March 10, 2009
RENO -- When Louisiana Tech's Shanavia Dowdell was a baby, her grandmother nicknamed her "Bean" because she didn't like the name Shanavia.
"She said it sounded like a navy bean, so she just started calling me Bean," said Dowdell of her maternal grandmother Georgia Hall.
The nickname stuck. And throughout her childhood, high school and even her first three years on the LA Tech campus, the 6-foot-2-inch power forward was known affectionately by her friends and teammates as just that ... Bean.
Until recently, when a run-in with a needle earned her a new nickname.
Upon return from a two-game Western Athletic Conference road trip to San Jose and Hawaii, Tech interim head coach Teresa Weatherspoon requested that Dowdell get some tests run.
Despite the fact that Dowdell was averaging more than 15.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, Weatherspoon was concerned with what she felt was a lack of energy and stamina by her leading scorer and rebounder.
"She couldn't last two minutes," Weatherspoon said. "It had nothing to do with us playing in altitudes. The look on her face was different ... as if she was really suffering. It wasn't the look of `Coach, I'm not in shape.' It was `Coach, something is wrong.'"
Even Dowdell could tell that something wasn't right.
"After all the conditioning we did this summer, I knew I couldn't be out of shape," she said. "I was getting fatigued way too fast. Even Coach Spoon noticed it."
Weatherspoon confronted her star after practice one day in the training room, trying to look into Dowdell's eyes to see if she could tell anything by the color of them.
"I reached up to pull her eyelid down to see how her eyes looked and she told me to stop," Weatherspoon recalled. "She said, `Coach, quit it. You don't know what you are doing.'"
So off to the doctor Dowdell went.
The tests were worthwhile as they revealed that Dowdell was extremely anemic. In fact her iron levels were so low that medication wasn't going to remedy the problem ... at least not at first.
"Her iron levels were very low so they decided that giving her a blood transfusion was the best way to get those levels back up," said Tech athletic trainer Michele Dummett, who works with the Lady Techster basketball team. "The average population has a normal iron level of around 12. Shanavia's was 8.6.
"Normally, they do a blood transfusion when the level gets down below 8. Since hers was just barely above that level and since she is an athlete, they decided it was the best way to get her levels back up."
Weatherspoon said she knows from first-hand experience what Dowdell was enduring.
"It was easy for me to understand because the same thing happened to me when I was playing in the WNBA," Weatherspoon said. "It's hard. For her to be as anemic as she was and to still endure the practices, travel and games, well it says a lot about her. She fought through a lot to give us what she had."
So the day before the Lady Techsters were scheduled to play their regular season home finale against Utah State on Feb. 28, Dowdell spent 10 hours at North Louisiana Medical Center receiving two units of blood.
"I was asleep most of the time," Dowdell said. "They gave me some Benadryl which helped me relax."
Twenty-four hours after completing the transfusion, Dowdell stepped onto the Thomas Assembly Center floor and led her team to a 53-46 win over the Aggies, scoring 18 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, registering four steals and three blocks in 39 minutes of action.
Dowdell said she felt like a new player.
"I felt the difference the next day when we played Utah State," Dowdell said. "It was instant. I could feel a difference as soon as I got out there. I just felt like I had more energy."
Since the blood transfusion, Dowdell has led Tech to a 3-0 mark while averaging 39 minutes a game. The additional minutes and increased energy has also shown up on the stat sheet as she is averaging 23.7 points, 15.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.7 steals in those three contests.
Dowdell's resurgence on the court during the final two weeks of the regular season helped earn her the 2009 Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year award announced by the league office Sunday.
And not only did the blood transfusion earn her the hardware, but it also earned her a new nickname.
"Now, everyone is calling me `New Blood;' even my mom," Dowdell joked. "I don't know whose blood it was, but whoever's it was, I sure appreciate it."
So do the Louisiana Tech coaches, players and fans.
Dowdell scored 29 points and grabbed a career-high tying 17 rebounds in a 78-69 win over New Mexico State Saturday night -- a victory that clinched a share of the 2009 WAC regular season title for the Lady Techsters.
Dowdell, her new blood and her new nickname will lead Louisiana Tech into Wednesday's first round game of the 2009 Western Athletic Conference Tournament against New Mexico State. Tipoff is set for 10:30 p.m. CST.
The game can be heard on KXKZ 107.5 and via the Internet at www.z1075fm.com. Fans can also watch the game streamed live over the Internet at www.wacsports.com.
What: 2009 Western Athletic Conference Tournament
Who: Louisiana Tech (19-11) vs. New Mexico State (9-21)
When: Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. CST
Where: Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nevada
Radio: KXKZ 107.5
Internet Audio: www.z1075fm.com
Internet Stream: www.wacsports.com