May 18, 2010

By Andy Johnston
Special to

There's no way Lenka Broosova was going to leave her Kevin Garnett jersey back in Waco, Tex.

The No. 1 singles player for top-ranked Baylor packed it and plans to wear it around Athens, Ga., proudly displaying her Boston Celtics allegiance as she and her teammates play for the NCAA women's tennis championship.

"Actually Kobe is my favorite player, but I don't have a Kobe jersey and the Celtics are my favorite team," Broosova said. "They play great team basketball. They're not selfish. It's great to watch them play."

She was introduced to basketball by her father Miroslav while growing up in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, but she first turned to dance and then to tennis.

Broosova signed with Baylor in 2006 and quickly grew accustomed to college life in the United States, and her love for the NBA flourished.

"She's loved the NBA for a while, but I think she jumped on the Celtics bandwagon when Garnett was traded there (in 2007)," Baylor coach Joey Scrivano said. "As a longtime Celtics fan, I welcomed her on board."

Broosova insists she'll be more focused on the tennis court than the basketball court, even though her Celtics are playing the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals this week. Instead, her mind will be on leading top-seeded Baylor (29-2) through the final four rounds of the NCAA Division I women's tennis championships, beginning with a match against 16th-seeded Texas (19-5) at 6 p.m. (Eastern) Thursday.

The Bears had never reached the top spot in the rankings before this season, but they've won 23 consecutive matches, including 4-0 victories over Northwestern State and Tulsa in the first two rounds, and are in the Sweet 16 for the sixth straight season.

"Lenka is one of those special players who knows what they want, and they go after it 100 percent," Scrivano said. "When she first arrived on campus, she saw the national championship trophy the (men's tennis team) won in 2004 and said, 'Hey, let's win one of those.' She's become a part of our athletic program and helped build our program. She's a program builder. She's helped put Baylor tennis on the map."

Broosova said she had never been to Waco, or even the U.S., before signing with Scrivano. He had been tracking her juniors career for "a long time" and went to Slovakia to meet with her and her parents, thinking he'd introduce himself and make some progress toward coaxing Broosova to play at Baylor.

"We'd been talking for a couple of hours and she says, 'Where do I sign?'" Scrivano said. "That's the kind of attitude she has. She made her decision. She liked what she saw in Baylor and she was ready to commit."

Broosova said, "I haven't regretted it. It's been great."

She has become part of a group that resembles a United Nations contingent more than a tennis team. Her eight teammates are from Hungary, Italy, Poland, Germany, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Canada and the U.S., but they've formed a team that hasn't been defeated since Feb. 26 and has lost only one point in its past 10 matches.

Broosova is 31-6 in singles and has combined with Csilla Borsanyi for a 25-4 record at No. 1 doubles this season.

"I've improved my game this season," Broosova said. "I was more of a grinder and tried to break people down. I'm mentally tough, which allowed me to do that. Now I have bigger strokes and I'm winning more points with my forehand and my serve. I'm more aggressive. That's been a big improvement."

Scrivano said: "She's the ultimate competitor. No player I've ever coached competes better than her. Her intangibles are off the chart. She's like having another coach on staff because her tennis IQ is amazing. She learns real quickly and has a real understanding of the game. Combined with her competitiveness, that makes her special."

Now, with only a couple of weeks left in her college career, Broosova is looking toward turning pro. As evidenced by her love of the NBA, she's more than adapted to the U.S. and Texas - she's embraced them.

"My friends say I'm very Americanized," Broosova said. "I like it here and I want to stay here and live here after I finish college. (America) has been great for me. I want to stay here as long as I can."