“Your Average 5′ 14″ Girl Next Door,” New Era, May 1986, 30
Across from me sits a young woman with a soft, slightly husky voice that could be the envy of any movie star. She is tan, blonde, very tall.
“Any problem being 5 foot, 14 inches, and female?” I ask.
Her eyes crinkle with quiet mischief. “Oh not at all,” she deadpans. “You just get used to sewing ruffles—a lot of ruffles—on your pant hems.”
Meet Dylann Duncan, just another LDS girl from Salt Lake City who likes romantic comedies and long talks with good friends. Who craves hamburgers and roasted marshmallows. Who hates jogging. Who could watch replays of Mary Lou Retton’s perfect vault a million times. Dylann Duncan, just another LDS girl, who also happens to be one of the most honored high school basketball players in the state of Utah.
Quite honestly, Dylann’s sports dossier reads like a page out of a Guinness Book of World Records. Examples? While attending Skyline High School, Dylann was—
Named to the 4A All-State Basketball team.
Selected MVP for her region.
Recognized as the first female to earn a career 1000 points at Skyline.
Made a member of the Utah all-state academic team.
Voted prep of the week by the Deseret News.
Chosen as a member of the prestigious Carnation and Converse All-American teams.
She also managed to letter in three sports (track, softball, and volleyball) besides basketball. By the time Dylann graduated last spring she had received over 55 letters from colleges and universities (including Stanford) expressing an interest in her. And that’s just for starters.
With stats like that, Dylann could create resentment. After all, who honestly likes someone with talent and brains and looks? Yet people like Dylann. In fact, they like her a lot—maybe because she’s always more impressed with others than she is with herself. Dylann’s mom, DeEtte, says that her daughter is baffled by the attention she has received—she doesn’t think she’s all that special. Mrs. Duncan notes that “Dylann has an uncanny ability to put people at ease and to show her love for them.”
What’s the secret to this very nice person’s tremendous success on court?
Let’s face it—being born with natural athletic ability helps. The person who trips over his own shoelaces even when he isn’t wearing any probably won’t accomplish what Dylann has, no matter how willing he is to sacrifice his body for his sport. And, as coach Joan Burdett of Skyline High School notes, Dylann has plenty of athletic ability. She comes by it naturally: Dylann’s siblings—Doak, Dixon, Deon, and Dana—are a lively, fit bunch, and dad Douglas played varsity basketball in college. It was he who helped Dylann learn some of her own inside moves under the basketball standard in front of their house.
Still, designer genes aren’t enough. Any coach can tell you that plenty of naturally gifted athletes warm the bench while others take their place. The successful athlete has something extra.
Like enthusiasm for one thing. Douglas Duncan talks about his daughter’s general “zest for life” and, as everyone who watches her play knows, Dylann crackles with excitement. Her enthusiasm, however, is not restricted to the formal boundaries of a high school basketball game: Dylann shows the same kind of enthusiasm, the same kind of intensity, at a practice. Coach Burdett says that Dylann is “willing to work and work and work at something until she gets it. I don’t think she would accept anything less of herself. She wouldn’t accept anything less than excellence.” This enthusiasm for excellence, coupled with Dylann’s ability to listen to instruction, are two big reasons for her success. Burdett, in fact, calls Dylann “coachable”—probably the highest compliment a coach can pay an athlete.
Talent, enthusiasm, coachability—all these things go a long way toward the creation of a successful young athlete. Still, these things might not have mattered had Dylann not had one more important quality.
Take just a moment now and think about the choices below:
You really want to take some art and graphics classes, but you wonder if you have the time to take them and play basketball and do well in your core classes, too. What do you do?
A friend you haven’t seen for a while wants you to go to a new movie you’re dying to see. You haven’t put your day’s mileage in yet (remember, you ought to jog but you tend to put it off), and you know you’ll never do it if you go with your friend. What do you tell her?
You would love to have one best goofing-around friend—the kind of friend you tell everything, call anytime. To develop that type of relationship, however, you’ll have to slack off on some of your responsibilities at school.
Easy choices to make? They weren’t always easy for Dylann. “It’s a real effort to not be distracted, to stay motivated,” she notes. Of her senior year she says, “I found myself without one really close friend.” And although Dylann is an exceptional student (she has been honored nearly as much for her academic achievements as for her athletic ability), she admits that her “grades did suffer a little bit. I could have had A’s in things I got B’s in.” All this led Dylann to write about certain regrets in her Sterling Scholar Portfolio last spring: “Sometimes, although I’ve tried to fill my life with exciting and interesting activities, I feel a touch of regret that I haven’t had enough time to pursue everything that I would like to experience. I have not had time to study as much as I would like nor have I practiced the guitar and the piano to my satisfaction.”
To get some things, you often have to give up other things. Many of us have a hard time accepting this truism emotionally: we want it all and refuse to choose what matters most. Thus our energy and talents dissipate into a thin cloud of indecision. Not so for Dylann. She knows how to choose, and she isn’t afraid to do it.
This is not to suggest that Dylann doesn’t have a lot of fun on her way to being the best. Although she couldn’t do everything she wanted to in high school, she still made time to take advanced placement classes, to sing, to participate in student government, to order out at a local drive-in.
At present, Dylann is a freshman at Brigham Young University on a full-ride scholarship, majoring in electrical engineering. She is also a member of the Y’s top-ranked women’s volleyball team.
Volleyball? I do a quick double take. Now why would a high school basketball superstar like Dylann Duncan decide to switch sports?
“My height isn’t outstanding for basketball anymore,” she points out, smiling. Besides, she was ready for a new challenge and Dylann liked Coach Elaine Michaelis and her program. “Anyway,” Dylann laughs, “volleyball is a lot more fun.” Typical Dylann.
In her Sterling Scholar Portfolio Dylann spoke of regrets. But she also spoke optimistically of the future: “In the vast life ahead of me,” she said, “I will change my regrets to actions.” It seems that Dylann is well on her way to doing just that.