March 31, 2010
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - While sitting out the 2008-2009 basketball season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules, Mekia Valentine faced a challenge off the court much greater than anything she could have faced on the court.
She lost her mother, Lillian, to cancer. Making the situation even more difficult was the fact that Valentine was thousands of miles away from her family and hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina.
Before becoming a Gaucho, Valentine started to consider transferring to UC Santa Barbara from Wake Forest after hearing about it from a friend who recommended UCSB as a school that would fit her unique talents on the court and in the classroom.
"I knew not only that she was tremendously talented, but that she'd have a difficult time ahead," recalls head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. "One of the things I told her is that I knew she would be embraced by the team and community here."
Valentine has endured a difficult year, but you would never be able to tell by the way she has played basketball. She fell just short of averaging a double-double with 12.4 points per game and a team-leading 9.6 rebounds. She has gained notoriety around campus for her ability to block shots.
She set a school record with 120 blocked shots, which was good enough to lead the Big West, and more than any other team in the league with the exception of UC Riverside. In comparison, the player with the second most blocks in the league finished with 34.
Although this season ended a little earlier than usual for UCSB after falling to the top-seeded UC Davis basketball team in the semifinals of the Big West Tournament, Valentine is optimistic about the team's potential.
"We've worked really hard to define the team we have, and at the end of the day, we're a family," said Valentine. "That's how we've won games."
With Valentine leading the way, the team has the potential to regain its place at the top of the Big West.
"Her intensity comes through on the court the same way her magnetic persona does off the court," explains Gottlieb. "Everyone sees it."
Note: Mekia's 20 Questions will be posted soon.