When Toni Young wanted to quit basketball as a Del City high schooler, her older brother, Michael, wouldn’t let her.
So it was only fitting that Michael was sitting by Toni’s side Monday night when the Oklahoma State product reached the sport’s pinnacle, hearing her name called as the seventh overall pick by the New York Liberty in the WNBA Draft.
When the announcement came, Michael was Toni's first hug. And moments after gracing the stage, Michael was her first shout out.
“Thank you for all of this,” Toni said as she turned toward her brother during a live interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe inside the draft room, “and the great opportunity that you pushed me into.
“The situation that he’s helped me get into is a blessing, honestly. That’s my best friend, and that’s the one person that I wanted here with me tonight.”
Toni enters the WNBA after a wildly productive four seasons in Stillwater, becoming just the second player in OSU history to record 1,000 points, 700 rebounds and 100 blocks in a career. And she capped it off with a stellar senior season, averaging 16 points and 10.1 rebounds per game and earning unanimous first-team All-Big 12 honors.
The 6-foot-2 forward is most lauded for her raw athleticism and spectacular ability to out-jump opponents for rebounds. But because of her lean build, Toni has also been working to her expand her game to the perimeter so she can play the small forward position at the pro level.
Toni joins a Liberty squad that reached the playoffs last season and is led by guard Cappie Pondexter, who averaged 17 points and five assists per game in 2012. New York is coached by former NBA All-Star Bill Laimbeer and also added Texas A&M post Kelsey Bone with the No. 5 overall pick in Monday’s draft.
“I think I fit in good,” Young said. “I bring a different type of game. They’re a great team and they’re behind a great coach. I’m really excited to play for them.”
And to reach this point in her career, Toni could always rely on Michael for guidance.
She can’t really point to a large list of common interests — besides basketball — as the reason why they get along so well. They just think about life in the same way, Toni said. And Michael's consistent motivation helped them create the close bond they share today.
“And it’s not a parent,” Toni said. “Your parents always support you and tell you what you want to hear. But him, he just tells you what it is and what you need to do.”
Michael never missed a game during Toni’s freshman and sophomore seasons at OSU. Then he moved to California, but was able to fly out to Dallas when the Cowgirls played in the Big 12 Tournament last month.
Getting across the country to watch Toni play inside Madison Square Garden this summer will be an even tougher challenge for Michael. But Toni knows Michael’s support will continue as she takes the next step on the basketball journey he helped her begin.
That made Monday night’s draft ceremony special for both sister and brother.
“To be able to spend this moment with him and show him how much I appreciate him,” Toni said, “I know he’s loving it right now. And I’m loving it just as much as he is.”