Underwood a Sweet option for UCSB

Jan. 24, 2011

January 21, 2011 6:35 AM

If a person were to walk into the Thunderdome and ask for Grovinya, they would probably be on the receiving end of a quizzical look.

However, if the same person were to inquire about "Sweets," they'd likely receive a smile and a prompt, "She's over there wearing No. 1."

In her two seasons at UCSB, Grovinya "Sweets" Underwood has quickly earned a reputation among the Gauchos' faithful as a tenacious player at both ends of the floor - something she has worked very hard at earning after a late start in the game.

"I was so clumsy with the basketball, I could barely catch it," said Underwood, who didn't begin playing until her sophomore year at Centennial High in Compton. "If you ask anyone on my high school team, they will tell you I was a mess out there when I started."

By the time she finished at Centennial, Sweets Underwood had figured out how to catch the ball to the tune of 19 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots per game as a senior. They were numbers that helped the Apaches capture the Pioneer League title.

It's no mystery how Sweets was able to excel at basketball given the fact she is an outstanding athlete. Prior to hoops, Underwood was a standout track and field participant who competed in the Junior Olympics in 2004 and 2006.

What's truly amazing about this student-athlete, who aspires to some day be a professional player and then perhaps a social worker or high school teacher, is how she took life's nastiest pitch at an early age and knocked it out of the park.

Sweets lost her mom to breast cancer. Her father's life was cut short by a heart attack. Her 21-year-old cousin was murdered. When she was 10, she moved in with her aunt and uncle.

So much tragedy at such a young age. How did she make it? How is she positioned under the rim today causing a mess of problem's for UCSB opponents in the Big West Conference when so much went so wrong in her early life?

The answer. Her aunt, Corlotta Adams - a woman who no doubt shed plenty of tears for young Sweets, but a woman, who at the same time, was not going to let her fail.

"She's one of the main people in my life who has instilled toughness in me," Underwood said. "She stresses academics like no other. If I brought home a "B" I would have to explain that to her. I knew better than to bring home a "C" or a "D" because I knew she would punish me for it."

That punishment, according to Sweets, was a moratorium on athletics for however long aunt Corlotta desired.

"I knew the consequences of a "B' or lower was pulling me out of sports," Sweets said. "She would tell me that it was unacceptable, that I could do better. At one point I did get a "B" and she pulled me out of track practice for two weeks. I just knew that was not something I would do in my household."

As a track star she was nicknamed "Sweet Feet." The name was shortened for basketball.

Her teammates adore her. Her coach can't stop talking about her. Lindsay Gottlieb remembers, and probably always will, the recruiting process with Sweets.

"Sometimes in recruiting you just get a feel for a young person," Gottlieb said. "I just knew I wanted to coach her. She is pretty spectacular both on and off the court."

To her teammates, she is a role model, a leader and a friend.

"She is one of the strongest people I know and we all really look up to her," UCSB sophomore guard Angelei Aguirre said. "The easy thing to do in her situation would be to let yourself go south. But she decided not to let that beat her and I think that's definitely a quality to look up to. She's strong and she's going to fight for what she wants."

Sweets has three siblings - Chaneal, Neal and Gayla, whom she credits for a lot of her strength.

For a clumsy 10th grade basketball player, Underwood has certainly done OK for herself on the Division I college level. She averages 10 points, eight rebounds and shoots 57 percent while averaging 24 minutes per game this season for the Gauchos.

She also continues to excel in the classroom.

"I think I'm strong," Sweets said. "I get it from my mom because she was a strong person. She raised us and taught us not let anything get in our way. In life there are going to be obstacles and you just need to figure out how to overcome them."

e-mail: gfall@newspress.com