Olympic Trials: OSU basketball standout Toni Young might be an Olympian — in the high jump

Young, who starred in track and field at Del City High School, will be competing in the Olympic Trials on Thursday in Eugene, Ore.
BY ANTHONY SLATER, Staff Writer, aslater@opubco.com Published: June 27, 2012
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photo - Oklahoma State women's basketball player Toni Young poses for a photo at the high-jump bar in Stillwater, Okla. Monday, June 25, 2012. Young qualified for the U.S. Olympic track and field trials after deciding on a whim to give the high-jump a try.  Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma State women's basketball player Toni Young poses for a photo at the high-jump bar in Stillwater, Okla. Monday, June 25, 2012. Young qualified for the U.S. Olympic track and field trials after deciding on a whim to give the high-jump a try. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

With each passing year, the two-sport athlete fades closer to extinction.

Gone are the days of Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson, scoring touchdowns in the NFL and hitting homers in the major leagues. Long forgotten is Julius Peppers, who dominated offensive lines for the North Carolina football team while getting significant minutes for its legendary basketball squad.

Facing increased pressure, advanced technology and specialized coaching, young athletes continue to get pushed toward one sport, often encouraged to master a specific position.

But sometimes, like in the examples above, talent trumps trends.

Such is the case for Oklahoma State's Toni Young, an All-Big 12 scholarship basketball player turned All-American walk-on high jumper.

“Basketball is my real love,” Young said. “But I like them both.”

Months after completing her junior season for the Cowgirl hoops team, a successful one that ended with an NIT title and MVP (she averaged 20.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in six games), Young walked into the OSU track office to meet with head coach Dave Smith and jumping coach Zivile Pukstiene.

Neither had seen her jump — Young hadn't competed in three years — but both had heard the high school legend and seen the famed video. The one where Young, as a senior at Del City, shattered previous high school records with a 6-foot-4 high jump, which was more than two inches higher than the current OSU record.

“I saw the YouTube video of her jumping six-four,” Pukstiene said. “That's basically all I knew about her. I knew she was capable of going to dunk and jumping 37.5 vertical.”

In reality, the sell was easy.

Coming out of high school, Young could have hand-picked any school for a track scholarship.

“Some coaches, big coaches in the United States said, ‘Wow, she is talented, she could be the best high jumper probably in the United States,'” said Pukstiene.

But while Young liked track, it was always going to be basketball.

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