When Cypress Woods (Texas) girls' basketball coach Virginia Flores heard that a 6-foot-9 freshman had moved from Bowling Green, Ky., and enrolled at her high school, she tried to temper her excitement.
Size, even that much size, isn't everything. Flores was reserving judgment until she saw Nancy Mulkey with a basketball.
That opportunity came last fall, when basketball coaches from the University of Texas watched Mulkey go through a workout after volleyball practice. It was then that Flores knew there was much more to Mulkey than just her height.
"Most people told me that when you grow too fast for your age, your coordination doesn't have time to catch up with you," said Mulkey, who has grown almost nine inches in the past two years. "But they told me my coordination is good for how tall and fast I grew."
The coaches at Texas weren't the only people who noticed. Mulkey was one of 33 players who accepted an invitation to attend the 2013 USA Basketball U16 national team trials, which begin next week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The team will play in the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship June 19-23 in Cancun, Mexico.
"Nancy has a nice shot. She knows how to dribble," Flores said. "Even if she was a 5-8 freshman or a 4-8 freshman, she comes in fundamentally very sound. But to be 6-8 or 6-9 and come in so fundamentally sound -- it's amazing what you're able to do with someone that tall."
Mulkey thought she was in trouble when she was told to report to the coaches' offices at Cy Woods recently. Instead, they were all smiles when they handed her an envelope with "USA" on it.
Mulkey is four inches taller than any other invitee. The height that used to be a frustration now has become an asset.
"At first I didn't like it because I always wanted to fit in with other kids, and I always got made fun of because I was different than everybody else," Mulkey said.
The turning point came in seventh grade.
"Everybody got used to seeing me," Mulkey said. "At first when you see a tall person you always want to tell them, 'Oh my gosh, you're so tall' and stuff. As the year went on they're just like, 'Oh, she's just another person.'"
Her height -- she said she's approaching 6-10 and still growing -- remains annoying when it comes to buying clothes, but she's using it to her advantage on the court.
"[Opponents] just stare at me," Mulkey said. "I guess I just intimidate them. I don't have a problem with intimidating them."
The freshman averaged 9.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.6 blocks a game this past season, including a triple-double of 16 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks in a 53-37 win over a Cypress Falls team that finished 21-14 and made the state tournament.
While some tall people are forced into basketball, Mulkey enjoys the sport. Her favorite hobby is going to the gym to develop her basketball skills, and she works out to build her strength.
Mulkey also has plenty of role models around her -- her mother, 6-7 Dolores Bootz-Mulkey, is Georgia Tech's school record-holder in scoring average (18.9), career field goal percentage (59.3) and blocked shots (245). Her aunt, 6-7 Barbara Bootz, played for Georgia and was a member of the USA Women's U19 world championship roster.
Mulkey's 19-year-old brother, John, is 7 feet tall, and her 14-year-old brother, Allan, is 6-9.
And Mulkey is still figuring out how good she can be. When Cy Woods went up against Manvel and 6-3 Brianna Turner, the No. 3 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2014 class, Flores told Mulkey to note how Turner takes advantage of her size.
Mulkey not only got a pen and pad and started taking notes on the bench, she also turned to an assistant and said, "I wish I was that big."
"And we looked over like, 'You are bigger than her! You have no clue!'" Flores said. "I think she's starting to get that she's a presence on the court, and there's something special about her."
But there are other times when her youth has come in handy. Against Cy Falls, a district rival, Flores said some on the team seemed a bit intimidated. Mulkey then got a rebound, dribbled it the length of the court, pulled up for a jumper at the free throw line and scored.
"I was just like, 'What is going on here?'" Flores said. "She's competitive, and she loves the game. But at the same time I had to keep in mind this kid didn't turn 15 until February."
Mulkey's size certainly makes everyone pay attention at first -- it brought Texas to Cy Woods before she even stepped on the basketball court and has drawn Baylor to check out her game as well. But it's her ability, work ethic and competitiveness that's holding everyone's interest.
Not to mention her modesty.
"Honestly," Mulkey said. "I don't know how my name got out there so fast."