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      Fr. John Whiteford [frjohnwhiteford@...] has sent you an article from DallasNews.com.


      Story: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dallas/sports/miscellaneous/reading/stories/062903dnspoaycock.2d68e.html

      Former Lincoln star now serves a higher goal

      When the shots stopped falling, Angela Aycock walked into a new life


      By BARRY HORN / The Dallas Morning News

      High above the playing floor of the sold-out college basketball arena,Sister Paula of the Protection of the Virgin Mary Convent had to bepraying for a miracle.

      All she wanted was to remain invisible.

      Draped from head to toe in a black habit, she hardly melted in with theupper-deck crowd of frat boys, sorority girls and rabid alums.

      Rod Mar / The Seattle Times
      Angela Aycock now goes by "Sister Paula."

      It didn't help that she stood 6 feet, 2 inches.

      A 29-year-old novice nun still feeling her spiritual way, Sister Paulahad come all the way from her convent in western Canada for a halftimeceremony to retire the jerseys of two University of Kansas women'sbasketball players.

      One belonged to Tamecka Dixon, two-time conference player of the yearand a star guard in the Women's National Basketball Association.

      The other jersey that would go up on the wall of honor in storied AllenFieldhouse, alongside those of Wilt Chamberlain, Lynette Woodard andDanny Manning, also was worn by a former conference player of the year.

      It belonged to Sister Paula.

      Or Angela Aycock, as she was known at Kansas and back home in SouthDallas.

      Sister Paula didn't want to be there. She didn't want to give up herdays and nights at the convent devoted to prayer. She and her skepticalabbess had to be talked into it through weeks of delicate negotiations.

      In the end, it was agreed that Sister Paula would attend if she remainedin the shadows, attracting no attention.

      So when Angela Aycock's No. 12 jersey was honored in February, theannouncer informed the roaring crowd of 16,300 that she could notparticipate in the ceremony because of religious obligations.

      The announcer did not point out that in an upper-deck portal, SisterPaula was watching in silence.

      Sister Paula was relieved, she later told her former Kansas coach whohad demanded her presence, that not a single soul had intruded on her 15minutes.

      Her only public comment came in a news release issued by the school.

      "God willing," she was quoted as saying, "many more young women will beinspired and challenge themselves as well as others not to limitthemselves, but strive for excellence in all things."

      Soon after the ceremony, Sister Paula was off to the next stop on herjourney – a visit to a convent in West Virginia.

      There Sister Paula divided her time between prayer and diligently making chotki, the prayer rope fingered by Russian Orthodox Christians in silentdevotion.

      Just what inspired a black, Baptist-born, former All-America basketballplayer to walk away from her game to seek a monastic life in theultra-traditional Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, Sister Paulawon't explain.

      She refuses to talk publicly.

      Anything she says would attract unnecessary attention, violating herdesire to achieve absolute humility, an important element in anymonastic life.

      "I'll tell you this, Angela's has been such an unusual journey," saysMarian Washington, the Kansas coach for 30 years who would not hold theceremony without her.

      The bond established when the coach recruited the All-America playerfrom Dallas' Lincoln High School in 1991 has remained strong.

      When Angela Aycock played in the American Basketball League and the WNBAand traveled overseas to compete professionally in Italy, Greece, Spain,France and South Korea, the telephone was their umbilical cord.

      They talked for hours. Early on, the conversations were primarily aboutAngela's game and the loneliness of the road. They evolved into sessionsthat focused on Angela's search for spiritual peace.

      On this April afternoon, Sister Paula remains but a phone call away.

      The coach picks up a telephone to inform Sister Paula an interview isabout to take place.

      "Dear," Washington begins as she tells her former player she is going toshare what she knows of Angela Aycock's spiritual sojourn from SouthDallas' hardscrabble Turner Court Housing Project toward a monastic lifein a foreign-sounding church.

      Soon after, the coach returns the phone to its cradle.

      "Parts of her life have been a living hell," Washington says. "I know ofnothing like Angela's story."

      Standing out

      In a high school basketball world where stone-cold jump shooters orpowerful rebounders or sleight-of-hand dribbling artists are revered,coaches worshipped Angela Aycock.

      Back at Lincoln, where she played from 1987 to 1991, she grew into oneof the best players to ever come out of Dallas.

