Two days. Valerie Still was two days from being homeless.
When the sheriff sends official notice that your house will be auctioned out from under you in foreclosure, it tends to be rather jarring.
Still couldn't believe her life had come to this. "I panicked," she says now. "I can't describe the feeling. This wasn't how things were supposed to go."
After surviving a youth spent as one of her parents' 10 kids growing up in the gritty city of Camden, N.J., Still's had been an often charmed life — one that saw her become the greatest women's basketball player in University of Kentucky history.
After college, she headed to Italy where she became famous and made good money as a pro hoops player, a fashion model and an entertainer.
In her late 30s, after she'd married and had a child, Still had even become something of a heroine to the (near) middle-aged when she emerged from retirement to become a standout player as women's pro hoops took root in the United States in the late 1990s.
Now, the 48-year-old and her 13-year-old son, Aaron, received notice that their home would go on the block on June 17.
"When you get into the foreclosure machinery, it grinds on you. It is not easy," Still said last week. "Being homeless, it hangs heavy over your head."
In the winter of 1997, Still had, at age 36, been named MVP of the first-ever American Basketball League championship series while helping the Columbus Quest win the league title.
That following summer, Still and her husband, Rob Lock, paid $479,000 for a 5,800 square-foot, six-bedroom home in the Briarcliffe Estates subdivision of Columbus.
Still and Lock, both former UK basketball standouts, had fallen in love while they were playing pro hoops in Italy. They married in 1995.
While Still became an ABL All-Star and eventually played with the Washington Mystics of the WNBA, Lock, an avid pilot, developed a commercial-aviation business.
When Still was finished with basketball, she began pursuing graduate degrees (she's now finishing a Ph.D.) at Ohio State University.
In 2004, she and Lock separated. By 2007, they were divorced. Lock now lives in Florida.
As part of the agreement that ended their marriage, Still said, she got the family home.
"That was probably a mixed blessing," she says now. "I knew I couldn't afford to stay in the house. But it was the only home Aaron had ever really known, and you go through a divorce, you think your child needs to have some stability."
Still had another reason for wanting to stay. Over the years, the woman who lived across the street had become one of her best friends. Sue Rogers, a married mother of three, was in a life-and-death struggle with cancer.
Before Rogers died, "I promised her I would help look out for her children," Still said. "That was another reason why I wanted to stay in a house I could no longer afford."
So draining her basketball savings down to zero, Still tried to hold on. Her situation reached crisis mode just as the U.S. economy entered into a mortgage-lending meltdown that made foreclosure sales a reality for thousands.
Because of "some home equity loans and stuff," Still said, by the time her savings ran out, she still owed "quite a bit over $400,000, almost $450,000" on her home.
In a normal economy, that would have been manageable. "She should have been able to sell easily in the $600,000s," said Charles Bluestone, a Columbus-area real estate attorney who has helped Still. "On a really good deal, she might get into the $700,000s for that house under normal conditions."
In the current spare economic environment, especially once Still's house got into foreclosure, potential buyers sensed blood in the water. Their offers came in at barely enough for Still to pay off the debt.
"At this point, the house is what I've got left," she said. "I need to try to make enough to at least stake me to a new start somewhere else."
On the Friday before Still's home was to go on the block, Bluestone petitioned the judge presiding over the foreclosure for relief.
Not a hoops fan, the attorney had never heard of the former basketball star he was representing. That is, not until Still called one of the most prominent Realtors in the Columbus area to plead for help with her situation.
The Realtor asked his attorney to look into things for Still, warning him "she doesn't have any money." Bluestone took the case pro bono.
In court that Friday, Bluestone said, the judge listened patiently as he argued for relief for Still. But once the attorney was through, the judge said there was no legal basis to offer relief. Rather than issue a final ruling, Bluestone asked the judge to call a conference for Monday morning with attorneys from the mortgage company.
The judge agreed.
On Monday morning, June 15, the all-time leading scorer in University of Kentucky basketball history, women's or men's, woke up two days from being homeless.
Yet, for whatever reason, on that morning in court, a mortgage company that had not offered to negotiate with Still throughout her foreclosure case suddenly did so.
They agreed to extend the term of Still's loan and move all penalties to the back of the agreement.
The sheriff's auction was called off.
Still and her son are still in their home.
A Christian, she sees a divine hand in the fact that she found in Bluestone an attorney who could help her at exactly the time she most needed help — and he did it for free at a time when she had no money to pay him.
"God always provides exactly who and what you need," Still said.
Still's plan remains to sell her house. With the money she hopes to clear, she wants to make a fresh start somewhere.
Next spring, she is scheduled to finish work on a doctorate in sports humanities at Ohio State. Still has started to put out feelers on university teaching jobs, including reaching out to her undergraduate alma mater, UK.
"I'd love to come back to Lexington," she said.
In the meantime, Still continues with a longtime passion for youth basketball clinics. She has one scheduled for girls ages 8-12 and 13-16 at the Imani Family Center here in Lexington on July 17-18 (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for information).
After her brush with foreclosure, Still said, she has new life lessons to teach.
"I know a lot of people wouldn't talk about a situation like this," Still said. "But there are so many people right now going through similar situations, some who maybe it's their fault and some not.
"There are a lot of people in worse spots than I was, but I think many are facing similar situations. I hope, by telling my story, it will comfort someone and provide some hope."
After a lifetime filled with athletic success and public visibility, finding oneself two days from being homeless is both sobering and humbling.
Says Valerie Still: "This hasn't been easy. It's not easy at all. But I'm still here and still excited about how I can be significant in life."