Opponents have finally learned not to challenge Texas Christian senior forward Sandora Irvin. "Players won't bring the ball inside against us anymore," she says. Then she pauses. "Well, I guess they shouldn't bring it in anymore." That's because Irvin is a veritable wall as the Lady Frogs' last line of defense. Last Saturday, in a 74--64 win over Memphis, she broke the women's Division I record for career blocks, surpassing the previous mark of 428 set by Cal State--Fullerton's Genia Miller from 1987 to '91. After Monday's win over Saint Louis, Irvin's total sits at 442.
But the 6'3" Irvin is not just a defensive specialist. She's a smooth post player who spent last summer working on her three-point shooting (she's made more this season, 15, than she did in her first three combined) and her ball handling, and she averages 20.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, 4.9 blocks and 2.3 steals. "As good as she is at blocking shots, I'd rather have her on the offensive end," says Georgia coach Andy Landers, whose then No. 3 Lady Bulldogs were upset by TCU in a November game in which Irvin had 28 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks. "She can put the ball on the floor, shoot off the move and take you inside."
Irvin's accomplishments are more remarkable given her childhood in Fort Lauderdale. "I basically had to take care of myself," Irvin says. "A lot of my determination comes from my past." Her mother, who had trouble supporting her, sent her to live with her grandmother after fourth grade. Her grandmother died four years later, and Irvin lived first with her junior high coach and then her high school coach before her father took her in during her senior year in high school. That season she averaged 22.2 points, 17.5 rebounds and 8.1 blocks at Fort Lauderdale High and was named first-team All-USA by USA Today.
Irvin turned down national power Tennessee to sign with TCU. Part of the appeal of moving to Fort Worth was to be closer to her uncle, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin. When he's not out of town working for ESPN, the three-time Super Bowl champ brings his wife and kids to TCU games, where he acts the part of any other fan, berating the officials and jumping out of his seat to cheer his niece on. "You think he'd be quiet because he's Michael Irvin," she says. "But, no, it doesn't stop him." He also calls regularly to offer advice.
Irvin shares not only her uncle's competitive spirit but also his athleticism. Blessed with a 77-inch wingspan, she is a unique force on the court. Last month in a win over Alabama-Birmingham, she broke the Division I mark (men's and women's) for blocks in a game, finishing with an astounding triple double--the first in school history--of 20 points, 18 rebounds and 16 blocks. "It compares to back in the Georgetown days, with Patrick Ewing," says TCU coach Jeff Mittie. "She has changed the way people attack us. Teams design plays to take her out to the perimeter."
Irvin has already caught the attention of plenty of WNBA teams, and the buzz has her as a top 5 selection in the April draft. "She's going to cross the mind of the team that has that Number 1 pick," says San Antonio Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes. Adds Charlotte Sting coach Trudi Lacey, "She has a tremendous upside with her athleticism and her agility. And she seems to have the work ethic to improve and get better."
Irvin knows that wherever she ends up, her best days are still ahead of her. "I want to be successful," she says. "I won't let anything stop me."