      Ron Wurzer / Seattle Times
      Angela Aycock, with Rhonda Smith, didn't post the numbers she did as a Jayhawk as a member of the Seattle Reign.

      As a junior, she averaged 34 points per playoff game and carried Lincolnto the 1990 state Class 4A semifinals.

      In a game against Carter the next season, Angela scored 50, grabbed 27rebounds, made 22 steals and passed off for 10 assists.

      She was tall and strong and blessed with a hurdler's powerful legs. Shecould play every position from point guard to center. And she could playevery one of them better than most anyone.

      Her summer AAU team at the Red Bird Recreation Center was among the bestin its age group nationally. The roster was a "who's who" of top highschool players from Dallas and its suburbs.

      "But Angie stood out," recalls Roosevelt Riley, who coached the Red Birdteam. "I told my girls, 'You can all play, but not in Angie's league.' "

      Angela was in a league of her own off the court as well, Riley says.

      "I had a team of mostly tough inner-city kids, but no one came from anytougher place than Angie. She was from the heart of the 'hood. But ... Icould take her anywhere, and she could blend in. She was smart andsensitive. She always listened."

      Colleges craved Angela.

      Her high school and AAU games became a hub for the country's top collegecoaches.

      "On the recruiting circuit, she was gold," says Michael Abraham, then anassistant coach at Oregon State who unsuccessfully tried to recruitAngela and later served briefly as her agent. "If there was a No. 1 kidin the 16 years I recruited Division I, she would be the one. She wasamazing."

      All the more amazing because Angela never played competitive basketballbefore the ninth grade.

      At Florence Middle School, she only ran track. Her specialty was thehurdles.

      But no matter how impressive her times, she was undisciplined andfrequently in trouble.

      "She was rebellious; she'd fight with other girls and boys," says TonyaAycock, Angela's older sister. "She skipped school. She was suspendedfrom junior high for fighting."

      Tonya, 33, says her sister might have flunked out of school and confinedher running to the streets had she not met a kindly delivery driver whonoticed her one afternoon in a neighborhood gym.

      Wilbur Lewis still spends much of his free time pushing South Dallasgirls toward basketball because, he says, there are so many "baddiversions down here in the ghetto."

      The first time he saw Angela, he knew he had come upon a special talentand asked if she had ever played competitive basketball.

      "No," she said.

      He asked if she knew anything about it.

      "Nothing," she said.

      It took all of Lewis' powers of persuasion to convince Angela to givebasketball a serious shot.

      Together, the delivery driver and the basketball neophyte worked in thegym before the other girls arrived and stayed long after they left.

      On Saturdays, when the recreation center gyms didn't open until 9 a.m.,Lewis would pick up Angela two hours early in his red truck and head tothe playgrounds, where there were no doors to keep her from her lessons.

      It wasn't long before teacher and pupil began cruising neighborhoods insearch of pickup games where Angela could put her lessons to work.

      "She could whup the girls," Lewis says. "When we needed competition, wewent after the boys. She could be physical with the boys. I never sawher back down from anyone. ...

      "It was a beautiful thing to be part of."

      'I can't get out'

      But life was hardly beautiful for Angela. Even basketball brought herlittle joy.

      Quiet and reserved with people she did not know, Angela had always beengood at keeping her feelings locked inside.

      Brad Loper / DMN
      Teena Aycock has no idea what prompted her daughter to enter a convent of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

      In February 1991, as Angela's senior season at Lincoln was finishing, The Dallas Morning News assigned a reporter to profile the bestplayer on the best team in the area.

      It was supposed to be a feel-good, happy tale about a young girl well onthe road to success.

      But reporter Debbie Fetterman found only a sad young woman who offeredlittle more than cryptic remarks about a painfully unhappy existence.

      The News' story on Angela Aycock ran under the somber headline,"Trapped by Her Talent."

      In it, Angela credited Lewis for rescuing her from the streets andpraised another man, Willie Stovall, her sister Tonya's father, forhelping out financially when he could.

      There was one reference to her biological father. She said she rarelysaw him. There was no mention of her mother, who had raised her invarious Dallas housing projects.

      The recurring theme of the story was the intense pressure Angela felt.

      "There's no way out," a teary-eyed Angela said. "The sky is coming down.The walls are coming in. The floor is coming up. I feel like I'm insolitary confinement. I can't get out. People think they understand, butthey don't."

