(Editors note - As women's basketball practice starts up on Friday night, this is the second in a three-part series chronicling the life and times of North Texas assistant coach Saudia Roundtree)
By Steven Bartolotta
Going Far Away
A few days after the bad news hit Roundtree that she didn't qualify, her options were limited. Junior colleges from all over American were salivating at the chance to get Roundtree to come play for their program.
Amid the myriad of calls she received, one call came from Kilgore, Texas. It was Evelyn Blalock of Kilgore Junior College.
"She told me I needed to come to Kilgore and I had never even heard of Kilgore," said Roundtree. "I had never been more than three hours away from home much less been that far away. She told me to come down for a visit and if I didn't like it, I don't have to stay."
Roundtree liked it, stayed, and began her ascent up the ladder. Arriving in Kilgore though was something of a shock to Roundtree who grew up in a community without diversity.
"It was a big culture change for me going from a predominately black area to a white area," said Roundtree. "I think it's something that everyone should experience because I was touched by so many great people when I was there. The people were the most supportive I've ever had in my life and you typically won't find that at a junior college."
On the floor, Roundtree was as good as advertised. In 1994, she captured the National Junior College Player of the Year honors and had another decision to make about colleges. The same offers from before were back, and of course, Georgia was at the front of the pack. But this time it wasn't a no-brainer.
"I made them sweat a little bit," said Roundtree. "I still wanted to go to Georgia, but I wanted to make sure they still wanted me."
They did, and Roundtree finally made her dreams a reality to going to Georgia.
An Instant Success
Georgia took off immediately after Roundtree and the "Fab 7" arrived on campus. The Lady Bulldogs went from 17-11 in 1993-94 to 28-5 and a No. 4 national ranking the following year. Roundtree was the floor general. Her first season, she dished out a school record 226 assists, a record that still stands to this day. The following year Georgia went even further.
That year they won the SEC title and entered the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites. Georgia didn't disappoint as they advanced to the NCAA Championship game before falling to SEC Rival Tennessee, 83-65.
Roundtree was the leader of that group and the accolades and recognition she received was overwhelming. She was the SEC Player of the Year, the Naismith National Player of the Year, and to top it all off, she won an ESPY in 1997 for being named the best female basketball player. None of it went to her head. Humble from the beginning, Roundtree never let success change her.
"Never, ever, ever, ever did I think I would have that kind of success and if I did was lying to you," said Roundtree. "What made our teams so good was that we all genuinely cared about each other. We really looked after each other, and that year I also found God. When I put God first in my life, everything changed."
Roundtree's success finally reached a crescendo at the 1997 ESPY awards.
"People talk about being on Cloud 9, well I was on about Cloud 50 that night," said Roundtree. "I was so star struck that night, I was walking around and there was Tiger Woods, Tim Duncan, and Kobe Bryant. I felt like I didn't belong though, that's a place for Hollywood people."
A Career Cut Short
The WNBA would not be around for a few more years so after college for many of the best women's basketball players finding a pro league wasn't easy. Roundtree was the top pick in the 1996 ABL draft by the Atlanta Glory, which was one of many upstart women's leagues around at the time.
While she loved the game and playing it, the grind of playing the game she loved since she was five was taking its toll on her body. Her knees were giving out and she knew it.
"My knees were so bad that it came to the point where the doctors told me that I either keep playing basketball or I won't be able to walk when I'm 30," said Roundtree. "I was devastated because I had to figure out what to do. I went through all of those phases after you find out you can't play anymore, anger, depression, denial, all of it."
Her playing career was over, so Roundtree decided to go back to Georgia and finish up her degree, which she lacked by just five classes, and figure out a new path for her life.