These three champions recognize that the path to success isn't just about winning. There's a lot to be learned along the way.
By Susie Magill
The clock hits "0," and the blare of the buzzer fills the already noisy arena. The joy on the victors' faces is evident from even the highest balcony as tears of happiness, relief and exhaustion stream down their faces. The roar of the crowd is deafening as streamers fall and cameras flash in every fan's attempt to capture the winning moment-one that will forever be imprinted on the minds and hearts of the newly crowned champions.
But for three 2005 women's basketball titleholders-Sophia Young of Baylor University, Kara Lawson of the Sacramento Monarchs and Demetress Adams of Lee Central High School (S.C.)-it wasn't about that winning moment. It was about the vital lessons God taught them on the road to success.
Sophia Young, Baylor University
The Last Shall be First
Sophia Young #33
High School: Evangel Christian Academy ( La. )
. 2005 NCAA Championship
. National Player of the Year candidate
. Wooden Award finalist
Advice: "I always dress professionally, don't curse, go to parties or drink. I try to encourage my teammates and live my life as a model for others. Christianity isn't just a Sunday thing. I was put here and given this opportunity so that I could be an example."
Baylor University forward Sophia Young started the 2004-05 season knowing that the Bears were capable of making it to the NCAA Finals. She soon learned, however, that it would require personal development and sacrifice in order for the team to achieve the dream of a National Championship.
Says Young of her journey to the championship game, "I really had to develop mental toughness-to push myself even when I was tired. There were games when I played the entire 40 minutes. And at times I was so tired and wanted a break, but I knew I needed to stay in the game. That was challenging."
To ready herself for this challenge, Young not only prepared physically and mentally, but also spiritually, spending 5-10 minutes with God before every game. This provided Young with focus and reminded her Who she was playing for. She refused to read the newspapers in an effort to tune out the surrounding pressures and opinions. "I was just going to play my game and not try to please everyone else," says Young. "I have a personal relationship with God, and that helps me not to worry so much about what the world thinks. If you get caught up with the world, you begin to think you have to own this or that, or be this or that to make yourself look cool."
A team player through and through, Young was and is willing to give what it takes in order to ensure her team's success. Her greatest accomplishment as an individual player is not being named a finalist for the coveted Wooden Award or earning an All-American title, but serving her teammates and becoming someone they can trust.
"I don't think I am better than anybody else. I try to stay as humble as possible," she says. "In the Bible it says that if you want to be first you have to be last. Well, this year I decided to be a servant to my team.
"For me, another great lesson was to stay connected with God even when things were going well," she continues. "Sometimes people put God aside when everything is going well for them, and then when things get tough, they run back to God. So I would say, 'God, You're the reason that this has happened, and I will keep thanking You every day, remembering that this is what You did and keeping You as the number one priority-not basketball.'"
These valuable lessons were ones Young didn't learn alone. She was poured into by her pastor and by Baylor's FCA Huddle. Once a week she met with her pastor, who would help her stay focused on God and handle the pressures of the press. He also urged her to follow Matthew 6:33 and in her quiet times to "seek first the Kingdom of God ."
FCA was also encouraging to Young during the season. "It was really uplifting to see other athletes who love God with all their heart-who want to honor God with their sports."
Not only did Young make history by being a part of Baylor's first women's National Championship team, but she also used the experiences from the journey to grow stronger in her faith.
"I realize that basketball is just a temporary thing, just an ability that God has given me that I am using right now to glorify Him."
Kara Lawson, Sacramento Monarchs
Turning Pain into Gain
Kara Lawson #20
Sacramento Monarchs , WNBA
College: University of Tennessee
. 2005 WNBA Championship
. Tied franchise high of six 3-pointers in one game
. Holds records for career 3-pointers made (256) and free-throw percentage
Advice: "It takes a lot of hard work to get to the WNBA. It's tough to do, but it's all about surrounding yourself with the right people and staying in the Word-finding out what God wants you to do. This keeps you on the right track."
In 2005, Kara Lawson of the WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs found out that the road to victory may not always be a smooth one. Starting the season with a sprained left ankle, she missed seven games during May and June. And while it was a frustrating experience, watching from the sidelines proved to be beneficial.
"It was tough being injured," explains Lawson. "I had never been injured to the point that I had to miss games. But the team was still winning, and that was big for me. At any point in time,
I might not be playing anymore. God can take this away anytime He wants to. Through the injury, I realized just how insignificant I was as a player. Basketball is a team sport, and no one player is bigger than the team. That was really humbling."