      Carmen Hardcastle, the Lincoln coach at the time, says outsiders beganwhispering unsolicited advice about what college the star should attend.

      Angela's family believed Hardcastle was trying to ride her star player'scoattails to a college job.

      Some teammates were unhappy that Angela received so much credit andattention for Lincoln's success.

      Wilbur Lewis, who in addition to tutoring Angela worked with otherLincoln players, says his prize player "had a lot of friends but didn'thave a lot of friends, if you know what I mean."

      Stuck in the middle was Angela, who began running from recruiters'pitches.

      "There was just so much pressure on her," says Hardcastle, now a highschool coach in Delaware. "She became sullen starting at the end of herjunior year. In her senior year, she became more and more withdrawn."

      Coach and star player stopped communicating.

      At home, Angela and her mother, Teena, almost never saw eye to eye.Sometimes their arguments escalated into physical confrontations.

      Hardcastle says that on several occasions, she had to drive from herCedar Hill home to try to restore peace in the Aycock apartment.

      Some nights Angela sought serenity in her AAU coach's home. More often,she retreated to the serenity of the suburban home of one of her AAUteammates – Alana Slatter from Richardson Pearce.

      Slatter says Angela preferred not to talk about her home life in the"three or four days a week" they spent together throughout their highschool years.

      "She's a very guarded person," says Slatter, later a teammate at Kansas."I don't know if she ever let any of her teammates in."

      And there was more than petty jealousies, recruiters pulling her andproblems at home affecting Angela's life.

      In the same Morning News story in which she complained of feelingsuffocated, Angela lamented the deaths of three friends who had "takenthe wrong path."

      She refused to identify them or say how they died. She said only thatthey showed her where not to venture.

      "I'm terrified of what they've done," Angela said. "There are so manybad roads and only one good path. ... I dread going to the oppositeside. I see now what I would have been like."

      Those who remain closest to Angela aren't sure exactly which friends shemight have been referring to.

      They suggest several.

      Chocolate, 20, a stabbing victim, could be identified only by hernickname. Her former Lincoln coach couldn't remember Demetric Guinyard'sname.

      Sandra Boyd, who played at Lincoln with Angela, was 19 and pregnant whenshe and her 17-month-old son were shot and killed in their South Dallasapartment complex after violence erupted at a nearby dice game.

      Quincy Porter, 19, who played football at Lincoln, was simply in thewrong place at the wrong time when a bullet ended his life. Lincoln'sDonise Angton, 20, and Antonio Clayton, 18, were killed in a hail of 30bullets outside a neighborhood beer store.

      "That's the type of environment we grew up in," says Kendrick Jackson,who dated Angela in high school. "Everybody was doing everything. Wewere good children who were sometimes influenced by bad people."

      All died, however, after Angela made her cryptic reference. Theywouldn't haunt her until later.

      But David Duffie, whom Angela played basketball with at Rochester Park,was killed as she was finishing her junior year of high school. Duffie,20, was shot in what police believed was a drug-related incident.

      Two days earlier, Darius Harris had been shot in the back. He was 17.

      Angela and Darius had been schoolmates until he dropped out and startedrunning the streets and hustling.

      "But Darius knew Angie was getting out," says Angela's sister Tonya. "Helooked out for her to make sure nobody messed with her. They were close."

      And in 1985, just before her 12th birthday, her friend Dale Patterson,with whom she often got into mischief, fell off his bicycle and was runover by a bus close to their homes.

      By the spring of her senior year, Angela, her stomach in knots, hernerves on edge, had to be admitted to a hospital for tests. No oneremembers the diagnosis, but everyone remembers she had to wear a heartmonitor for some time.

      "You never saw a girl who appeared to have so much in that kind ofnervous condition," says Willie Stovall.

      Happy in the heartland

      Marian Washington won Angela Aycock for Kansas at the eleventh hour of therecruiting season.

      Washington's assistant had been baby-sitting Aycock through the finaldays of the process in April 1991. He called from Dallas to tell hisboss he had lost Angela to rival Nebraska.

      She dropped everything and caught the next plane to Dallas.

      Reed Hoffmann / Special to DMN
      Kansas' Marian Washington would not retire jersey No. 12 without Angela Aycock, who sat silent in the upper level as she was honored.

      Washington talked to Angela for hours, their first meaningfulconversation beyond the baseline.

