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2010-11-11

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Have a little faith: How Veronica Hicks will put the Wolverines on her back

Ariel Bond/Daily
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By Kevin Raftery, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 10, 2010

There's a poster hanging in junior point guard Courtney Boylan's locker. It’s been there for inspiration since her freshman year.

“I’ve always, always looked up to her as a role model,” Boylan says of the basketball player in the poster.

But this poster isn’t of one of her favorite players from when she was a kid. It’s a poster of her teammate, Veronica (Roni) Hicks.

"I always just thought if Roni is in the gym, then I need to be in the gym," Boylan said after practice last Wednesday. "She's always getting shots in. That’s kind of the reason I put her poster in my locker. She’s a vocal leader. That girl does not want to lose. She’s competitive as hell. That’s kind of always the mentality that I wanted to have too.”

Boylan isn’t the only Michigan player who looks up to Hicks. Ask nearly any player about Hicks and the answer will sound familiar — she is always working hard and looking out for her teammates.

Hicks’s disciplined mentality comes through in the classroom, too. She has taken classes every summer since she’s been on campus so that she could graduate this spring with a degree in industrial and operations engineering.

It might seem odd that a player would have a poster of her own teammate in her locker. But get to know Hicks, and you just might consider grabbing one for yourself.

A Natural Gift

From the get-go, Luther Hicks could tell that his daughter had talent. When Veronica was only three years old, he took her out to a parking lot near their Chicago home with a little ball — the type that you would find in a basket at the end of the toy aisle at Target. He told her to bounce the ball in front of herself and try to dribble. Luther leaned against the nearest tree and just watched. The rest was up to Veronica.

“As soon as I told her, she took off running on what I guess would be her first fast break,” Luther said in an interview with the Daily. “She dribbled with one hand in front of herself on a dead sprint and did not lose the ball. I was stunned, because I never showed her anything. It was just natural.”

Veronica downplayed the significance of the event.

“I’m always just like, 'Well Dad, I’m pretty sure there’s some energetic three-year-olds running around,' ” she joked on Monday. “But you got to love that he’s proud of me, and I really appreciate his support.”

Natural ability or not, Hicks played a variety of sports growing up. She took up tennis, swimming and karate, and even had a brief stint in cheerleading. But by sixth grade, she knew which sport was hers.

She started playing competitively at her school in seventh grade and soon after began playing AAU basketball. That’s when her commitment to basketball started to get serious — she played on an AAU team that featured players now playing at Notre Dame, Ohio State and Indiana.

“Competing with them every day, you had to get better,” Hicks said. “I just loved to play, and I played whenever I could.”

Hicks quickly began to utilize her potential. By the end of her freshman season in high school, she was on the varsity team at Thornwood High in suburban Chicago.

“(Getting moved up to varsity) really showed me that I could compete at a high level,” Hicks said. “Just being able to see the competition and what it’s like in the playoffs was huge.”

Two weeks into her sophomore year, she had taken hold of the starting point guard position. By the end of that year, she already had offers from 39 different universities, including some Division-I programs. But Michigan was not one of them.

At the beginning of her senior year, she finally received a letter from the Wolverines, and it was different from the others.

“They sent us more than just a regular envelope,” Luther recalled. “They sent her a big manila envelope, and in it they wrote things that they appreciate about her character, her athletic ability and her academics. It was a very nice package.”

Just a couple of months later, Veronica signed her letter of intent to play for Michigan. Luther, a Northwestern grad, was ecstatic that his daughter would be playing in the Big Ten. With a little faith, the decision was a no-brainer for the Hicks family.

“Everyone recognizes the block ‘M’,” Veronica said. “It’s a big symbol both athletically and academically, and I knew I wanted to play in the Big Ten. I really wanted to go somewhere where I could thrive and not really have to be at odds with teammates over certain things. We’re a praying, playful family, and we prayed about it. It was just meant for me to be here. God sent me to Michigan so I just came.”

And when she came to Ann Arbor, she made sure that she didn’t leave her faith behind.

Living through faith

It’s a pretty common sight to see an athlete listening to his or her iPod before a game.

But take a look at what Veronica Hicks is listening to, and you might do a double take.

“It’s funny because she’s pretty quiet before games,” Boylan said. “She always listens to this one Christian song that gets her super pumped up. She just goes to the corner of the locker room and starts rockin’ out to her Christian music.”

For Hicks, "Rain Down on Me" by Lonnie Hunter serves more of a purpose than to just pump her up.

“When I’m on the court, sometimes I just feel like I don’t even want to be the one in control,” Hicks said. “It’s kind of like, ‘You know God, if you want to take over from here and just do what you do through me, go ahead.’ So it just kind of gets my spirit into it.”

It’s faith that motivates Hicks every day. Growing up in a tight-knit family, religion was always important, as her parents, Luther and Brenda, made sure that she was exposed to faith at an early age. Veronica began going to church with her family as soon as she could walk, and she attended a Christian grade school through sixth grade.

“She keeps her eye on God,” said Tasha Harris, Veronica’s older sister. “That helps us stay grounded and loving. She finishes what she starts and she is a woman of God.”

A similar tone rings true in the locker room, as Hicks leads the team in prayer before each game.

“I know that where I am right now is because of God,” Hicks said, “and that’s why I’m always very confident and optimistic because I have a strong faith that everything is going to turn out for my good.”

A confident leader

Michigan coach Kevin Borseth experienced Hicks’s confidence the first time he met with her in the fall of 2007. Borseth knew little about her because he, too, was new to Michigan. He was hired at the start of Hicks’s freshman campaign.

“Roni set up a meeting with me, and I just thought, ‘Oh boy, here comes another meeting where the player’s going to tell me that they deserve to play,’ " Borseth recalled on Monday. “But she just said, 'Coach, all I can tell you is that one of these days you’re gonna look down on the bench and you’re gonna say, 'I need to get her in the game.' ' And that kind of brought a smile to my face.”

That confidence has only increased since Hicks’s arrival at Ann Arbor. She has improved in nearly every statistical category in each of her first three years at Michigan. But this year, Hicks still has some unfinished business.

“I’m grateful for the stage I’m at right now, but there’s still things that we haven’t accomplished. There’s some championships I’d like to get, some goals I’d like to achieve on and off the court. I haven’t graduated yet, so I’ve still got to do that. I’d like to bring a championship to Michigan before I leave it, and since it’s my last year, it has to be this year.”

Because of its youth and the fact there is only one senior on the team, many will question Michigan’s chances for success this season. But that one senior is Veronica Hicks.

And sometimes you just gotta have a little faith.