Practice is long over and players have changed clothes and left, but Sophia Young-Malcolm is still on the floor and still working.
There are just a couple weeks and six games left in her professional basketball career. Young-Malcolm will retire as the franchise leader in points, rebounds, steals and a slew of other categories. Yet she is still the last to leave practice.
This is the only way Sophia Young-Malcolm knows how to operate.
Young-Malcolm announced Wednesday that she will retire at the end of the season, finishing a 10-year WNBA career, all with the Stars. From an All-American and National Champion at Baylor to a three-time All-Star in San Antonio, Young-Malcolm has helped shape the Stars franchise with her determination and a tireless work ethic.
Her final home game will be Sept. 5 against Phoenix at Freeman Coliseum. Tickets are available at SAStars.com
“She’s given her everything to this organization for 10 years,” said Stars teammate Jia Perkins. “Even in her last season, that’s Sophia. Always working.”
A four-time All-WNBA selection, Young-Malcolm has averaged 14.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.59 steals in her career. At the age of 31, she holds the franchise record for points with 4,273, ranked 23rd all-time in the WNBA.
And then there was The Shot.
The Stars were 1.3 seconds away from elimination in Game 2 of the 2008 Western Conference Finals, trailing Los Angeles 66-65. The inbounds pass from midcourt went to Young, who turned and hit a 14-foot bank shot at the buzzer to win the game. San Antonio went on to win their first Western Conference championship and advance to their first WNBA Finals. Young gave the franchise its signature moment.
“There are so many great memories,” Young-Malcolm said. “The Finals is obviously up there, but there are so many that I never would have dreamed of. Who would have thought a girl growing up in a two-room house with her mom and five brothers and sisters could end up here?”
Young’s journey began in the small Caribbean island of St. Vincent. She competed in track and netball, but had never touched a basketball.
At the age of 15, Young left her home and her family to become an exchange student at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, La. She played basketball for a season and began falling in love with the sport, but she wanted to get better.
Shreveport’s fire chief Bo Roberts happened to be a former club basketball coach, but his emphasis was on “former.” Young called Roberts and asked if he could tutor her as she entered her senior season, but he declined.
So Sophia called again. And a third time, until Roberts finally took a look.
“That sums her up more than anything,” said Stars coach Dan Hughes. “The thing you notice about Sophia from day one is her desire to improve. You look at her humble beginnings, and the fact that we’re talking about her WNBA career now, and it’s because she earned it every step of the way.”
Roberts’ daughter, Jennifer, was an assistant coach at Baylor University at the time, and the girl from St. Vincent found her way to Waco, Texas.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey simply calls Young a “sponge.” Young came to Baylor without a post move in her repertoire, but an eagerness to learn.
As a freshman, Young struggled from the free throw line, averaging 54 percent. Mulkey remembers her practicing extra free throws before and after every practice, with a determination she’d rarely seen. By Young’s junior year, she was at 71 percent from the line.
Young was an All-American that junior season, leading Baylor to the 2004-05 NCAA National Championship. Young scored 26 points in the championship game and was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
It was the Bears’ first national title, just four years after their first trip to the NCAA tournament.
“Sophia helped put Baylor University on the map, period,” Mulkey said. “We will always be indebted to her, and she’ll go down in history as a great player and a positive ambassador.”
When Young-Malcolm arrived in San Antonio, she found herself with another team looking to establish a winning culture.
There were four coaches and three losing seasons since the first San Antonio season in 2003, then the Stars took Young with the fourth overall pick in the 2006 WNBA Draft.
Young led the Stars in scoring and rebounding as a rookie in 2006, earning All-WNBA honors as a rookie. The Stars added Becky Hammon in a 2007 draft day trade, and the team was suddenly a contender with two faces of the franchise.
Young was named to the All-Star team for a second straight season in 2007, and the Stars earned their first playoff berth since moving to San Antonio.
“Sophia’s made this team a family,” said Stars teammate Jayne Appel. “Whether you’re a rookie or a veteran, first man or 12th man, she’s helped build that mindset that we’re all in this together.”
Then came The Shot and the Finals appearance in 2008, and Young continued to grow and improve as a player.
Hughes said Young-Malcolm has put in extra time at practice since the beginning of her career, crediting former assistant Olaf Lange and current assistant James Wade with her development. Hughes said Young-Malcolm has set the standard for the way the Stars approach player development.
“My favorite Sophia memory is a practice one,” Stars broadcaster Andrew Monaco said. “It was our first practice after the 2006 All-Star Game, and this rookie is in a gym in Charlotte, the first on the court and she’s practicing shots from the elbows. That’s when I knew she was something special.”
Young’s game-winning shot two years later wasn’t far from the elbow, and her dedication showed on the stat sheet as well.
Her Stars franchise records include career rebounds (1,786), games played (295), field goals (1,633) and steals (468). She’s also third all-time in franchise assists (547) and fifth in blocks (110).
On June 30 against the Phoenix Mercury, she became the 24th player in WNBA History to reach the 4,000-point mark.
Not that Young-Malcolm would know.
“I’ve never paid attention to records,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed basketball and have always have fun doing it, but playing well comes through working hard, not through checking your own stats. I’m glad it paid off, though.”
Young-Malcolm continued working, coming back to play two full seasons after a knee injury sidelined her for the 2013 campaign.
Even this season as she nears her final game, Young-Malcolm is still averaging 11.8 points and 5.3 rebounds.
“I’m retiring on my own terms,” she said. ‘The love and support the fans and Spurs Sports & Entertainment have given me has made me feel so blessed. I’ve been privileged to wear the Stars uniform for 10 seasons and that’s just remarkable.”
As Young looks back on her career, she chooses to think of the relationships she’s built with her teammates, fans, coaches and the city. She’s made San Antonio home, and has made helping children her priority. She started a non-profit, Find Me, which aims to help troubled teens find passions. She started her own club basketball team, Sophia Young Elite, and also serves on the board of the Family Service Association of San Antonio and the Baylor Business Network of San Antonio.
One of Young-Malcolm’s next priorities is children of her own. She plans on starting a family with her husband, Jermaine Malcolm, and said she wants to have five kids.
Her own starting lineup.
A devout Christian, Young-Malcolm also said she and her husband also hope to give back to the Caribbean Islands through mission work and ministry. During her playing career, she also managed to earn masters degrees in Psychology and Christian Ministry in her spare time.
“She looks at what she wants to do and she has the faith and the motor to go from that belief to that destination,” Hughes said. “That’s how she’s always lived. She’s already accomplished so much, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.”