Tryouts give women their shot at semi-pro basketball

Semi-pro RDU Sting represents dream for many

dranii@newsobserver.comJanuary 30, 2012 

Julia Fagan's dream of becoming a professional basketball player led her to the Garner Road YMCA in Raleigh on Sunday afternoon.

Fagan, 23, flew from her home in New York City to try out for the RDU Sting, a semi-professional basketball team that aims to be a stepping stone for women who want to play pro ball overseas.

Fagan scored more than 1,000 points in the three years she played basketball for Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. She graduated last May but still has a bad case of basketball fever.

"It's like the only boy who doesn't cheat on me," she said before Sunday's tryout. "It never makes me sad."

Fagan was one of 10 women - half of whom came from out of state - who showed up Sunday for the first of two Sting tryout sessions. The second session is scheduled for Feb. 18, but the location hasn't been determined.

Some, like Fagan, were stars for their college teams. Others were college dropouts whose passion for basketball is undiminished.

"I want basketball to last forever for me," said Clarissa Crump, 21, of Sanford. "Plus, I want to travel around the world." Crump averaged 21 points a game her senior year at Lee County High School, but played just one semester of college ball at Morris College in Sumter, S.C.

Cheering Crump on from the bleachers was her sister-in-law, Nichelle Boone, 23, of Raleigh, who played basketball at Garner High School.

"I'm a mother now, so I had to put the balls down and pick up babies," said the mother of two.

The Sting, currently seeking a basketball home for the upcoming season that begins in May, already has two seasons under its belt in the Women's Blue Chip Basketball League.

Being a semi-pro team doesn't mean that the Sting pays its players. It's a "developmental" program that is designed as a showcase for women interested in playing for a paycheck overseas, or to help women whose college basketball careers ended prematurely get a second chance, said Cyril Burnside, the team's general manager.

"We want to help people that want to be helped," he said, noting that the team helps players from out of town secure housing and a day job that will help them pay the bills. The minimum age for Sting players is 21.

Success stories

Four Sting players have graduated to pro ball overseas and a fifth, former North Carolina player Erlana Larkins, is in the WNBA, Burnside said.

Another Sting success story is Alicia Person, who credits her season playing for the Sting with getting her life back on track.

Person, now 25, had been drifting ever since she dropped out of college after a year at East Carolina University.

"You can ask anybody. I was depressed, stressed," she said.

But playing for the Sting last year helped her obtain a basketball scholarship to Fayetteville State University.

"It helped me to continue to follow my dream," she said.

The players who showed up Sunday endured a two-hour workout that was intense enough to drive one of the players to a wastebasket in the corner of the gymnasium to throw up. A scrimmage followed.

"We are looking for people that are serious and committed," Burnside told the women.

An admittedly sore Fagan was told privately after the tryout ended that she had made the team. That triggered a big grin, followed by some reflection on what the next chapter of her life - which will include a move to Raleigh - will be like.

"It's going to be an adjustment," she said. "I'm a family-oriented person, so it's going to be a big change. But we all have to grow up some time."

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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