She's bound, determined

Louisville's McCoughtry trying to save best of her story for last

March 30, 2009|By Rick Maese | Rick Maese,rick.maese@baltsun.com

RALEIGH, N.C. - Angel McCoughtry is writing a book. The Louisville senior has been working on it all season, in fact. The working title is "The Angel Who Wanted to B-more," she says, and it'll be an inspirational tome about a girl who grows up in Baltimore, overcomes challenges and hardships and eventually leads her college basketball team deep into the NCAA tournament.

She carries the book around on a flash drive, the file ready to be updated whenever inspiration strikes. McCoughtry says it's almost finished, but even she isn't quite sure how it'll end.

Ideally, she says, the happy ending writes itself, beginning with the Raleigh Regional final Monday night against top seed Maryland. The winner advances to the Final Four, which begins next weekend in St. Louis.

For McCoughtry, it's the culmination of an unlikely journey, one that included a missed opportunity out of high school, a challenging year of prep school and an opportunity from a university she had barely even heard of.

"It's funny how things work out in life," McCoughtry, a versatile 6-foot-1 forward, said yesterday.

Years before Roi McCoughtry became head pastor at Holy Nation Tabernacle, he was a basketball star himself at Coppin State, a 6-5 center with a good jump shot. In Angel, Roi and his wife, Sharon, had a capricious child, one who didn't like the word "no" and often brought her mother to tears.

"I'm sort of a quiet, laid-back person, and I thought I'd have a quiet, laid-back child," Sharon said. "But she was just the opposite. If I told her, 'Let's do this,' she'd do the opposite. Now that I realize, she had all that energy for a reason; it just had to be channeled into something."

Basketball became the perfect outlet. Growing up in Baltimore's Northwood neighborhood, there was always a game nearby for a teenage McCoughtry. It usually meant playing against boys, though older, quicker and tougher.

"One thing I did hate was when [my dad] was like, 'Come in before dark,' " McCoughtry said. "Well, that's when the pickup games got good, when it was getting dark. The lights would come on and I had to come home. I would always get in trouble because I would always come home late."

McCoughtry starred at St. Frances, making a name for herself as one of the top female high school players to come out of Baltimore. She was named All-Metro Player of the Year as a junior and committed to St. John's during her senior season.

Maryland coach Brenda Frese doesn't usually miss on young talent. But she said back then, McCoughtry was athletic but raw.

"Nowhere near the ability of where she's at now," Frese said. "Sometimes you may only have one opportunity to see someone play. Obviously we'd love to have her at Maryland, but we missed that on that opportunity."

McCoughtry struggled to post a qualifying SAT score and instead of enrolling at St. John's, she spent a year at the Patterson School in North Carolina. It was a crossroads of sorts, as McCoughtry called home every week, begging to leave. She would be content playing junior college ball, she told her parents. Nothing about prep school was comfortable. When they went ice skating, she told her mom, they were subjected to country music.

"She said, 'I'm a city girl; I can't stand this,' " Sharon recalled.

Her parents persuaded her to stay and she reopened her recruiting, eventually signing with Louisville, a program that had not advanced beyond the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Once on campus, she kept working on her game and kept improving. As a sophomore, McCoughtry was named Big East Player of the Year.

"I joke with her that I'm not sure how many friends she has," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "She's always in the gym."

The extra time in the gym has paid off. McCoughtry, 22, is Louisville's all-time leading scorer and rebounder. She has made women's basketball popular around town, and attendance at games has more than tripled. As a senior, McCoughtry is a candidate for National Player of the Year, averaging 23.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and a nation-leading 4.3 steals. She'll surely be one of the top picks in the WNBA draft next week.

"Everything has turned out perfect for her," her father said. "Fans walk up to me just constantly telling me how much they love Angel. But for me, the most important thing is when they tell me she's a great person. That's what makes me smile."

It's all just more material for the book, which McCoughtry hopes to publish in Louisville shortly after the school year.

"I just wanted to show people my experiences, how it wasn't easy for me. I didn't become an All-American just like that. I had to work," McCoughtry said. "I want to show people my life and my experiences. Maybe someone can say, 'Hey, I've been through that and I can feel better about myself because I can see she's been through it, too.' "

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