(Editors note- As women's basketball practice starts up on Friday night, this is the first in a three-part series chronicling the life and times of North Texas assistant coach Saudia Roundtree)
By Steven Bartolotta
From the outside most people think Saudia Roundtree lived a charmed life. The new assistant coach for the North Texas women's basketball program is one of the most decorated players in college basketball history. She won every award imaginable as a player, capped off by an ESPY in 1997. But life for Roundtree didn't come easy and basketball was her escape from a life that began in the projects of South Carolina being raised by a single mom.
Picking Up The Ball
Roundtree was born and raised in Anderson, South Carolina, a predominately blue collar town with hardworking people who didn't have time to worry about basketball, or sports in general. Roundtree's mother, Jeanette Wilkins, worked in the local mills doing just about everything.
"She worked on the assembly lines, with refrigerators, sewing, you name it, she did it," said Roundtree.
Her family lived in the projects. The ghetto. Her mother had to work all day, every day just to afford to put food on the table. Miss a day of work, the family might miss a meal that day. That was life for Roundtree, there were no free handouts and no luxuries.
Around the time she was five years old, is when Roundtree picked up a basketball for the first time in her life.
"I found a ball one time, and heck I didn't even know what to do with it or what I was doing with it at first," said Roundtree. "The the more I started dribbling, the more I started to do things. I was doing things nobody had ever seen at that age."
The talent inside Roundtree was natural and was starting to show. So where did Roundtree first start to play the game? Within the projects, there was a place the locals called "Friendship Courts".
"Don't be fooled, there was nothing friendly about it," said Roundtree chuckling about it. "That made me who I am today. I would play against the guys and it made me appreciate the fact that I had a role model in my mother. Growing up where we did, she was the only role model in my life, and the more I saw what she went through, the more I saw that I didn't want that kind of life."
Roundtree makes no secret about how hard her mother had to work just to keep food on the table, and she would never forget it.
Georgia On Her Mind
Roundtree was a special player from the beginning. She was so good that from 4th through 7th grade she played against the boys. And it didn't take long for people to notice. In fact, the University of Georgia took notice so much so that began recruiting her in the sixth grade. The more she played, the more attention she received.
"The letters just kept coming in, and my mom always heard about me but she could never go and watch me play," said Roundtree. "If she missed a day of work, we didn't eat."
It wouldn't be until her senior season that Roundtree's mother would watch her daughter play the game that she loved.
At Westside High School, Roundtree dominated the basketball scene. It was no secret that she was going to go to Georgia and play basketball. Her grades were in order, all that was left to do was pass the entrance exam and it was off to Athens the next year. But it didn't happen. Roundtree fell short of passing by .5 tenths of a point and could not get admitted to Georgia.
"That was probably the most devastating day of my life. I was absolutely heartbroken," said Roundtree.
"You can always come work with me at the mill," said Roundtree's mother.
That wasn't going to be an option. Saudia had done that before during the summer and it wasn't anything she wanted to again.
With her college career and even more so her life in limbo, Roundtree turned to her high school coach William Roberts
"He has coached for over six decades and he brought me in to talk," said Roundtree. "He told me that I was going to be the best player on every level and he told me how special I was. I thought, "He's crazy, I'm done with hoops."
He wasn't, and neither was she.