The field general

NCAA champ Shay Doron - daughter of former Israeli Navy SEAL - is eager to take on the pros.

shay doron 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
shay doron 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Your body is telling you to stay down. Rest. You've done enough. Your right thumb is sprained who-knows how many times over, your knee is bandaged, and now the pain shooting through your elbow is too much. Pretty soon your back is going to give when you realize you have the weight of your school's basketball program on your shoulders, not to mention the expectations of your entire country. Just stay down. Your mind is telling you to listen to your body. Avoid the embarrassment of trying to fight off the pain on international television. Use common sense and let your teammates carry you off the floor to an acoustic sunset of cheering and applause. It's not how you always envisioned it; nevertheless, it's still a moment of glory on the grandest stage. Cut your losses and soak it in. Your heart isn't telling you anything. After all, hearts in the midst of battle don't speak. They act. For years you've wanted the chance to play in this game, and you're not about to give up now. You pop up from the ground and scurry over to the bench to get your elbow taped as quickly as possible. You're the leader and your team needs you. No matter how they pronounce your name, you're Shay Doron. The scene is one of exhaustion. Players sprawled out on the chairs, lying on the carpeted floor, leaning against the wall, devouring fried chicken fingers and too content not to entertain all the questions thrown at them by the horde of reporters. The players - women on the University of Maryland Terrapins basketball team - are only minutes removed from their first ever NCAA championship, a 78-75 upset victory over Duke University. One player - their leader - is yet to enter the room. Outside, Shay Doron, the only upperclassman in Maryland's starting rotation, is trying to make the walk to the locker room, but every arduous step of the way another reporter wants to find out what she has to say. To best understand Doron, the basketball player, look no further than her family. The shooting guard from Tel Aviv packs a lot of superior basketball qualities in her generously listed 1.75-meter frame. She gets her athleticism from her mother, Tamar, a former volleyball player on the Israeli national team. Her father, Yehuda, a former Israeli Navy SEAL, gave her toughness. Her high basketball IQ comes courtesy of her older sister, Netta, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania. Her devotion and loyalty has been passed all the way down from her grandparents, Aryeh and Rachel, who made the trip from Israel to see their granddaughter play in the women's Final Four in Boston. Her confidence, however, is all from within. "I'm going to be 0-for-whatever and still want the ball in my hands at the end of the game," she says one night. "I don't think anyone can stop me one-on-one in the country," she says the next night. Doron's self-assuredness is a source of inspiration for her teammates. Every time the women huddle up on the court during a game, it's always Doron barking out instructions and words of encouragement. "She's a competitor, and she wants to win," says Crystal Langhorne, Maryland's top scorer. "A lot of people say we're so young, so just having a player like Shay - somebody who's been here for three years, plays so many minutes - it really just helps us to have her on the court." "She's just going to bring so much leadership," says head coach Brenda Frese, who landed Doron as her first big recruit when she took over at Maryland four years ago. "She said 'yes' back when Maryland was not a popular choice. She took a huge leap of faith. For her to be able to believe in herself and believe in this program just shows you what an outstanding young lady she is to be able to have that kind of confidence." FOR MOST people who receive these compliments of the highest praise, the fine line between confidence and arrogance would be crossed time and again. But her ability to remain levelheaded is another characteristic separating Doron from the pack. "I just play basketball," she says. "If I can bring a few smiles to faces, then that's what I'll do." "She's a player, and she's as important as the other four on the court," says her father, Yehuda. After watching her command Maryland to the national championship in come-from-behind fashion, it's easy to forget that Doron is just a 21-year-old woman who happens to be phenomenal at the game of basketball. Had things worked out a little differently, Doron would be wearing a uniform of a different style. "I was talking to one of my friends the other day and she just finished the army, and I was like, 'Can you believe that I'm one year away from graduating, from getting my degree?'" says Doron, who left Israel following her sophomore year of high school. "I'm going through such a different experience. I have a lot of friends who go through [the Israeli army], so I can really appreciate it. And my whole family went through it, my sister included. "Who knows? Down the line I might be joining the army as well, so that's not out of the question either," she continues. "I do [feel a responsibility] to a certain extent, because obviously I love Israel and I feel like I have a duty to protect it. Athletes serve differently, and if I do serve I'd want it to be productive and not just an athlete thing where you come in and serve two hours a day. I'd want to actually be in combat or something like that." Doron admits that her desire to serve in combat could be linked to her competitive side. "I don't do things half-ass," she states, "whether it's school or basketball or anything I do in life, and that includes the army." If everything goes as Doron hopes, however, the army may have to wait. "After my senior year, I'm going to try [to make it into the WNBA]," she says. "That's been my ultimate goal… Who doesn't want to play games all day and make money for it? "I'd love to play for [the New York Liberty]," reveals Doron, estimating that she went to five of their games last season. "That probably would be the top team I'd want to play for." Whether she joins the army or plays in the WNBA, Doron keeps Israel close to her heart, and even shares her love of the country with her teammates. "We're taking a Europe trip [this summer]," says Doron, who was also a star in last summer's Maccabiah. "I wish we could go [to Israel], but with the situation there it's not very ideal. I tell them all the time, 'If you guys go, you'll love it.' I may take [point guard] Kristi Toliver this summer, just us. "I'm trying to promote it as much as possible because I know how amazing it is and people have such a bad perspective of it because all they see are sand dunes and guns and everything going on over there," she adds. "Shay loves Israel and she's very proud of her country," says Langhorne. "You can just tell by the way she talks about it." Doron says she doesn't have plans to play for the Israeli national team this summer, instead focusing on her commitment to the Lady Terps and to her schoolwork. "I'll have the rest of my life to play for the team," she says. "Hopefully they'll still want me then, but I have to finish school and I have bigger things to do here."