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Saturday December 4th

Out of the Bahamas, Rolle making her mark at UNC

Waltiea Rolle leads the ACC in blocked shots with 68 this season. DTH File/Jessey Dearing
Buy Photos Waltiea Rolle leads the ACC in blocked shots with 68 this season. DTH File/Jessey Dearing

Life in the Bahamas never fostered Waltiea Rolle’s ambitions of becoming a basketball star. In fact, it never even introduced her the game.

But that could not deter the scouts who recruited her to come play high school ball in the United States in 2005.

“They had a vision that this kid can be a great basketball player,” her high school coach Reed Sutton said. “Before she ever did.”

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When others looked at the 14-year-old with a basketball, they saw the beginnings of a star. Rolle didn’t have visions of grandeur.

She looked at a basketball and saw the beginnings of a new life.

“At home, there was nothing you could do besides finish high school and lay around and do nothing,” she said.

“It was an opportunity to come here.”

Tabula rasa

Rolle, a 6-foot-6 freshman forward, leads the conference with 68 blocked shots, averaging 2.4 per game.

Rolle’s 6-foot-11 wingspan challenges anyone who dares to impose on UNC’s basket. Though she averages only 7.1 points a game, defenders struggle to protect the rim against her physical presence.

But when Rolle arrived at Westbury Christian School, a high school in Houston, the game was as new to her as the country.

“I kind of remember her being wide-eyed and asking a lot of questions,” Sutton said. “I couldn’t understand a word she was saying.”

But with a player discovering a new game, a new country and a new family, Sutton didn’t have reservations. He didn’t just see a rough draft or a blank slate. He saw a canvas.

“The truth of the matter,” Sutton said. “You’d almost prefer it when they’re young and big like that, that they come in not knowing anything. That way you can mold them from scratch.”

Rolle quickly became formidable in the post, exhibiting the athleticism necessary to run the floor and the coordination to contest shots.

She began to draw attention from Division I schools and All- American honors.

And through it all, she developed a love of the game — even though it had loved her first.

“I never thought about those that began playing before me,” she said. “I just wanted to go out and play.”

Learning curve

At North Carolina, Rolle has continued learning. She is fouling less, playing more minutes and showing greater discipline on blocks.

“It’s not getting easier,” she said. “I’m understanding the game better than I did before, but it’s not getting any easier.”

At any rate, she’s making the lives of opponents difficult. Against Miami, she recorded career-highs of 20 points and 13 rebounds.

“I’ve never even heard of anyone starting to play in high school,” teammate Cetera DeGraffenreid said. “Not anyone I’ve played with. It’s amazing to see the kind of player she is now; imagine what she could have been if she was playing her whole life.”

But Rolle doesn’t consider what could have been. That includes the life she left behind or what may have unfolded if she was left untouched by basketball.

“At first I did miss (the Bahamas),” she said. “That doesn’t matter anymore.”

After graduation, she would like to pursue a professional playing career. She also envisions working as a nurse in Africa.

Recently, Rolle caught up with her former high school basketball coach about a few other goals.

“She was still talking about trying to get to San Antonio,” Sutton said. “After losing six games in a row, she was still talking about the Final Four.”

No surprise. To Rolle, the future is a blank canvas where anyone can start from scratch. All it takes is for someone to recognize the vision.

“You know,” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “She’s going to be a force before it’s all over.”

Contact the Sports Edito at sports@unc.edu.

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