By Harold Gutmann | Apr 9, 2015
Special to espnW
It all finally got to be too much, so Nancy Mulkey sat down. Right there on the spattered sidewalk in San Antonio.
Gawking bystanders were taking pictures of the 17-year-old kid because -- sure as her name is Nancy -- she stands 6 feet, 9 inches tall. So if even for just 10 minutes, before heading off to her next destination down the road, Mulkey needed a break, an escape from the scrutiny of all these strangers.
It was the kind of experience that, believe it or not, is relatively routine for Mulkey -- for tall women everywhere -- and Mulkey says that San Antonio scene could be included in an upcoming TLC show featuring Mulkey that is scheduled to air in August. It is tentatively titled "My Giant Life."
Mulkey, who has been pushing 6-10 since a nine-inch growth spurt before her freshman year in high school, is still sometimes annoyed by the gawking, but she's also become more confident about her stature. Success has a way of doing that.
"I'm not as shy about my height," said Mulkey, who just polished off her junior season at Cypress Woods (Texas) with a girls' basketball state title. "I strut more. I'm not slouching as much. I want to stand tall."
And a big reason for her transformation, Mulkey said, has been basketball. The Oklahoma-bound junior post player is the No. 21 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the Class of 2016. She has agility, good hands and an emerging midrange game. On defense, she's a dangerous shot-blocker who alters opponents' offenses merely by her presence.
"When you're a tall female and a teenager, that can be awkward at times, but what has really catapulted Nancy to a place of confidence has been her ability to do well on the basketball court," Cypress Woods coach Virginia Flores said. "When she walks the hall in our school, there's a sense of respect and even reverence for what she's been able to bring to our basketball program, and of course that's a confidence-booster for Nancy, and in turn it's made her hungrier and want to improve her game even more."
When the producers of the TLC documentary were looking for potential subjects, they typed "tall women" into an Internet search engine and found Mulkey.
After an audition with a producer over Skype, Mulkey was chosen as one of four subjects for the series, which is scheduled to air over four hours in August. She did not get paid and she received notification from the NCAA that appearing on the show would not jeopardize her eligibility.
The television show is meant to document the day-to-day hardships for tall women, such as finding clothes that fit (Mulkey was filmed trying on prom dresses) and dealing with constant -- and oftentimes uncomfortable -- attention.
The series will cap a whirlwind junior year for Mulkey. She gave a verbal commitment to Oklahoma in October and then averaged 10.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.7 blocks as Cypress Woods won its first state championship in program history in Class 6A, the highest classification in the state.
"I didn't plan on committing this early, but people say, 'When you know, you know,' " said Mulkey, who plans to major in special education.
Mulkey was guided through the process by her mother, 6-foot-7 Dolores Bootz-Mulkey, who starred for Georgia Tech from 1985 to 1988 and still holds the school records for career scoring average (18.9 points per game), field goal percentage (.593) and blocked shots (245).
Mulkey, who started playing basketball in third grade, had initially told the Sooners that she wasn't interested, and Oklahoma wasn't included on her list of finalists. But Sooners coach Sherri Coale called Dolores and convinced the Mulkeys to visit campus.
When Nancy got there, she felt a welcoming atmosphere she didn't get from other schools.
"Usually when recruits go on visits, some players at certain schools don't really associate with certain recruits," Mulkey said. "The Oklahoma players devoted their whole weekend just to me. That meant a lot to me, and I felt really comfortable with them. I was there one day and I didn't want to leave."
Then came a historic season for Cypress Woods. Mulkey said a loss in the state tournament last year to Manvel and future Notre Dame standout Brianna Turner helped prepare the Wildcats for their first state championship this season.
"That showed us what we needed to work on and how we needed to play to win states," said Mulkey, who averaged more than 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks per game and was an all-state selection by the Texas Girls Coaches Association.
After winning gold medals on Team USA in each of the past two summers -- first at the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and then at the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship -- Mulkey is now hoping for an invitation to the U19 tryouts next month.
"Her playing with the USA team the last two summers has really elevated her game," Flores said. "When you're around other people who are around your height, that can push you in a way that maybe your own high school teammates can't and made her step up her game."
Spending another summer with Team USA would be an ideal finish for a big year in the spotlight for Mulkey, who found her future school, won a state title and will be featured on national television -- perhaps even that sidewalk scene in downtown San Antonio.
"It's been tough for her at times to be 6-9," Flores said. "When we first get to a tournament, people aren't familiar with her and they're staring and gawking. When she was a freshman that was hard for her to take in, but now she embraces that. She's like, 'Yeah, I'm 6-9 and I'm pretty darn good.'
"She now looks at it as a sign of respect."