is rare in that regard."
Rare, too, is her obsession with the minutiae of her favorite comedies. Young, who once performed the entire Vote for Pedro dance from Napoleon Dynamite for kids at a Baylor camp, loves to quote obscure lines from movies like Nacho Libre. "Nobody understands her quotes because she quotes the random parts that nobody else remembers," says teammate Helen Darling.
On the basketball court, however, Young comes up with thrilling moments that no one will forget.
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The Race for MVP
Sophia Young is a leading contender for WNBA MVP honors in a crowded field. Other top candidates include:
• CANDACE PARKER, Los Angeles: Aside from leading all first-year players in points (18.5), blocks (2.3) and minutes (33.6), the Rookie of the Year shoo-in (right) also led the league in rebounds (9.5) and helped ignite a surge of interest in the W—of the record 46 sellouts this season, 10 of them involved L.A.
• SUE BIRD, Seattle: With Lauren Jackson out rehabbing an ankle injury, the Storm's playmaker poured on the offense after the Olympic break and carried Seattle into the playoffs. Her stats for the regular season: 14.1 ppg, 5.1 apg.
• LINDSAY WHALEN, Connecticut: The crafty player most responsible for the Sun's surprise runner-up finish in the East averaged 14.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists.
D. CLARKE EVANS/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
DRAMA QUEEN Young (33) was the leading lady San Antonio needed against L.A.
SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES