In any case, Duke had picked up Beard's trail in the spring of '99, when Goestenkors attended the Deep South Classic tournament in Birmingham. Wandering around the gyms, she caught sight of Beard, who was playing for a Mississippi AAU team that had offered her the chance to travel with them and increase her visibility. Looking Beard up in her tournament book, Goestenkors scribbled a note by her name: "Best player I've ever seen."
Beard didn't want Duke to make a home visit, however. She had been unimpressed with Coach G's sideline behavior during the Blue Devils' televised upset of Tennessee in the Elite Eight that March. The measured gestures, the calm, all that smiling—Beard could never play for a coach that nice. Besides, Durham, 885 miles from Shreveport, was too far away. Even after a home visit had been arranged, Alana tried to cancel it. Adding her two cents for the first time, Marie said, "Keep Duke."
Beard tried to scratch the Blue Devils off her list after the home visit too, but this time Leroy spoke up. He liked Goestenkors and Valley, mostly because it wasn't that obvious which was the head coach. "For my dad to say anything, well, I listened," says Beard.
Unfortunately, she wasn't prepared for the transition to college life. During her freshman year Beard remained a virtual recluse in her dorm, where schoolmates addressed her, "Hi, Antisocial!" On the team she was the most acutely afflicted of a flock of homesick freshmen. Once, former Duke player Sue Harnett, who worked on campus, received a call from assistant coach Joanne Boyle begging Harnett to go on a date with Harnett's boyfriend (now husband), Rich Scher, so Beard could fill in for a night as babysitter for Scher's kids. "[The coaches] were afraid if they didn't get Alana into a family situation right away, she would leave," says Harnett.
Babysitting helped. So did basketball. In her first season at Durham, Beard averaged 17.0 points and 3.5 steals per game and was named national freshman of the year. But she could never work hard enough. She would enter Cameron Indoor Stadium as late as 2 a.m. using the special key she had borrowed—and would eventually inherit—from All-America guard Georgia Schweitzer. Beard never took a break. She sandwiched her freshman season between summer tours with the USA Basketball team that won the junior world championship in 2000. By the time the Blue Devils reached the Final Four in San Antonio last March, Beard was whipped. In an 86-71 loss to Oklahoma in the semifinals, she could barely move and scored only 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting.
At her coaches' urging, she took this past summer off from organized basketball and, much to her surprise, enjoyed it. "I'm trying to find myself outside of basketball," says Beard, a sociology major. Prodded by a group of nonathletes she calls her "petite, prissy" friends, she is coming out of her shell. "She even went to a party by herself!" says one pal.
Nevertheless, Beard is maintaining her focus. Beyond a national championship at Duke and a long and prosperous career in pro ball, she would like to give women's basketball a boost in Shreveport. "Someday I want to set up an organization, a place where girls can show up in the middle of the night and shoot baskets," she says. "I want their talent to be known. I don't want them to have to go play for a team in Mississippi to be seen."
UConn and Tennessee might appreciate that too.