Not too long ago, five-year-old Chase Enis learned how to write
his name, so he proudly mailed his mama the wobbly letters he
had carefully drawn on a sheet of paper. When Shalonda Enis
opened the envelope, she nearly cried. These moments hurt the
most. She wishes she were with him for his first this, his first
that. But it helps that Chase understands why his mother is at
the University of Alabama, studying and playing basketball. She
needs to get her degree in order to support him. She plans to be
a social worker, to counsel teenage mothers.
"We'll be together. We'll have a house and live together," Chase
cheerfully tells his mother, so many miles away on the other end
of the phone line. "And we'll have a Rottweiler."
"A Rottweiler? I don't know...." Enis, 21, says.
"Mama, you gotta promise."
November 15, 1996
"O.K., a Rottweiler," she says with an exaggerated sigh. When
she hangs up the phone, she laughs. "I don't know who's going to
take care of that Rottweiler."
Home is Celeste, Texas, population 733. When Enis, now a 6'1"
senior forward for the Crimson Tide, started to play basketball
on the playgrounds of Celeste, no one was surprised that she was
a natural. Her mother, Barbara Hickman, had been known for her
defense when she played ball at Celeste High School and Ranger
(Texas) Junior College; father Kenneth Enis had been a solid
post player at East Texas State. Kenneth died from a heart
attack suffered on the basketball court when Shalonda was eight.
Says Barbara, "He died doing what he loved."
Chase lives in Celeste with Barbara. There he is surrounded by
family, including his father, Bobby Matthews, Shalonda's former
boyfriend, who lives nearby. Celeste is a 12-hour drive from
Tuscaloosa. When one of Alabama's games is televised, Chase
watches and cheers: "Throw the ball to my mama! She'll make that
Motherhood has made Enis a more determined player, not to
mention a more determined person. "When she was pregnant," says
Barbara, "I heard people say she was just another typical black
female." Adds Shalonda, "They said I was nothing, that I would
never be any good. That made me want to prove that I wasn't a
quitter. Having a child made me work much harder. I don't ever
give up. I just work hard to make it better."
Nine months into her pregnancy, during her sophomore year at
Celeste High School, Enis was still practicing with the
basketball team. On Dec. 7, 1990, Chase was delivered by
cesarean section. Two weeks later, Enis was back in uniform. She
had promised her mother she wouldn't play, but her team was down
by five and, well, she just had to go in. Enis played the final
minutes and helped win the game. The next day, when her mother
opened the newspaper and saw Shalonda's name in the box score,
the young star got in a whole mess of trouble.
That year Enis was named the district's MVP. As a junior she led
Celeste to a state championship; she also won the state Class A
triple jump championship. Celeste repeated as state champ her
senior year, and Enis was named Texas player of the year. As the
story goes, before the Lady Blue Devils won back-to-back titles,
the town was never included on Texas road maps. When Enis
brought her hometown fame, she literally put Celeste on the map.
During her senior year Enis initially signed with Stephen F.
Austin but changed her mind when the coach, Gary Blair, abruptly
resigned to take the head coaching job at Arkansas. Enis then
decided to stay close to home and attend Trinity Valley
Community College in Athens, Texas. In her two seasons there,
she scored 1,944 points and led the Cardinals to a 66-3 record
and a national title. She was named juco player of the year in
Enis was courted by several top Division I schools but settled
on Alabama because of the instant rapport she established with
head coach Rick Moody, who thought her skills would complement
those of Yolanda Watkins, the team's dominant center. At the
time, expectations were low for Alabama because three of its
starters from the 1995 NCAA Sweet 16 team had departed. Then,
before the season began, Watkins tore her right ACL and was lost
for the season. Enter Enis.
"Shalonda had always been the go-to person in high school and
junior college," says Moody. "As good as I thought she could be,
she played at a level that I didn't expect. For a player to come
into Division I, the SEC, and be an impact player right away is
difficult to do, but she had a phenomenal season." Last year
Enis averaged 23.9 points a game--while shooting 47.1% from the
field and 32.6% from three-point range--as well as 9.5 rebounds,
and was named first-team All-America.
Enis took her inexperienced Crimson Tide team all the way to the
West Regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament, where it
suffered a heartbreaking 78-76 overtime loss to Stanford. This
year four starters and a healthy Watkins return. And the bench
is preposterously deep. Enis, the headstrong team leader,
insists, "I can do better."
The Crimson Tide has never won a national championship in
women's basketball. But inspired by her son so many miles away
in Celeste, Enis is determined to get one. Says Moody, "Shay is
here to win a national championship, get her degree and go home
to be a mama. It's as simple as that."