SAN ANTONIO -- When Morghan Medlock talked to Baylor coach Kim Mulkey about transferring from the University of Southern California two years ago, they couldn't have imagined all they'd end up going through together -- the good times and the bad.
They couldn't have envisioned Medlock would end up as kind of a den mother to a young team that made the Final Four ahead of a lot of people's "schedule" for this program. And they couldn't have foreseen Medlock would do all this after living through the intense personal tragedy of her own mother's murder.
"It was a 45-minute conversation on the phone first," Medlock recalled of initially speaking to Mulkey. "And then when I came to Baylor, we sat in her office. And I told her, 'Look, I'm a junior. I'll be 21 years old this season. Just tell me what it's going to be like here.'
"And she never promised me any playing time, that I was going to be starting, no glitz and glamour. I didn't want any of that. After talking to her, I knew that it was the place I wanted to be. I knew I would be challenged when I didn't want to be, and that's the hardest thing. Like anybody, when you don't want to do something, you're not going to do it, right? But Coach Mulkey seems to get it out of me somehow."
Medlock, a 6-foot-1 post player, has started all but two games this season for Baylor, averaging 9.6 points and 7.6 rebounds. Her work on the boards, in particular, has been crucial as Baylor has advanced in the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed. In the past four games, she has averaged 9.8 rebounds.
"I'm satisfied, because for somebody who's been through what I have, you can go one of two ways," Medlock said. "You can go with the way I'm going, or you can crumble. A lot of it is the support, and the fact that Coach Mulkey is going to push me to do things every day. She finds a way to gather up the best out of me and get me to do things I don't think I'm capable of doing."
Medlock admits she has had some days in the past 16 months when she wasn't sure she was capable of even functioning. In December 2008, when Baylor was playing in Oregon, Medlock received a horrific phone call from police in Little Rock, Ark. Her mother, Shannan Barron, was dead. Barron's boyfriend, Gerald Gallian, had shot her, then killed himself. Their bodies were found by Medlock's then-12-year-old brother, Nizhan.
Medlock got through the rest of last season despite being flooded with grief, anger and worry. She helped lead Baylor to the Big 12 tournament title in March 2009, but acknowledged she was dreading the season being over because then she would have a lot of time to have to think about her loss.
She says now, a year later, that this past summer was indeed a very difficult, painful time.
"It was awful, terrible," she said. "I didn't want to be around people. I even strayed away from my family a bit. I didn't perform in the classroom well at all. It was difficult to get out of bed.
"But somehow, I finally came out of it. The summer went by, and the season rolled around and now here I am."
In a Final Four, the culmination of an arduous journey. There were times this season when Medlock was pressing so hard, the effort was detrimental.
"Morghan went through a period when Melissa Jones was injured, and she basically was not playing very good basketball. And I know she felt it," Mulkey said. "I know being the only senior, she wanted to do well. I thought, consequently, she tried to do too much.
"Slowly but surely, with the help of the coaches, she figured it out. And we're a very good basketball team when Morghan Medlock quietly gets you a double-double. She's done that quite often in the latter part of the season."
While Baylor's freshmen, led by Brittney Griner, have garnered so much attention, Medlock has been behind the scenes helping them. Even when she struggled with her own performance, she was trying to boost their confidence.
"It's been up and down -- you have to watch what you say and do, what you wear, how you act," Medlock said. "Because you have so many young ones looking up to you. But all in all, I think they keep me young. They're really a fun group to play with."
It might sound strange for someone who just turned 22 in January to say that others help her stay "young." However, Medlock always has been a pensive person, and her reflections on life would have had the considerable depth beyond her years even if she hadn't experienced such a terrible loss.
Medlock knows very well that success in basketball can't make her sadness go away. But it has helped her cope.
"I feel like there's finally a rainbow at the end of the dark tunnel that I've been so desperately trying to get out of," she said. "I'm so excited to be here. I'm not just content to be here, because I do want to beat Connecticut and possibly win a national championship.
"But it's just nice to be around something so positive and to be with my teammates for a few more days."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.