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From Paper Thin To Rock Solid

"Don't worry; I'll take care of her," Michael said.

At TCU, Sandora had bouts of emotional unevenness, and they translated to unevenness on the court. She was a loner, and her coach, Jeff Mittie, initially found it hard to earn her trust. She would hang 20 points on the board one night, and then go into a funk the next. Mittie noticed that the unevenness often had to do with whether she had been able to reach her mother.


Texas Christian's Sandora Irvin, left, set the NCAA career record for blocked shots in January. (Sharon M. Steinman -- AP)

"She didn't fight through adversity," Mittie said. "One thing would ruin her for two or three days."

But over the next three seasons, Irvin gradually acquired an emotional consistency on and off the court. She reestablished her relationship with her mother, who was living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Michael Irvin kept his promise to look after her -- and more. He or his wife were at virtually every game, and Daughn came up from Florida when he could. She ended her junior season on a streak: in 15 consecutive games, she posted double figures in both scoring and rebounding. Old hurts healed.

"I think she used to resent it, and used to struggle, but those things have all improved since she got to college," Mittie said. "They don't go away. Sometimes life is easier for some people than others. But I think she's come to grips with that. She kind of came to grips with the idea that, okay, I grew up a little different, there were challenges. But I'm where I want to be and accomplishing things I want to in life."

This season, Irvin has come into her own and been a night-in, night-out force. She averages 20 points, 12 rebounds, 4.7 blocked shots, 2.2 assists and 2.4 steals per game. And she has had her biggest games against the biggest competition. She led TCU to upsets over Georgia, and Michigan State, and hung 21 points and 16 rebounds on Tennessee. She had a career-high 32 points against Oklahoma in December, along with 18 rebounds, and in January she set an NCAA record with 16 blocks against Alabama-Birmingham. At one point, she was averaging more blocks per game than 299 other teams across the country.

If Irvin were playing for Tennessee, or Connecticut, she would be a lock for national awards. Instead, she has struggled to be noticed, and may have to settle for being the best player you've never seen -- unless you can catch a quick highlight of the Conference USA tournament which starts today, or perhaps in the NCAA tournament, where the Lady Frogs are likely headed. Still, Irvin may well be a first, as she predicted: TCU has never had a consensus all-American in women's basketball. But surely Irvin has earned it.

"I just don't think there's a player who affects both ends of the floor like she does," Mittie said.

Meantime, Irvin has grown ever closer to her family. She often spends the night at Michael Irvin's house, and his children don't miss her home games. On senior night, several Irvins were in attendance, including Michael -- and Daughn. "I see myself in her, and he sees himself in her," Daughn said.

She has also stayed in steady touch with her mother. "She's trying to get herself together," Sandora said. "I talk to her almost every day. She's real proud." As for the past, "I just try to take it as a blessing," she said.

That's what a game can do for a kid.


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