During this time, Lawson also sought encouragement from her mentor, University of Tennessee FCA Campus Director, James Mitchell, to whom she had been introduced after she graduated from Tennessee in 2003.
"Mitch kept telling me that because I was a Christian, my teammates would watch my actions when I was going through an injury to see if I was going to abandon what I talked about and believed. I was encouraged to know that when I was hurt and on the bench my actions and words could still have an impact on my team, that I was able to stay positive and try to be a leader even though I wasn't able to play."
Lawson's positive attitude and humility showed when she returned to the hardwood. As the team's sixth man, she was the go-to woman, responsible for changing the team's dynamic. Whether by making baskets or playing aggressive defense, she brought a jolt of toughness and emotion to the court.
Averaging only eight points a game during the regular season, Lawson's perspective became one of appreciation simply for the opportunity to play. "After I got hurt, I understood where basketball fit into my life. I was just hoping to play again this year-to be out there and make a difference and help the team in some capacity."
Through her outside shots, free throws and selflessness on the court, Lawson helped the Monarchs reach levels of success formerly unrealized by the franchise. They not only captured the Western Conference, but also won the WNBA World Championship.
"It was a great achievement," says Lawson. "We were fortunate to be a team that threw our egos and pride aside and played unselfishly. We all played our roles to win and did what was best for the team.
"I've been playing for a long time, and it's rare to have a season where everyone is on the same page and just wants to win and give whatever it takes, whether it's playing time cuts or not being a starter, to help the team win."
Even though Lawson doesn't personally feel like she had a great season, she appreciates her team's success and knows that God had His hand on her the entire time. "It is ironic that the toughest year I've had as an individual player is the most successful year I've had as a part of a team. It's funny how God works like that. And to me, the true victory in our championship is the experience that we all had and the lessons that I learned from it, not the winning itself."
Demetress Adams , Lee Central High School
Above All, Have Faith
Demetress Adams #24
University of South Carolina
High School: Lee Central High School (S.C.)
. Four 2A South Carolina State Championships
. Five Conference Championships
. Class 2A Player of the Year (2004, 2005)
Advice: "You have to be mentally strong and be encouraged. Know that you will make a mistake, but that you will get back up from it. Work hard and learn something every day-whether it's improving your jump shot or giving your teammates a better pass. Take everything you have, every day, on the court with you."
As a 2005 graduate of Lee Central High School, Demetress Adams and her fellow Lady Stallions won the 2A South Carolina State Championship not once, not twice, but four times between her eighth grade and senior years. The team's most recent victory in 2005, however, according to Adams , was not achieved only through skill, but also through faith.
The team began last season with two goals posted in their locker room. The first was to believe and have faith in God, and the second was to win the conference and state titles. But they knew the second was impossible without the accomplishing the first.
"Our team had faith in everything we were doing," says Adams, who served as FCA Huddle President her senior year. "Coach Fortune (head girls' basketball coach and the school's
Huddle Coach) would tell us to ask anything in His name, and we would receive it. So, we asked the Lord to help us, and the doors opened. We won the conference and took it to the next level."
The team attended regular FCA meetings, read scripture on the way to games, prayed in the locker room and quoted scripture to one another on the court when someone's spirits needed to be lifted.
One such game was during the state finals-a game in which they were facing an older and more experienced team. "There was just something inside of me that kept preaching to our team to work hard and believe in one another. We had inexperienced players, but got in there and had faith in God and courage in ourselves," says the 6-3 center who has just started her freshman season with the South Carolina Gamecocks.
It was through this spiritual encouragement that the team bonded. And through their reliance on God, pressures were lifted, the right chemistry was created, and the Lady Stallions successfully won their fourth state championship.
Yet through all of Adams ' successes (four state championships, five conference titles and two class AA player of the year titles) she has kept her focus on her Lord, not on the accolades.
"The biggest lesson I learned through winning is that no matter how successful you are, you can always give God the praise and glory and inspire others to follow your lead. No matter who you are or where you come from, it's all about believing in God and His ability through you."
Adams openly shares this faith with as many people as she can. "You shouldn't hide something that is responsible for putting you where you are. My talents alone didn't get me into the position I'm in. I know God put me here, and I'm not afraid to say that to others."