Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.
On the outdoor court near her home in Erie, Pa., in the tangle of bodies beneath the rim, Kayla McBride stood out. It wasnt height or athleticism that set her apart. It was gender.
No one called her Kayla or McBride. No one referenced her with a term of respect. The guys simply called her girl. As in, I got girl, or Youre covering girl.
The rough-and-tumble of boys did not intimidate her. The elbows, the hard screens, the collisions -- they were part of the game. All she wanted was to be called by her name. At the start of every game, nobody knew what it was. But at the end? After getting knocked down, jumping back up and scoring at will?
The road to respect ran through young alpha males. The path to a better game and high school stardom, to Notre Dame and the first round of the WNBA Draft -- ran through the species Lamont McBride encouraged her to challenge.
My dad always told me I needed to play against guys because they were bigger, stronger, faster, says McBride, the 5-11 guard the Stars drafted Monday with the third overall pick. Thats what made me so competitive.
Lamont served as dad and coach. He put Kayla on boys teams in grade school. He pushed. He corrected. He yelled. Lamont did not let up -- even when his daughter led all scorers. He was really hard on me, Kayla says. He told me exactly how he felt all the time. He never held back.
From the blacktop down the street to the hardwood around Erie, Kayla developed her grit and game against guys. Lots of elite girls do the same. Not many become top three picks.
Kayla broke through one barrier at a time, beating down stereotypes, lifting her game. She comes to the Stars with a beautiful stroke, a glittering resume. At Notre Dame, she averaged 17.5 points as a senior, became an All-American, led the Irish to the national championship game. Tough? Her coach called her an assassin.
She got her killer instinct on the blacktop, her toughness battling against boys. Her mother, at times, would turn her head, unable to watch, afraid her little girl would get hurt. Her father insisted she attack the rim. The result? I got knocked out a few times, Kayla says.
One defining moment unfolded in sixth grade. On a team of boys, Kayla was the best player. Another fine player, Ray, resented her success. He refused to pass me the ball, Kayla says. He didnt like the fact that I was good and could compete with him.
She grew frustrated. She complained. Then, with one shot, an attitude changed. In the final seconds of one game, her team down by a point, Kayla drove to the basket. She pulled up at the free throw line and released a jumper. The shot banked in at the buzzer for the win. After that, Kayla says, laughing, Ray started passing me the ball.
To compete with the best boys, Kayla studied men. One of her best learning tools came one year at Christmas. A Michael Jordan highlight video. Kayla skipped past the dunks and studied MJs mid-range jumper.
I fell asleep to it every night, she says. He was so athletic. But he could use his pull up and mid-range to elevate his game even more. My dad always preached, If you can do mid-range, you can do anything. He always used Michael Jordan as an example. I was in awe of him.
She began watching the DVD at 13. Three years later, she was still watching it. She credits her quick release, in part, to watching Jordan. I always went back to it, Kayla says. I loved it. The mid-range jumper is a lost art in my mind.
From grade school through college, there was one constant in Kaylas development. She took on boys at the playground. She took on men at the rec center at Notre Dame. Long ago, on a blacktop far away, they called her girl. Today, everyone knows the Stars first pick by name.