Tahlequah Daily Press

April 24, 2013

Living the dream

Oklahoma State’s Toni Young headed to New York after nearly giving up basketball.


— STILLWATER — It’s the stuff fairy tales are made of.

A young girl from a small town in Oklahoma where horses out-number the people, suffers setback after setback and nearly gives up her dream before finally finding her place in the big city.

Only for Oklahoma State’s Toni Young, it isn’t a fairy tale — it’s real life.

Young was selected by the New York Liberty with the seventh pick in the recent WNBA Draft, fulfilling a goal that she’s been dreaming about since she first picked up a basketball.

“It was real exciting,” Young said. “You don’t know where you’re going to go, so you get a bit anxious. Once you’re name is called, it’s a big sigh of relief and then it’s like a dream all over again because I went in the first round and I wasn’t expecting to go in the first round.”

The road to the WNBA hasn’t been easy for Young. From nearly giving up basketball in high school to breaking her arm while dunking in practice at the end of her sophomore year to losing coaches she practically considered family in a plane crash, Young has had more than her fair share of heartbreak.

Perhaps that’s why the wait seemed like an eternity.

“It’s was really hard,” Young said. “After the first three went, there was a commercial break. It felt like the commercial break was forever. Finally, the rest of the names started to get called.

“I kind of thought that I would go to New York, so when it was New York’s turn again (with the seventh pick), my heart was pounding. And then finally my name was called.”

Sitting in the front row, Young turned and hugged her brother Michael before bounding up the steps to the podium. Her dream, finally coming true.

“After I broke my arm, I thought that I’d never return to the player that I was,” Young said. “Setting my goals to make it to the draft and actually getting there and getting drafted in the first round, it felt like a big accomplishment to me. Just because I broke my arm, didn’t mean I had to stop. Even if my arm doesn’t work completely, it still works enough for me to be able to keep playing the game and following my dreams.”

Days later, the whole draft night still seems like a blur. From visiting with the Liberty coaches after the draft to the hundreds of phone calls and text messages she received in the following days, it’s been a whirlwind.

So much so that Young didn’t even get a chance to celebrate becoming only the second Cowgirl to get drafted — joining Andrea Riley, who was the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Los Angeles Sparks.

“I was actually too tired to celebrate,” Young said. “It was great having my brother beside me because he was the whole reason why I was even playing basketball. So having him there with me, it was just a great moment.”

Like everything in Young’s past, making the adjustment to the WNBA won’t be easy. But Young said she will likely draw from that adversity as she heads to New York following her graduation in May.

“First, (I want to) make the team and just keep developing my game before the season starts so they can see that they didn’t draft me for no reason,” Young said. “I’m trying to transition into a (small forward), also. I can’t just be a one-way player. I have to be able to transition to multiple spots to be on the floor at different times.

“It’s not too bad because a lot of people didn’t know that I can shoot the 3, I just never had to,” Young said. “I’m looking forward to being able to go to another team and show them from the beginning that I can shoot outside the arc and I can get to the basket when I need to.”

From the streets of Del City to the bright lights of New York, Young’s future looks almost as bright as the lights in Madison Square Garden. But where most fairy tales end, Young’s is just beginning.

“I’m excited to see all the big buildings and how fast their life is moving,” Young said. “Coming from here, you don’t see all that. Seeing a horse on the street is normal where I’m from. Going up there and seeing all the traffic, it’s pretty exciting.”