Lyttle's path to Dream crossed Caribbean sands

Dream forward and WNBA All-Star Sancho Lyttle, 26, grew up on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. Her journey of more than 2,000 miles was full of surprises.

By Sancho Lyttle

For the AJC

Every time I look back on my life, I look back at the day I was sitting at home like every normal kid.

A girl who lived two doors down walked by like she did every day, and my mom asked her where she was going. “To practice running track for my country,” she said.

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So one day, my mom told me I’ve got to put on my T-shirt, shorts and sneakers. She sent me down to the playing field, which she could see from her house.

I walked slow. I cried the whole way. But she had put me in bright-colored clothes so she could see me. She knew if I was there or not.

I hated this, but every day she sent me. That summer was a tournament for kids under 12, and I made the team.

“OK, I’m good,” I thought. I ran everything from the 80-meter dash to the 1,500 until I was 16. I grew older and taller and represented my country in the 400 meters and 300 hurdles.

It was a freak coincidence that I came to America. I had finished high school and for a year was sitting at home. A guy in St. Vincent was just about to start a clinic in basketball. A friend of his coached in west Texas and said, “I need tall, athletic players. Send them, and I’ll teach them the basics.”

So that August, me and two other girls packed all our bikinis and short pants and came to [Clarendon College in] Texas. This is going to be really hot, I thought, and I was going to like it.

By October, it was freezing cold and snowing. I was in three layers of clothes every day.

I stayed for the opportunity. Even if I never played basketball after those two years, at least I’d have some education. There was nothing else for me to do at home [in St. Vincent]. I didn’t want to sit behind a desk or work in the hot sun, which would have been my next venture.

[After turning pro] I told my agent, “I do not want to go where it is cold. Find me a job where it’s hot and I can be comfortable.”

The first place, four years ago, was in Ibiza, one of the islands off Spain. The first year I was there it was so cold, but I could see the ocean. I told myself it was not as bad as it seemed. The weather was so good my second year.

I played in Spain [in the WNBA off-season] and won the MVP there. They approached me a lot about giving me citizenship and playing for them. I didn’t take it seriously until the end of last season.

Everybody was playing for their national team, and I wasn’t. I talked to my mom and family, and they said the opportunity may not come twice, and it was up to me. I saw the possibilities of where that might take me and decided to do it.

I have dual citizenship now with St. Vincent and Spain and an opportunity to play in the [2012] Olympics.

Everyone in St. Vincent speaks English, and the name Sancho is not common at all. When my mom, Evelyn, had me, she opened a Spanish dictionary and saw the name Sancho. She doesn’t speak Spanish, so it’s pretty random. I always say she gave me a name for the place I would go.

I try to go back [home] once a year, for at least a week or two. I fly to Miami, then Barbados and then to St. Vincent.

My next trip home, I would tell my mama to fix some jackfish, a real salty fish cooked with oil and a lot of seasoning, and some breadfruit. You have to roast it, peel it and then eat the insides.

They don’t eat a lot outside of the home. Everything shuts down at 7 p.m., and it’s not open on Sunday. So you get more family time -- that’s the biggest thing in St. Vincent.

Growing up there, I learned about hard work. Everything my family had in their whole life, they did for themselves.

My grandfather is a carpenter; my uncle is a mason; another uncle is a plumber. They helped me see that everything don’t come easy. You got to work for something that you want.

-- As told to Michelle Hiskey for the AJC

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