Miracle Journey

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.

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The path to U.S. Citizenship for Silver Stars forward Sophia Young began with a broken heart. Young arrived in Shreveport, La. 12 years ago as a foreign exchange student from St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean. She left behind 11 half brothers and sisters, two parents, and a culture of success.

In the island city of Layou, Young's siblings were known for their athleticism. Young herself excelled in track and netball, a variation of basketball with seven players to a side who shoot at a hoop on a pole with no backboard.

She enrolled at Evangel Christian Academy, a school with students from around the world, to pursue a new adventure. "Evangel Christian looks for athletes who excel," says Young, a four-time WNBA All-Star. "I came with the idea that I would play basketball."

She would learn a new sport, adapt to a new country and connect with international students, including some from the Caribbean. But soon after arriving, she wanted to leave. "I cried every night," she says. "I would wake up with my eyes all swollen."

The teenager who desperately wanted to return to the Caribbean now calls America home. On Sept. 2, 2011, Sophia Young became a U.S. citizen. In January, she joined the USA Basketball Women's National Team, and was recently named a finalist for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team.

"It's a great story," says Silver Stars Coach Dan Hughes. "It took a lot of inspiration."

The road to U.S. citizenship and basketball stardom, he adds, also took talent, intelligence, persistence and faith. "She came to all of these things," Hughes notes, "late in life."

Spurs forward Tim Duncan began playing basketball in ninth grade. Young started in 10th. There are so many twists and unexpected turns in Young's narrative, she calls the sum of them "crazy."

Young spent her first days in America living with a host family. From there, she moved in with an Algebra teacher and then took up residence with a biology teacher. While adjusting to a new country and culture, Young also adjusted to a new sport. There were two fewer players to a side in basketball. Unlike netball, basketball players were not restricted to certain parts of the court. Then there was that strange pane of glass behind the basket.

"When I first got here," Young says, "I didn't use the backboard."

There is a gleam in her eye, as she recalls events that once turned her life upside down. Sitting in the bleachers at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, the Silver Stars' practice facility, Young relives her first year in the U.S. with a bit of wonder.

It took nearly a year for her to feel comfortable in her new surroundings. Just about the time her homesickness disappeared, the Evangel Christian principal posed a question to Young and her classmates from the Caribbean:

Would you like to stay for two more years?

"I was supposed to stay for one year," Young recalls. "But since it was an opportunity and a privilege to be in America, we all said, 'yes.'"

Louisiana rules prohibited foreign players from competing in high school sports consecutive years. So Young sat out her junior year, kept stats for the team, and worked on her game alone. An Evangel Christian track coach encouraged Young to call a noted trainer, Bo Roberts, for help. Young called. Roberts declined her request. She phoned a second time. Roberts rejected her again. A third call led to a meeting. "Okay," Roberts said. "Let's see what you've got."

Roberts found a project, a raw talent with a strong work ethic and a huge learning curve. Young developed quickly, attracted interest from Division II schools and Roberts called his daughter, an assistant coach at Baylor.

You've got to see this kid. …

Jennifer Roberts didn't believe her father at first. But Bo persisted, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey flew in for a visit and Young led the Bears to a national championship. If it hadn't been for Bo and Jennifer Roberts, Young says, "I would have never seen Texas."

In Waco, Young applied for permanent residence in the United States, the first step toward citizenship. Her request was granted. She would have to wait five years and pass a test on U.S. government and history to receive her citizenship. In 2011, Young passed the test -- answering all 10 questions correctly -- and celebrated.

She told her Silver Stars teammates, "I am a citizen now. I have a voice and I'm going to speak out!"

Young does not consider herself political. But having the right to vote meant more to her than to most who take that right for granted. The right to vote as a U.S. citizen completed a journey she never imagined when she left her island home.

"Sometimes I sit back and say, 'How did i get here?' My whole life is crazy. But crazy in a beautiful way. My life was ordained, my steps ordered by God."