Zakiya Saunders, a senior at Carthage Central High School, signs a letter of intent to attend the University at Albany, State University of New York, on a basketball scholarship Nov. 19 as her mother, Synithia; father, Vincent; and her sister, Taryn, look on.

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- A Fort Drum teen who North Country basketball fans have heard a lot from this past year has been offered a full ride to an NCAA Division I basketball program.

Zakiya Saunders, 17-year-old daughter of Master Sgt. Vincent Saunders, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 10th Mountain Division (LI), signed a letter of intent Nov. 19 to attend the University at Albany, State University of New York, at the end of her senior year.

The Carthage Central High School basketball star moved to Fort Drum last year.

Initially, she missed home, friends and her old basketball team at Prince George High School in Fort Lee, Va. But after joining the Carthage Comets, everything changed.

"I hated the fact that we had to move at first, because I liked the area that we were living in," Zakiya said. "When basketball season started, it felt right for me to be here. I started liking it (more and more) throughout last season."

Saunders continuously pushed his daughter, even while he was deployed. He not only called frequently from Afghanistan to check on her grades but also kept tabs on the scores of her games and her workout regimen.

"My leaders have really helped me out by giving me the time I need off to take my daughter traveling to games," he said. "Just this last season, we travelled to five different states … to play games."

"I'm glad we have the facilities on Fort Drum, so that anyone can use them to better themselves," he added.

Saunders often brought Zakiya to play basketball with Soldiers from across the installation to better her game as she competed against older, more experienced players.

"I started playing basketball seriously when I was in the 8th grade," Zakiya said. "My family helped me a lot. They were always there. My father was always in the gym with me, and even if I didn't feel like going to the gym, he would talk me into going."

After only a single season at Carthage Central High School, Zakiya was contacted by a representative from the University at Albany with an offer to attend the school on a full scholarship.

Zakiya is only the second female student from Carthage Central High School in more than 20 years to be offered a Division I scholarship.

"I'm really excited to get this opportunity," she said. "I am proud of myself, because this was one of my goals in 9th grade -- to get a D-1 scholarship, and to do the best I could."

Zakiya encouraged other athletes to work hard and be a model teammate.

"Help out wherever you can," she said. "Keep on dreaming, and good things will happen."

Page last updated Thu November 29th, 2012 at 00:00