A Silver Lining in Turkey

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.

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DeLisha Milton-Jones could hold the secret no longer. After days of teasing a Turkish League teammate about which WNBA team she would join, Milton-Jones finally broke the news. At which point, Danielle Robinson broke into a dance.

Two friends in Turkey would soon become teammates in San Antonio, and Robinson knew the best way to celebrate. Do a little shimmy. Spin around the room. Give her friend a South Texas welcome to the Silver Stars.

Milton-Jones, 38, can hardly wait. She’s done just about everything in her career -- from capturing Olympic gold to winning WNBA championships -- but wants to burnish her legacy. She and Robinson, playing well together for one of the top Turkish League teams, want to impact a Silver Stars squad that will miss All-Star forward Sophia Young, out with a torn ACL.

“I’m sure everyone is counting us out,” Milton-Jones says. “We both want to shock the world.”

They’re not doing bad in Turkey. Robinson, a 5-9 point guard, has made a strong connection with Milton-Jones, a 6-1 forward, who is averaging 16.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game for a league contender that’s won 16 of 24 games.

Their chemistry is so strong, Robinson felt moved to describe it in an email she sent to Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes. “And that was before we even signed DeLisha,” Hughes says.

Ever since the signing, Milton-Jones and Robinson have grown closer. “She has been great with preparing me mentally for what’s to come,” Milton-Jones says. “According to her, everyone is the coolest person from our teammates to the staff. She definitely has me excited.“

Few WNBA players boast more illustrious careers than Milton-Jones. The fourth pick in the 1999 draft, she made WNBA All-Star teams in 2000 and 2007, played on two WNBA championship teams (2001 and 2002 with the Los Angeles Sparks), won Olympic gold medals in 2000 and 2008, starred on seven teams overseas and ranks among WNBA all-time leaders in scoring (8th), rebounding (7th), games played (6th), steals (5th) and minutes played (4th).

She never imagined this sweep of success growing up in Riceboro, Ga. (pop. 835). Raised by a single mother, Beverly Milton, DeLisha cut her basketball teeth on a court of dirt and tree roots. A bicycle tire nailed to a tree served as a hoop.

At 11, she nearly drowned in a swimming pool. The near-death experience inspired her to use her gifts and serve. In church, she sang with the choir and performed solos. As a teen, she grew quickly and awkwardly, her arms lengthening to a wingspan that exceeds that of many NBA players: 84 inches.

She watched in awe as Florence Griffith-Joyner sprinted to Olympic gold and records. Flo-Jo became an inspiration, a role model. “She touched me in a special way,” Milton-Jones says. “She showed me, a little old country girl with tomboy tendencies and low self-esteem, how to be graceful, ladylike and a fierce competitor. …

“I understood that for Flo-Jo to be who she was, it took a tremendous amount of sacrifice, training and discipline. That’s when my life changed and I started to blossom.”

In tiny Riceboro, a little girl dreamed but her dreams did not approach what she would achieve. “Never in a million years would I have imagined my life and career being what it is today,” she says.

The talent was there all along. So was the work ethic and drive. But the skills that made Milton-Jones into an All-Star developed over time. She credits husband Roland Jones for turning her into a stronger offensive threat. "He helped to develop my mid-range and three-point shooting," DeLisha says. "He has been a tremendous asset to my success."

Today, DeLisha is a globetrotting star with a head-turning resume: 14 seasons overseas, 12 international medals, four EuroLeague All-Star games, two EuroLeague championships. In addition to Turkey, she has played for teams in Italy, Spain, Russia, South Korea and the Czech Republic.

What’s left to do? Help San Antonio shock the WNBA world. “DeLisha will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience,” Robinson says. “She has played so many places and succeeded so many times that she knows what it takes. And the best part is that she wants to share it and make everyone around her better. She's vocal and she works harder than anyone I have seen.

“Her contributions will be huge. Her style of play fits right in with us. She’s a versatile player. She loves to run, can shoot the ball extremely well, and plays hard every possession. But I think most importantly she's a leader and she's going to make sure everyone does their job every single day. She's going to push us to be better and show us how to be better.”

Hughes adds an “amen,” and hopes for “hallelujah” -- a quick recovery for Young. “Maybe the exciting thing will be to watch Sophia and DeLisha at the same time on the floor,” Hughes says.

Soon after her tour in Turkey, Milton-Jones will touch down in San Antonio to start a new adventure. No one knows for sure what to expect. But Robinson has a good idea, and it’s enough to make her dance again.