      She found a recruit "with no confidence in any decision she was beingasked to make." Washington says she "worked hard" to help Angela "seewhat a beautiful person she was." The coach says getting away fromDallas was the perfect tonic.

      By all accounts Angela's four years at Kansas were a happy time, perhapsthe happiest of her life.

      Angela started every game as a freshman and averaged 10.3 points and 5.2rebounds per game. She was named team captain as a sophomore. As ajunior, she was the Big 8 co-player of the year. As a senior, sheaveraged 23.1 points and 7.3 rebounds and made several All-America teams.

      When a teammate needed extra practice time, it was always Angela whovolunteered to stay and help. The All-American spent endless hoursrebounding errant shots of benchwarmers trying to improve their games.

      She helped Kansas recruit, always willing to show high school starsaround the campus and tell them why Kansas was the school for them.

      When Jennifer Trapp, a local high school golden girl, chose to stay hometo play at Kansas, Angela, two grades ahead, took her under her wing.

      It seemed like an odd undertaking. The street-smart girl from thesingle-parent home in Dallas, helping to make the hometown hero,daughter of a local assistant district attorney and a dental hygienist,feel at home.

      But Angela went out of her way to ease Jennifer's transition.

      "Angela always helped her a lot," says Jennifer's father, Rick. "Angelawas the team's spiritual and emotional leader. Jennifer always told ushow much Angela meant to all the girls."

      In lighter moments, Aycock, Tamecka Dixon and Charisse Sampson wouldentertain teammates with their impersonation of the Supremes. Always,Angela would step out of character and assume the brassy Diana Rosspersona.

      "I can't explain to you how much everyone liked her," says Koya Scott, aPlano East graduate who followed Aycock to Kansas and is now anassistant coach at New York's Fordham University. "She was so very easyto talk to. She was a typical college kid except that she never did thedumb things typical college kids did."

      Angela's academic mentor found the creative writing major to be "verybright, very creative, very kind and very funny."

      "Angela never spoke ill of anyone," says Dr. Renate Mai-Dalton, anassociate professor of business. "She always wrote a lot but very rarelyshared her writing.

      "And she always said, 'Thank you.' You'd be surprised how many neversay, 'Thank you.' "

      On the night her jersey was retired, Angela may have offered her biggest"thank you" to Mai-Dalton when she asked her mentor to stand in duringthe ceremony.

      Angela grew so fond of Marian Washington that she once consideredleaving the program because she thought some of her teammates were notshowing proper respect for the coach.

      Washington says that in addition to her basketball talent, Angelabrought a tremendous sense of guilt to college.

      "Young people like her feel guilty because they have such anopportunity. They ask, 'Why me? Why am I so lucky to be here when myfamily and friends aren't?'

      "It's so hard for so many to see their futures when they are draggingtheir pasts."

      Washington says she had to pay particular attention to Angela after shereturned from trips to Dallas. The coach came to dread them.

      "When she had a good trip, it carried over," Washington says. "But whenshe had a bad experience, she'd relive it and other bad experiences overand over. ... There always seemed to be an event. It wasn't like shecould get through a year without something happening."

      'Take good care' of her

      The hand-printed sign on the front door of the Aycock apartment in theTurner Court Housing Project reads simply: "Please Do Not Disturb ThisHousehold."

      In the living room, family photos cover the walls to the extent avisitor would be hard-pressed to identify the color of paint beneaththem.

      After first telling a reporter she had no interest in discussing herdaughter, Teena Aycock had a change of heart.

      "I know people have told you I'm tough and I'm crazy," she had said overthe telephone. "Come on down and meet me."

      This day, Teena Aycock, a crucifix dangling from her neck, sounds toughonly when the subject is the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia andthe possibility that convent life may force her daughter to eventuallysever ties with her family.

      "It's very upsetting," she says. "They better take good care of my baby.... They can't keep me from my baby. ... They can lock her in a convent,but I'll jump the fence. ... After all, I'm the one who gave birth toher."

      Teena Aycock says she cannot understand where all the talk of teenagefriction between her and Angela originated. She loves Angela, and Angelaloves her.

      "End of that story," she says.

      The story is, she says, her daughter grew up a tomboy who never stayedin the apartment. On the other hand, she was also sensitive and enjoyedreading the poetry of Maya Angelou and writing her own.

