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Saint Leo star benefits from change of scenery

One conversation almost ended Marquita Fenn's basketball career.

Told she was undersized and unproductive, South Carolina State dumped her after two seasons.

Turns out, all Fenn needed was a coach to care for her the way she cared for basketball.

Fenn found that in Chanita Olds at Saint Leo.

"At first, I was just going to give it all up," Fenn said. "I was going to give everything up. It hurt that bad to have someone tell me I couldn't play."

Couldn't play? Anyone who breezes through Saint Leo's statistics sees Fenn's name atop 11 of 22 categories.

Scoring: Fenn leads the Lions and is fifth in the Sunshine State Conference at 13.8 points per game. Rebounding: Fenn leads the Lions and is third in the SSC at 9.2 per game. Minutes: Fenn leads both at 28.7 per game.

She even earned Sunshine State Conference Athlete of the Week honors Jan. 22 after she averaged 20 points, eight rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots during a 72-70 loss to Nova Southeastern and 69-67 win against Lynn.

The 5-foot-11 sophomore forward is exactly what Olds needed to turn around a program that went 1-26 last season. Fenn was her type of athlete: gritty, strong and determined to prove the naysayers wrong.

Olds convinced Saint Leo she could turn it around in two seasons with her athletes.

Then she tried selling Fenn.

"I said, "Listen, we're going to a situation where we're 1-26 and we haven't won a conference game,' " Olds said.

" "I'm going to be honest with you. It's terrible. But we have something to build on. At South Carolina State, you were too small. You come here, and you'll be an All-American.' "

As it turns out, Fenn was the one shopping for a coach.

She finished the 2005 spring semester at South Carolina State after plenty of persuading from family and friends. No voice resonated louder than her mother, Bonita Young.

"That's my everything," Fenn said. "My mom really kept me in it."

Fenn returned home for the summer and called Dennis Cox. She learned he was no longer at Daytona Beach Community College. He was the coach at Clayton State.

Cox had strong ties to Olds, who had pieced together a 40-18 record during two seasons at Palm Beach Community College. He called her on behalf of Fenn.

"I went on the computer and learned a couple of things about Coach O," Fenn said. "Me and my mom met with her. It went from there. I felt like it was someone I really wanted to play for."

When Olds accepted the Saint Leo job in August, she had to do little convincing to get Fenn to come along. The school wasn't the selling point.

"She said, "I love you Coach,' " Olds said. " "I just want to play for you.' "

Contact Izzy Gould at (813) 909-4612 or sportsjournalistgmail.com.

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