Fowles: Not your average superstar

On the surface, Sylvia Fowles is a WNBA superstar. She’s a 6-foot-6 post phenom with moves as slick and powerful as Dwight Howard’s. She’s the reigning Defensive Player of the Year who anchors a Chicago Sky roster that is currently sitting in playoff contention. She’s a three-time All-Star who breaks team and league records by the dozen.

But Fowles doesn’t act like superstar. She rarely goes out to eat and prefers to stay home and cook for herself. She’s going back to school to become a mortuary beautician at American Academy McAllister in New York because, as she put it, “I was always that weird kid growing up willing to work with dead bodies.” She learned how to sew from her great grandmother. And she doesn’t even mind the customs of Turkey, her offseason home in the winters, where women are expected to sit in the back seat of the car behind men.

Fowles is easy-going, amiable and down to earth despite towering over just about everyone else. She’s the antithesis of today’s superstar – a refreshing reminder of throwback legends who didn’t expect to receive a daily $100 stipend on top of their exorbitant salaries. She’s the kind of player that anyone can relate to. Growing up in a part of Miami that tourists never see, Fowles benefited from a stern, but supportive mother who kept her off the streets, out of trouble, and her head in the books. Fowles and her siblings knew better than to cross her. “My mom just had to give me a look – she didn’t even have to open her mouth – she would just look and we knew not to do that,” Fowles said.

Her older brothers weren’t any easier on her. Fowles would tag along with them to pickup games and they would purposely put her on the other team so they could rough her up. “They wouldn’t go easy on me. They’d come in, drop their shoulders, and hit me on the chest,” she said. “We played on asphalt. If I fell and got hurt, I couldn’t cry or I would have to go home.” And forget about bringing guy friends around the house; her brothers threatened to beat them up, too.

Fowles’ upbringing made the rest seem easy. She led Louisiana State University to four straight Final Four appearances and finished as the school’s all-time leader in blocks and rebounds. And since she was taken with the second pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft, Fowles has improved so rapidly, each season could be considered a breakout year. Her 2011 performance of 20.0 points and 10.2 boards per game (the second player to average a double-double for an entire year) ranks as one of the best in WNBA history. And yet, she feels she has so far to go. “I’m not satisfied with that,” Fowles said of last year’s gaudy numbers. “I don’t think you can ever be satisfied at this job. You always wanna add something to your game to make you better.”

While her scoring has taken a slight dip to 18.5 points per game – thanks to the emergence of her teammate and the Sky’s top scorer, Epiphanny Prince – Fowles’ rebounding prowess has jumped to historic levels. Through 17 games, she’s snagging 12.4 boards per contest – above the record pace Connecticut’s Tina Charles set two years ago, when she averaged 11.7 for the year. Fowles says she still needs to work on free throws, facing up from 15 feet out, and attacking the basket from mid-range. But her efficiency rating says there isn’t much room for improvement. Fowles’ current rating of 25.6 is most telling of her willingness to take a back seat and do the dirty work behind the scenes while her other teammates shine. At this rate, she’ll take 55 less shots than she did last season, but she won’t care as long as the team is winning.

The Sky certainly enjoy all the points, rebounds and blocks that Fowles brings to the table. Perhaps more importantly, however, is her unfailing devotion and deference to her teammates, as well as her maturity as to who’s the designated captain. “I don’t care whose team it is,” Fowles said. “I don’t say much; talking’s never been my thing. I lead by example. I’ll just get it done on the floor.” Spoken like a true superstar.