      Teena Aycock says she has no idea what prompted her daughter to enter aconvent, "although she has always been spiritual and was easily hurt."

      Like so many others, Teena Aycock mentions that death may have affectedher daughter.

      "One of her best friends committed suicide," her mother says. "She wasso upset."

      Mother and daughter didn't have a serious theological discussion untilAngela left for Kansas.

      "One day she called me to ask me where God started out," Teena recalls."I told her I couldn't answer a question like that. I told her to lookin the books in the library."

      Evans Caglage / DMN
      Father Seraphim Holland helped lead Angela to a monastic life.

      Willie Stovall says he was surprised one day when Angela, home fromcollege for a few days, brought religion into their conversation.

      "She mentioned she was looking into Islam," Stovall said.

      He had never known Angela to be religious or much of a churchgoer.

      "I don't remember us ever going together other than when our grandmotherdied," says her sister Tonya.

      Transition to pros

      If Angela's high school and college careers were measured in headlines,her professional basketball career could be measured in agate – the tinytype that reports players' comings and goings on waivers as well asfree-agent signings.

      "It was like Angie had other things on her mind," says Michael Abraham,the former Oregon State assistant, now an agent with a large clienteleof WNBA players.

      In two full seasons with the Seattle Reign of the American BasketballLeague, Angela averaged 6.4 points per game. She was enjoying her bestseason, averaging 8.7 points, when the league folded early in her thirdyear in December 1998.

      It only got worse in the WNBA.

      She was placed on the Minnesota roster in May 1999 ... traded to Phoenixin October ... and given to Seattle in an expansion draft in December.

      She played one game with Seattle in 2000 before the team waived her ...then was picked up by Minnesota and played three more games that season.

      Her WNBA career statistics: 12 games, 43 minutes, 0.3 points per game.

      Her play puzzled those who knew her best.

      Renee Brown, the WNBA's vice president of player personnel, had been anassistant coach at Kansas.

      "I'll never know why she didn't do better in the WNBA," Brown says. "Ialways wondered if she was simply afraid to do better."

      Kevin Cook, who recruited Angela for Kansas, invited her to try out forthe Houston Comets in 2001. The assistant coach called her in France,where she was playing for a second-division team in Reims, but shedeclined.

      "By that time, she was searching for something higher than basketballcould give her," Cook says. "She had lost the fire in her belly. It wastime to move on."

      The seminal moment during Angela's professional career, however, did notcome on the court. It came at a house in Lawrence, early in the springof 1998.

      On a March morning, ex-teammate Jennifer Trapp, 23, put a gun to herhead in her parents' home and pulled the trigger.

      The suicide rocked the Kansas women's basketball program, which only thenight before had held a banquet celebrating Marian Washington's 25thyear at the school. Jennifer was there. Angela couldn't make it.

      "I know Angela had taken Jennifer's death hard," says Jennifer's father,Rick, now the sheriff of Douglas County, home of the University ofKansas. "Angela wrote a poem for the memorial service. It moved us all."

      What Sheriff Trapp didn't know was that on the night before she pulledthe trigger, his daughter had phoned Angela.

      "It doesn't surprise me," the father says, his voice a whisper.

      Tonya Aycock can still remember the pain in her sister's voice whenAngela called to tell her of Jennifer's death.

      "She told me she should have known," Tonya says. "She talked to her thenight before. She should have known. She could have done something.

      "It had such a terrible effect on Angie, such a terrible effect. Shenever talked much about anything. But she talked about this. It took amajor toll."

      It wasn't long before Tonya began receiving telephone calls with adifferent message from her sobbing sister.

      "I'm ready for God to take me," Angie would cry into the phone. "I'mready for God to take me."

      Stranger in strange land

      The professional basketball landscape is far different for women than formen.

      To supplement their incomes from the U.S. leagues, women often playoverseas, where the money is better. But it comes at a price.

      "The women are away from home, and loneliness becomes a huge factor,"says agent Michael Abraham.

      "Often, there is only one American on a team. The girls have no one totalk to. Very often the only other foreign player on a club team inEurope or Asia is an Eastern European player. There is little socialinteraction. No one you know sees you play. There is no gratificationfor playing other than the money. It can be a very lonely life.

      "My guess is that when Angie was overseas, she kept mostly to herself."

