A wild ride
LSU's Fowles leaves behind dramatic career for WNBA
Posted: Wednesday April 9, 2008 2:03PM; Updated: Wednesday April 9, 2008 2:03PM
TAMPA, Fla. -- March Madness is rife with unhappy endings. Every player is well aware that only one team will finish with a win, and yet, every March one of these inevitable disappointments hurts just a little more than the others.
This year's most cruel unhappy ending might very well belong to Sylvia Fowles. The All-America center has been part of four of LSU's five consecutive Final Four teams and never tasted the national title game. She and her fellow seniors went through four emotionally devastating years -- the illness and death of coach Sue Gunter, the abrupt, shadowed departure of Pokey Chatman, Gunter's hand-picked successor, and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina -- and they did it with grace, with determination, and with great success.
In light of all that, their 47-46 last-second loss to archrival Tennessee seems particularly unjust. And then Fowles reminded us: for her, this loss is no end.
Fowles is still in Tampa for Wednesday's WNBA Draft, where she was picked second by the Chicago Sky. In less than a week Fowles will be in Chicago for a USA Basketball training camp, kicking off a hectic spring.
First she will meet her new WNBA team. Then it's off to Beijing with USA Basketball for a pre-Olympic tournament. After that there's the WNBA regular season, the Olympics in August if she is selected to the team, and perhaps a season overseas.
If any player is prepared for this it's the 22-year-old Fowles. She has, at times over the past four years, carried her team, no easy feat considering the weight each one of her teammates have carried themselves. Fowles became every opponent's primary target after star Seimone Augustus graduated two years ago. Though her 6-6 frame held up well, it was her mental toughness that truly brought her through.
Even with the turmoil, Fowles never considered leaving school early. "It made me a better player and made me stronger," Fowles said. "With that going through all the stuff we went through, I think it helped me grow for the real world once I leave college.
In some ways, Fowles' decision to stay helped LSU remain an elite program after Chatman's departure. Current coach Van Chancellor made no secret of the fact that without Fowles, he would have never ended up at LSU. He never considered the prospect of playing without her, either by her decision or by injury.
"I never thought about that because I didn't want to go over there to that bridge ... and jump off of it, if you want to know the truth," Chancellor said before the national semifinal. "Somebody said, what if she would have graduated and come out early? I told them it wouldn't have been my problem. Judy Southard could not have hired me."
In part because of Chancellor's attitude and a year of relative stability, Fowles came into this year's Final Four more relaxed than ever. The calm was apparent before the national semifinal, and when she and her teammates engaged UConn in a dance battle at a pre-Final-Four party, it looked like LSU might have the chemistry to overcome their title game drought.
"In previous years we always had something to play for or play against," Fowles said. "This year we've just been free. I'll say it's been different coming into the tournament this year.
In the end, her 20 rebounds tied for the second most in a Final Four game, and her 24 points accounted for more than half of her team's total. But she was 10-of 24 from the field, 4-of-11 from the line, and though her team could not have asked more from her, they needed more from her.
As the game reached its dramatic conclusion, Fowles was battling leg cramps so severe that they forced her to miss the post-game press conferences, but she answered a few stock questions from the trainer's table, subdued but determined to turn her face to the future.
Now Fowles' college career is just one for the history books. "We have a legacy at LSU as seniors," fellow senior RaShonta LeBlanc said. "Not too many people can say they've been to four or five consecutive Final Fours, so that is a great honor for us. We can look back on it and it's a great honor for the people that were able to do it."
As for the future, even No. 1 WNBA draft pick Candace Parker thinks that Fowles' legacy in the women's game will stretch far beyond what she accomplished -- and what her team never managed -- in college and well into the history of the Olympic and professional games.
"Look at our 2008 class," Parker said of her rivalry with Fowles. "The talent that we have in this class and the impact that we're going to have in the WNBA, it's about raising the bar in women's basketball and leaving the game better off than when you came into it. I feel I'm excited about the competition that we're going to have in the next 10-12 years."