Oct. 17, 2013
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Before Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims and Sophia Young and Steffanie Blackmon, there was Sheila Lambert.
Part of coach Kim Mulkey's first recruiting class in 2000, the 5-foot-7 point guard would help transform a team that had finished last in the Big 12 and won just seven games the year before.
"At the time, Sheila Lambert was equivalent to what (senior All-American point guard) Odyssey Sims means to our program now," Mulkey said. "Sheila could have gone anywhere in the country. And for us to be able to get her - obviously it came from (Bill) Brock) having coached her and me recruiting her while I was at Louisiana Tech - but she could just do so many special things with the ball in her hand. She could really throw that pass and get people open shots, but she could score as well."
With Lambert running the show at the point guard position, the Lady Bears were a combined 48-15 over the next two seasons and made the first-ever NCAA Tournament appearances.
"Those were probably the best two years of my life," said the 33-year-old Lambert, who is part of the 2013 induction class that will be honored at the Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame Banquet on Friday. "They hold a place that can never be replaced."
A two-time junior college All-American at Grayson County College in Denison, Texas, Lambert joined his coach, Brock, and Grayson teammates Brooke McCormack and Carla Mathisen.
"It's a process that I will always remember when we all took a recruiting trip to Baylor," Lambert said. "Coach Kim looked at me and said, `You know, we're on this recruiting trip together. Basically, this is my first time getting to see the Baylor campus. This is your first time getting to see the Baylor campus. And hopefully at end, we can all make something happen.' We took that trip, and everything was brand new to us. It just felt like home. It felt safe. I can't even explain the feeling of that day."
When Brock had asked her if she would consider following him to a four-year college, Lambert said, "I didn't hesitate, no question in my mind. . . . I want to be a part of success, and you're like a father to me. We've done this together for the last two years, let's make it four. I was like, yeah, let's do it. It was kind of a package deal. We all came together, and the rest was history."
As a junior, Lambert earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, first-team all-conference and third-team All-America honors. She averaged a conference-high 22.1 points per game and set a Baylor single-season record with 182 assists, helping the Lady Bears to a 21-9 record and their first NCAA Tournament berth. While the educational transition was "a bit of a culture shock," Lambert said it was "kind of an easy transition" on the basketball floor.
"I just loved playing ball - anywhere, with anybody - it was just my thing," she said. "It was my passion and I loved it. Whatever I needed to do to succeed, I would do."
The following season, Lambert averaged 19.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.2 steals while also breaking her own single-season assists record with 216. In leading the Lady Bears to a 27-win season, a runner-up finish in the Big 12 and their first NCAA Tournament win, she was named a Kodak All-American, won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award and was a finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year.
"I don't realize it until people actually bring it up," said Lambert, when asked about being part of the Lady Bear legacy that has produced two national championships and eight Sweet 16 berths in the last 10 years. "I just had a love for the game and where it was going to take me. . . . Man, those days can never be played back. We did a lot of firsts, and I'm proud and honored to be a part of those two years I was there with us making history. It was definitely fun."
Despite playing just two seasons at Baylor, Lambert still ranks among the program's career leaders in points (17th, 1,315), scoring average (4th, 20.9), assists (7th, 398) and assists average (1st, 6.3).
Drafted by the Charlotte Sting with the seventh pick overall, Lambert's pro career was hampered by a knee injury that she suffered at a 2002 all-star game. But she played parts of four seasons in the WNBA, averaging 4.2 points and 1.7 assists for Charlotte, the Houston Comets and Detroit Shock.
Back in her hometown of Seattle, Wash., Lambert is working as an education and employment coordinator with the Civic Justice Court, helping "get them back ready for the world and comfortable and know that everybody deserves a second chance."
And while her professional basketball days are over - she had a knee surgery two years ago - Lambert played in a local basketball tournament last weekend.
"My game is nasty," she said. "But it's been a ball, just being able to still get out there and run up and down. It's a lot of fun."
While Lambert said she was "in a little bit of shock" when she got the call about the Hall of Fame induction, Mulkey said she is definitely "deserving of it."
"She is one of, I hope, many to come in the future."
Joining Lambert in the 2013 class are Texas Rangers outfielder David Murphy (baseball), veteran NBA center Brian Skinner (men's basketball), track and field All-American and NCAA champion quarter-miler Brandon Couts and football's Jerry Marcontell and Walter "Pinkie" Palmer.