      Abraham estimates that a player of Angela's caliber earned up to $8,000a month in Europe. He says he once negotiated $10,000 a month for her toplay in South Korea.

      No matter where she played, Angela was never far from the telephone.

      Friends and family report similar conversations.

      The woman who rarely attended church growing up in Dallas and was notinvolved in groups such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes incollege was becoming more and more focused on religion.

      "I wasn't too surprised," says Mai-Dalton, her academic mentor. "Angelaalways had a lot of faith. She was not religious in terms of showing it.It was always on the inside. She yearned for a peaceful, beautiful lifefor as long as she can remember."

      Teena Aycock recalls one phone call in which Angela asked if she hadever been baptized.

      "I said, 'Sure,' all my children were baptized," Teena says. "She saidshe didn't remember. I said, 'If that's what you think, go out and bebaptized again.' "

      Marian Washington says, "Most of what we talked about wasthe Bible and what God intends for us to do with our lives and how hehelps us get through challenges. Very often we would get something toread and read it together. That way we could be miles apart and in thesame place."

      Tonya Aycock believes an interpreter assigned to her sister in Europeintroduced Angela to the Orthodox religion. She says her sister became afrequent visitor to churches and cathedrals around Europe.

      Angela loved the beauty she saw in Orthodox icons. She covered the wallsof her apartment with them.

      When Angela played in Reims, she chose to live across from the city'sfamed cathedral, which dates to the 13th century. It was in theCathedral at Reims that 17-year-old Joan of Arc stood at the side ofCharles VII when he was crowned King of France in 1429.

      Angela told Renate Mai-Dalton she especially liked the Orthodox litany.It allowed her to focus.

      Her calls had a different tone.

      "She started telling me how much she wanted to please God," Tonya says."She told me she was changing ... changing into somebody else.

      "One night she asked me about salvation. We talked for hours and hours,and we cried for hours and hours. It was that night she told me shereceived Jesus Christ as her Lord and savior."

      When Angela began asking theological questions her sister could notanswer, Tonya suggested calling her minister at Rhoads Terrace BibleFellowship.

      The Rev. E.D. Charles says Angela wanted to know his thoughts onOrthodoxy.

      "She was struggling with the group of believers she was talking to," hesays. "Our conversations were centered on faith. She was looking for akind of discipline to keep her life in line. She seemed very vulnerable.I thought we were connecting. But she found something else thatinfluenced her in her most vulnerable time."

      Orthodox mentor

      Father Dositheos, the Greek Orthodox abbot at the Monastery of the HolyArchangels in the Texas Hill Country town of Kendalia, thought it odd whenhe took Angela Aycock's call in 2001.

      "I said, 'Wow, what's a basketball player doing calling me from France?'" he recalls.

      Angela explained that she had been using the Internet to help her studyOrthodoxy.

      Her research initially led her to a convent in northeast Pennsylvania.The abbess there told Angela that because she was from Dallas, she mightbe better off calling someone closer to home and suggested FatherDositheos' monastery about 40 miles north of San Antonio.

      Father Dositheos was impressed with Angela's questions. He liked hersincerity. The two talked on and off for about a year.

      Angela told Father Dositheos she was beginning instruction to convert tothe Orthodox faith.

      "She said she had read extensively about the Orthodox religion," hesays. "She felt it was right for her. She said she was tired of otherdenominations and how they preached the Gospel."

      Back from France last spring and living in Dallas with her sister Tonya,Angela traveled to Kendalia to meet with Father Dositheos.

      She told him that as soon as her conversion was complete, she hoped toenter a convent.

      Father Dositheos disapproved.

      "I told her I thought she was rushing things," he says. "I wanted her toconvert and live in the Orthodox church, live the Orthodox life forseveral years and then make a monastic decision.

      "She didn't want to hear it. She said she was ready."

      Except for a Christmas card, that was the end of their relationship.

      "There are two things you can't tell anyone," Father Dositheos says."You can't tell somebody who they should marry, and you can't tellsomebody whether or not they should become a monastic."

      By this time, Angela was spending many of her waking hours deep inprayer.

      "She told me there has to be prayers going on all the time," MarianWashington says. "She said that if it weren't for prayer to combat sin,she didn't know where the world would be."

      When Tonya returned home from work, she'd frequently find her sisterstanding in a large walk-in closet reading a Bible or praying.

