In an apartment in the middle of Segovia, Spain, Dawn Staley spends most of her days waiting for basketball practice to start.
There are worse things than to be a gifted basketball player who sleeps all day, practices for a few hours, plays once a week and collects $2,000 a month for the trouble.
It's just that Staley, who was the top player in women's college basketball the past two years at Virginia, expected so much more.
"It's kind of hard," she said. "Sometimes, I get frustrated and I'm ready to pack my bags and go, and I think it's not even worth it. But I think anybody over in the States would trade places with me for the money. But I've realized that money really isn't everything."
Half a world away, at a private school in Baltimore, Kisha Ford has been paying attention.
Ford, a senior at Bryn Mawr, has accepted a full scholarship to play basketball at Georgia Tech next year. She is determined to parlay her athletic talent into a college degree and a well-paying job -- most likely one that doesn't involve a basketball.
"Women only get offered a year's contract [professionally] and maybe they'll take you back and maybe they won't," Ford said. "I'm definitely going to finish school and go on to something that will make me happy."
Dawn Staley and Kisha Ford play basketball better than most women their age. Staley, a 5-foot-5 guard, is a quiet, introspective college graduate from the mean streets of North Philadelphia. Ford, who grew up in a tough Southwest Baltimore neighborhood, is already 6 feet. She is gregarious, with a smile lined with braces that lights up her face and any room she enters.
Staley is a three-time All-American who led Virginia to three straight Final Four appearances. Ford is a three-time All-Metro selection and is widely considered the best girls player in the city.
But Ford and Staley view the sport they've mastered in different ways.
For Staley, 22, basketball was a ticket out of the despair of her surroundings.
"For the most part, that [sports] occupied my time and my interest," she said. "Being in the city, there are other things to do besides getting into drugs and everything that's involved in living in the city," said Staley, who played schoolyard basketball with the late Hank Gathers and with Bo Kimble of the NBA's New York Knicks.
Ford, however, views basketball as a means to an end -- a high-paying engineering job.
"If I get a [professional basketball] contract, then I'll play," Ford said. "Fifty-thousand dollars? Hey, why not? But if I don't get it, I won't be heartbroken. That's not my priority."
Ford's approach seems sensible, given that a number of attempts at a professional women's basketball league in the United States have failed because of lack of nationwide fan interest.
By and large, women's professional playing opportunities in the United States are limited to tennis, golf, figure skating and volleyball. However, one sign of progress came two weeks ago when hockey goalie Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in a regular-season professional hockey game, for the minor-league Atlanta Knights.
In basketball, players such as Staley must head to Europe or Japan to play professionally. But because Staley is more playmaker than flashy scorer -- she is the only player, male or female, in Atlantic Coast Conference history to score 2,000 points, pull down 700 rebounds, dish out 700 assists and get 400 steals -- she didn't get any offers to play after graduation.
When her agent called in early October and told her that a team in Barcelona had an opening and that she'd have to head for Spain the next day, she started packing. While Staley was en route, the Barcelona team signed another American for one of its two foreign openings, but the Segovia club also had an opening and she filled it.
Staley has wasted no time asserting her talent in the 16-team league, averaging 33 points, scoring mostly near the basket against taller players.
But Segovia is a long way from home, and she has had a hard time adjusting to the new language and culture.
"It is worth it, because I was home doing nothing," Staley said. "But to sacrifice everything I have at home, sometimes I wonder. You have to suck it up. . . . Life isn't easy. You have to sacrifice some things now for a better future. That's the way I look at it."
The way Kisha Ford sees it, working on her academics is more important than honing her shooting or dribbling skills right now.
After her sophomore year at Western, where she helped the Doves win 51 of 52 games and two city championships in two seasons, she transferred to Bryn Mawr.
Ford said she made the move to improve her academic record for college, gambling that two years of basketball at a decidedly lower level of competition wouldn't damage her athletic prospects.
She even spent this past summer in camp. Not basketball camp, but engineering camp.
"I thought it [Bryn Mawr] was just going to be studying, merits, go home, don't do anything," said Ford. "But everybody's on the
court, playing something. It's like you learn to appreciate a sport when you're at a school like that, where teachers appreciate sports and students appreciate sports."
The move has paid off. Ford -- who chose Georgia Tech over Virginia, Maryland, Temple, Pennsylvania, Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth -- has managed to hold a B average this school year, while maintaining her superior basketball skills and making her team better.
"It's been a great experience on both sides; we have learned from her and she has learned from us," said Pat Becker, Bryn Mawr's coach.