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Playing their way through college. Basketball player making the grades

AT the Texas State Capitol there's talk of softening the state's two-year-old ``no-pass, no-play'' rule, the controversial law that automatically sidelines for six weeks any high school athlete who fails a class. Up the street from the Capitol, at the University of Texas, a star of the school's championship women's basketball team says it was a similar rule - imposed by her mother - that first taught her that athletics, no matter how important they might seem, always come after academics.

``I did my schoolwork, because my mother made it clear that if I didn't get the grades, I wasn't going to play,'' says Yulonda Wimbish, a junior guard for the crowd-pleasing Lady Longhorns.

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``They have that rule across the state now, but I've been playing with it for a long time.''

Dressed in a red-and-white striped rugby jersey, blue jeans, and red high-top tennis shoes, Wimbish resembles a lot of the 44,000 students on this huge campus. But she has a schedule that requires longer hours and stricter discipline than some students might consider fair. What keeps her going, she says, is her love for basketball coupled with her mother's philosophy, now her own as well, that her education comes first.

``Basketball is an important part of my college time,'' she says, ``but the degree is what I'm here for.''

Wimbish, who hopes to pursue a career in sports information, is on a full, four-year scholarship as she works her way toward a degree in communication. It's a challenge, she says, to juggle classes with basketball - especially during the height of the season, when practice and games can easily eat up better than 20 hours a week. But she figures she's also learning a skill that will help her once she leaves college for the working world.

``You can't run away, you have to deal with pressure on most any job, and I can tell you that you have to deal with pressure playing college basketball,'' she says with a smile.

That's particularly true for the current Lady Longhorns, who have a tough act to follow after last season's 34-0 national champions. Still, Wimbish doesn't think women athletes face the same degree of pressure that big-time male athletes do.

``Even with us at the top, I don't think the pressure is there as [much as] it is on football, say. And I'm glad women's sports is not like that,'' she adds. ``This way we do well because we want to, not because someone else is whispering to the coach, `You better do well.'''

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She started playing basketball as a child, because she thought it looked like fun, and not because anyone prompted her, says the 5-foot, 9-inch southpaw. She learned her first shots on a gravel driveway in her hometown, Victoria, Texas. She perfected her technique playing with the boys in the neighborhood.

``Most of the time I could beat them,'' she says, again smiling.

By the time she began thinking about college, Wimbish was already being recruited by a number of schools. She chose UT not so much for its win-prone Lady Longhorns, she says, as for its academics.

``I knew they had a good team and good coaches, and that was important. But I also knew they had a reputation across the country for their academics, so I figured that was my best bet.''

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