      Angela would pray for hours, standing rigidly, never slouching, neverresting. All the discipline and physical training from basketball wereserving a different purpose.

      It was about that time Angela turned her full attention to anotherchurch she had found on the Internet – St. Nicholas Russian OrthodoxChurch.

      Housed in a tiny white building behind All Saints Episcopal Church offAbrams Road, just south of Mockingbird Lane, the smallest Orthodoxcongregation in Dallas-Fort Worth, unlike its sophisticated Web site, isnot easy to find.

      Father Seraphim Holland, its pastor, says the church has about 30regular parishioners, most of whom, like himself, are converts toOrthodoxy.

      "We believe everything in life should be done to know God intimately.... A large part of what we practice is contrary to the Americanlifestyle. ... There is something very permanent in Orthodoxy thatattracts true believers."

      There is no official communion between the uncompromising RussianOrthodox Church Outside Russia and other Orthodox churches, let aloneother Christian denominations. The ecumenical movement is consideredheretical.

      "They are our Bible Belt fundamentalists," says Professor PaulMeyendorf, academic dean at St. Vladimir's Orthodox TheologicalSeminary, the suburban New York training ground of the more liberalOrthodox Church of America.

      "People who convert there and then enter the monastic life are usuallypeople who want to escape this world," he says.

      Father Seraphim says members of his church simply believe "everything inlife is to know God intimately. ...We are not a Wednesday night andSunday afternoon religion. The idea is that anything worth having isworth working at."

      Father Seraphim says he saw nothing unusual in a young professionalbasketball player searching for life as a monastic.

      "It was a very personal thing for her," is all he will say specificallyabout Angela. "I can tell you that she has found true peace. What'simportant in a person's life is not their past. My job is to care abouther now."

      Father Seraphim gave Angela a key to his church, where she spentcountless hours alone in prayer.

      Angela's family says she became so enthralled with Father Seraphim andhis teachings, they didn't know what to expect when it came time to meethim at Angela's catechumen, her public acceptance of Orthodoxy, lastsummer.

      All they really knew was that Angela had told them she would be leavingsoon for a faraway convent.

      She told them that she didn't know when she might see them again andthat she would be dividing all her worldly possessions among them.

      They knew, too, she would be taking a new name, Paula.

      For a while, they suspected Angela had fallen in with a cult.

      "We had heard so much about Jim Jones and David Koresh," says TonyaAycock. "We all went to the service to see if it was legitimate."

      What the Aycocks witnessed was a traditional Orthodox service in theicon-filled, one-room church. Their fears were assuaged.

      Not long after, Angela was off to Bluffton, Alberta, to sample life atthe Protection of the Virgin Mary Convent.

      It was there that she chose to be baptized Paula in reverence for St.Paul.

      Father Seraphim traveled to Canada for the baptism in December.

      Father Seraphim says he is "touched by how deeply and sincerely Paulawants to change her life.

      "And that's not from profligate to good, but from empty to fulfilled."

      Sister Paula has since returned twice to Dallas. She was here inFebruary, driving down from Lawrence before the jersey retirementceremony for a one-day visit.

      "She told me this is as close as one could get to God and still be ofthis earth," her mother says.

      She returned for several days in April, staying mostly in her mother'sapartment, while in the process of transferring to another convent.

      She seemed different this time. More spiritual. More distant.

      A Russian Orthodox priest who is a former monk, explained that in thepath Sister Paula has chosen, she would "give up this world, includingultimately her family."

      It could be five years before Sister Paula's hair is cut in a tonsureceremony, leading to her becoming a full-fledged monastic nun.Washington, her Kansas coach, is comfortable with Angela's decision butwishes Sister Paula could use her talents to work with children. FatherSeraphim says that is not an alternative in his church.

      When Angela left Dallas two months ago, she didn't give her sister aforwarding address.

      The only indication Angela gave of what she believes is to come is whenshe told her sister, "This is the beginning of the end of time."

      When they hugged for a final time, Angela squeezed so tight, Tonya iscertain she knows what it meant.

      "I don't believe we'll ever see her again," Tonya says. "But I reallydon't know what to believe anymore."

      Her family simply hopes their Angela is happy and has found the peaceshe has been searching for.

      Before she left, however, their Angela made a special request. She askedfor some pecan pie to pack away on her journeys.

      "In our world," Tonya says, "it was always her favorite."

      E-mail bhorn@...

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