By Jack Williams
Mostly a bench-warmer as a freshman last season, 6-4 Sonja Mallory, all of a sudden, has produced 100 points, 43 rebounds-and a whole lot of hurrahs-in Georgia Tech’s six-game winning streak in women’s basketball.
And take it from those who know her best, the Yellow Jacket coaches, Mallory’s best is yet to come.
The young player’s sudden rise to star status has been one of the most compelling stories of the women’s season-but please, don’t mention the word “star” to Mallory. She has absolutely no ego and gives all the credit for her success to her coaches and her teammates.
“Because I have good coaches and good teammates, my game is now coming together,” she said this week. “Last year, it was a challenge learning the system and learning about the Atlantic Coast Conference, in general. I would sit on the bench and envision myself doing some of the things the best players in the ACC were doing. Little by little, I now am incorporating those things into my game.
“I have a new confidence-maybe too much. The coaches probably think I try to do too many things.”
Coach Agnus Berenato and her assistants, in fact, hope Mallory does a lot of wonderful things in crucial ACC games coming up at home this weekend. Tech (9-3, 1-1) will try to extend the win streak against Florida State at 7:30 p.m. Friday night and against Virginia Sunday afternoon at 1. Both contests will be played at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and both will be televised on Fox Sports Net South.
Mallory and her teammates scored their biggest victory of the season Tuesday night when they defeated North Carolina, 82-75, on the Tar Heels’ home court in Chapel Hill. Mallory played a key role with 15 points, two rebounds and two blocked shots.
“That game was an example of why you play basketball-to experience the thrill of winning a big game on the road,” Mallory said. “When we walked off the court, I turned to my teammate Alex (Stewart) and said, ‘This is the best feeling in the world.'”
Mallory predicts a wide-open ACC race with more upsets on the way. “Truly, any team can beat any other,” she said. “You have to be ready everytime you step on the court. Already, Clemson has beaten the favorite, Duke, and then Clemson turned around and lost to FSU.”
Mallory’s surge to prominence gives Tech renewed hope heading into the big games. The big center from The Bronx, N.Y., now averages 13.2 points and 3.3 rebounds a game. She also leads the Tech team in blocked shots with 16.
Strangely, Mallory attributes much of her new-found success to a couple of players on another team, the power-packed Tennessee Vols.
“I worked at a summer camp during the off-season,” she said. “Tamika Catchings and Ace Clement of the Tennessee team also were on the staff. At lunchtime, while others were resting, they would go at each other in a one-on-one drill. I could not believe their intensity. The drill showed me how hard you have to work to be good at this game. Now, I have stepped up my preparation. I work much harder.”
Mallory never played basketball until her sophomore year in high school (Brooklyn Technical). “I became interested in the sport because my cousin, and best friend, Charisse Conanan, was a high school player,” she said.
Mallory performed well at Brooklyn Technical and definitely made up her mind to pursue a college career in the sport. She became interested in Georgia Tech because her older sister, Jeanette, had attended the Institute and later did graduate work at Georgia Tech Lorraine in Metz, France. Jeanette now has completed her studies in electrical engineering and is employed by a company in New Jersey.
“Jeanette led me here. Then I saw the program and really liked the coaches and the team chemistry,” she said. Sonja still marvels today at the team chemistry. “All of us in the program will be lifelong friends,” she said.
Mallory comes from an athletic family. Her father, Eugene, played basketball for an Air Force team in Thailand. “He still has an old newspaper article about that team,” she said. Sonja’s older brother, Ojai, played football at Morgan State and her younger brother, Jaikp, takes part in a number of sports.
But it is the study of things scientific-not sports-that seems to best identify the Mallory family. Sonja’s father is a computer systems engineer and her mother, Josephine, is a fourth grade teacher. Sonja studies chemical engineering at Georgia Tech, following in the footsteps of her sister, Jeanette, who majored in electrical engineering, and her brother Ojai, who studied mechanical engineering. Younger brother Jaikp wants to become an airline pilot.
“When we had discussions at brunch in my family home, we always wound up talking about scientific things,” Sonja recalls. “Many families talk and even argue about sports. We always argued about some theory or some math project. It was a family way.”
Sonja has not yet decided what career she might pursue. “It would be nice to play basketball overseas,” she said. “I definitely want to travel and see many different lands.”
Mallory has become quite fond of Atlanta and might like to make the city her permanent home. “I enjoy the diversity of the city,” she said. “Coming from New York, I am used to hustle and bustle. But Atlanta offers another side, too, a quieter side.”
When she finds time away from the routine of Georgia Tech study and basketball, Mallory enjoys shopping and reading. “I used to read a lot of mysteries,” she said. “Now mainly, I just read the Bible.”
Mallory stays busy, too, reading scouting reports on her ACC opponents. Her No. 1 goal is to help keep Tech in the win column and headed toward the NCAA Tournament.