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Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2008

Athletic bloodlines

Olajuwon, Bulger, Paris grew up in sports-filled households

March 20, 2008

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It's easy to see where some of the players with big-time family genes in this year's NCAA women's tournament got their passion for the game.

Abi Olajuwon, Meg Bulger and Carlee Roethlisberger grew up around famous relatives.

Courtney Paris and twin sister Ashley were too young to see their NFL All-Pro father play, and tragedy came between Candice Wiggins and her dad, but tremendous athletic ability was there to be molded.

All five players will be in action when Stanford, Oklahoma and West Virginia compete in the women's NCAA tournament that begins Saturday. And if fans look closely, they just might see some family ties.

The 6-foot-4 Olajuwon traveled with father Hakeem when he was playing for the Houston Rockets and becoming one of the NBA greats.

Olajuwon isn't the best-known Sooner who comes from an athletic family.

Courtney Paris, a 6-4 All-American center, and 6-3 sister Ashley, a junior forward, have been around sports for as long as they can remember. Their father, Bubba, won three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers.

"I think just when you grow up in a family with people who value athletics and value the time that can be put into it to really become as good as you can be, you know how important it is and you see the passion in it," Courtney said. "If you're for it, then you're going to be a better player."

Courtney was National Player of the Year as a soph and recorded a double-double in a record 90 straight games.

Sometimes, though, getting out of the family's shadow is a little tougher. Carlee Roethlisberger is the Sooners' 6-1 freshman forward. Big brother Ben led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the 2006 Super Bowl title and just signed a multimillion-dollar contract.

"I always want to make a name for myself," Carlee said. "I want to do my own things, but I don't mind being Ben's sister just because I'm so proud of him."

Like Roethlisberger, Meg Bulger grew up surrounded by athletic family. Older sister Kate was the No. 4 career-leading scorer at West Virginia. Marc, one of her three brothers, is a quarterback for the St. Louis Rams.

Wiggins didn't really get to know her father, former major league baseball player Alan Wiggins. After years of abusing drugs he died of complications from AIDS at 32, a month before Candice turned 4.

"A lot of children grow up without a father or lose a father, but not everyone loses a father under the circumstances I lost mine and it's in the spotlight," Wiggins said.

Wiggins, a 5-11 guard, will be trying to lead Stanford back to the Final Four for the first time since 1997. She committed herself to restoring her father's image. She wore a T-shirt for practice early that season that read: "No doubt about it. My health. My sport. My victory. I compete clean."

"That will always be my legacy and his legacy, just making sure we can be good role models for people," said Wiggins, also referring to big brother, Alan, who played at the University of San Francisco. "The situation I'm in, using it to motivate people, and if my story inspires anyone then that's great."

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