Lynx center Nicky Anosike grew up in a Staten Island housing project in New York City with seven siblings. Her single mother Ngozi, who worked several jobs, always told her children never to leave their apartment to play. It was too dangerous.
Basketball, though, enabled Nicky to escape through a scholarship to the University of Tennessee. She made the most of her chance, in the classroom and on the court. Others noticed.
Anosike on Sunday was named the NCAA Woman of the Year at an awards banquet in Indianapolis, from among 345 nominees. That field was whittled to nine finalists on Oct. 1.
"I feel really honored," said Anosike by phone from Israel, where she is playing basketball during the WNBA offseason. "I'm only the second basketball player to win it. It makes it special that it is an all-around award, not just for basketball, not just for academics."
Rebecca Lobo of Connecticut was the first basketball player chosen for the award in 1995.
Anosike, whom the Lynx picked early in the second round of the WNBA draft in April, graduated from Tennessee in May with honors and majors in legal studies, political science and sociology. She hopes to be a lawyer someday.
As a senior in the 2007-08 season, Anosike was the captain of a Lady Vols team that won its second NCAA title in a row. She also worked with community organizations that distributed turkeys and toys to needy families in the Nashville area.
Her mother and legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summit accepted the Woman of the Year Award in place of Anosike in Indianapolis.
"Both of them are extremely similar women who persevered no matter what," Nicky Anosike said. "My mom was a huge influence on me until I was 18. And Pat continued to be tough on me, not settling for anything less.
"In a way, I'm upset I cannot be there. In another way, the people responsible for making me who I am can accept it on my behalf. So it worked out perfectly."
Besides, Anosike was sick Saturday night and had to miss her Israeli team's first game. She has played in three of its scrimmages, scoring 27 points in one.
After the WNBA regular-season ended, Anosike was named to the league's all-rookie first team. Although a little undersized for her position at 6-2, Anosike started every game for the Lynx and averaged 9.2 points. She led the team in three statistical categories, averaging 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.3 blocks.
"That [WNBA award] meant so much to me," Anosike said, "being taken 16th in the draft and coming back one of the top five. I know I have a lot more work to do. But this was a first step."
The NCAA award was a second. The ceremonies in Indianapolis will be shown on ESPN2 on Dec. 5.
"I didn't know enough about the [Woman of the Year] award until I researched it," Anosike said. "Some great people have won it."
Last year's winner was swimmer Whitney Myers of Arizona.
Anosike, who played in the shadow of 6-4 Candace Parker at Tennessee, had to submit a letter about herself when she was nominated for one of the NCAA's most prestigious awards. In part, she wrote:
"Leadership through example makes a difference. I have had opportunities to learn this lesson, most recently as I helped lead the Lady Vols basketball team to its eighth national championship.
"I was not the superstar; I did the unglamorous work that wins games and brings success in life. Some of our most effective leaders are not in the spotlight but lead by example through hard work and dedication.
"This assertion reflects who I am and what I hope to become."
Little wonder Don Zierden, the Lynx coach, marveled at Anosike's toughness underneath the basket throughout her first season.