Shalonda Enis, 24, started playing basketball at age 12 at her middle school in the small northeast Texas town of Celeste. She led Trinity Valley Community College to the National Junior College Athletic Association championship, in 1993-94. She then finished her college career at the University of Alabama. In 1997, she was the Seattle Reign's second No. 1 pick in the ABL draft. The Mystics drafted Enis in the second round (13th overall) of the 1999 WNBA draft.

From Celeste, Tex., to the Mystics:

I didn't start playing basketball until I was in the seventh grade. It was in gym class. I didn't like it. I really got frustrated because I couldn't shoot a left-hand layup. My coach [Susan Morton] will tell you that I almost quit because I was like, "This is too hard." I just felt like I wanted to learn quickly and it wasn't coming to me the way I liked it. It just wasn't a fun sport to me at all at first.

My coach decided to make me focus on hitting backboard shots. I could hit a backboard shot from anywhere. I played on the seventh grade team. We lost one game in the seventh grade and won all of our eighth grade games.

I made the varsity in the ninth grade. But it was kind of intimidating because I had a lot of seniors on my team. We probably lost about eight or nine games. We went to the regionals and got beat in the first round. [In addition to basketball], I did track. I ran the 200 and 400 relay, did the triple jump, high jump. I did different things, different years.

In my sophomore year, I was pregnant so I didn't play basketball the majority of that year. I had my son in December. I came back later and played. We went to the regionals and got beat in the first round again. So everyone said I wouldn't make it after that, having a child, you know. My grandmother [Margie Evans] sat me down and she gave me this long speech and she told me to hold my head up high and never look down and just go out there and play as hard as I can and show everyone that because you made a mistake doesn't mean that you can't make it. So I went out and I had a point to prove.

[In her junior and senior years, Enis led her team to consecutive state titles, losing just one game in her final two seasons. After graduating in 1993, she went to Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Tex.]

Junior college was a hard thing. It's a lot of selfish play because everybody is trying to get to that next level.

My first year [at Alabama], I think we lost eight or nine games. I cried every game we lost because I was not used to losing. When I lost my junior college championship, I hadn't lost but three games in four years. So I was just not used to losing. I was just distraught. I couldn't handle it. I wanted to win so bad.

I never really enjoyed basketball until I played pro. That's the first time that I really could say, "I love this game." That's probably because every other time, it was demanding. When you go to college, it's hard to go to school and then have to play. For me, I had a child at a young age and I always had in my mind to support him -- "This will get me through school. This will help my mom so they won't have to pay for me to go to school." [School] was always like a job.

But once it was a job, it was enjoyable. It was like, "I really am getting paid." It made it that much more delightful. Who wouldn't want to work out and compete like this and get paid for it?

CAPTION: Shalonda Enis, above as a Texas high school freshman in 1989, was the 1997 ABL rookie of the year.