ANDREA CONSTAND is strikingly beautiful, with long, curly red hair. Six feet tall. A smile a mile wide.
Her father is Greek, but shortened his last name once he moved to Canada. Her mother is Italian, niece of a World War II hero whom the Roman Catholic Church is considering for sainthood.
She was a driven basketball player who dreamed of playing for the pros from the time she was a little girl.
"I'm on a mission," she said in a 1997 interview before leaving for Italy to play on Canada's team in the World University Games. "First to help Canada do well, then to play basketball in Italy and finally crack a spot on a team in the WNBA. "
But today, the 31-year-old woman has gained notoriety not for her successes on the basketball court, but for accusing Bill Cosby, her one-time mentor and Philadelphia's best-loved celebrity, of drugging and sexually assaulting her at his Montgomery County mansion last year. Prosecutors announced last month that they will not file criminal charges against Cosby, but Constand yesterday filed a lawsuit against him.
Although she has declined to speak to the Daily News, Constand's name and picture have been plastered on news pages and TV screens across the world.
But the woman at the center remains mostly a mystery - even in Philadelphia, where she helped Temple women's basketball coach Dawn Staley lead the team for 2 1/2 years.
Friends, former teammates and coaches describe her as outgoing. Forthright. Energetic. A health and fitness buff who loves the outdoors. As tough and aggressive on the court as she is warm and compassionate off the court.
"It's not in her character to say something happened that didn't happen," said Anthony Simms, 47, who has known Constand for 15 years.
"People can go into her history and dig and dig and dig, but I don't know what they'll find," said Simms, who played on Canada's basketball team in the 1984 Olympics. "I'm pretty sure it's the cleanest slate you'll ever see. She's a good person. "
Constand was born and reared in Canada. Her family is close-knit. Her father is a massage therapist. Her mother is a medical secretary. She has one older sister and is close to of them, Simms said.
Even when she went to college in Arizona, I don't think there was a game her family didn't see," Simms said.
Simms said he first met her when she was in high school, playing for Albert Campbell Collegiate in Scarborough, Ontario, where she was a star and considered one of Canada's top female players. Averaging 30 points a game, she led the Celtics to five straight senior girls' high-school titles. She also played on Canada's national junior team and national development team.
She was determined to succeed, despite all sorts of obstacles, Simms said.
"There's always people trying to steal your dream," he said. "Then there's a few that come along and say, 'No matter what they say, just keep going. ' That's Andrea. "
In the summer, she participated in basketball training camps and tournaments, which is how she caught the eye of University of Arizona Coach Joan Bonvicini and about 49 other NCAA coaches.
"She was recruited by everybody," Bonvicini said. "She was just a very good player. "
Ultimately, Constand chose the University of Arizona, although it had a 6-25 record, and she received a full scholarship to attend.
"I hit it off with the coach," she said in November 1991, explaining her decision. "The players made me feel comfortable. The school is beautiful and you can't go wrong with the climate. They also told me I'd be a starter, and that sits well with me because I like the intensity down there. "
But she struggled playing for the Wildcats. Her freshman year, she averaged just 1.8 points per game. The next two years didn't get much better. For her first three years, she started in only five games.
"It was a hard time on me," she said while she was still in college. "I didn't want to leave Arizona knowing that I hadn't contributed to the program. "
During the off-season, she worked one-on-one with assistant coach Traci Waites.
"She was just determined," said Waites, who recently resigned as coach of Columbia University's women's basketball team. "She really wanted to do well, and she always worked hard. She always had a positive attitude. "
The extra work paid off. During her senior year Constand raised her scoring average almost 10 points. She scored 14 points when the Wildcats won the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in March 1996.
Constand left the University of Arizona without graduating in 1996 and began training to achieve her dream - playing for the WNBA. She flew to Detroit, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Sacramento, but didn't get chosen for any of the teams in those cities.
In August 1997, she was named to Canada's squad for the World University Games in Sicily, which she saw as a way get to the WNBA.
While in Sicily, Constand signed a deal to play with one of the top teams in Europe. That surprised her coach, Michele Belanger.
"Most people wouldn't do it like that," said Belanger, who coaches at the University of Toronto. "Most people would go to an agent, check the whole situation out, because you want to make sure you get paid. "
Her deal with the European team, for which she signed a $30,000 contract, made headlines in Toronto.
"My wish has come true for now and I'm absolutely thrilled," Constand said in a 1997 interview. "This experience could help me become the first Canadian female to play in the WNBA. "
Constand returned home to Toronto in 1999, after playing professionally in Europe for more than 18 months.
She took a job at a Nike store in Toronto, but still planned to keep trying to get into the WNBA.
"She felt coming back she'd get a closer look," said Simms, her friend of 15 years. "It's your goal and you don't want to be too far away from your goal. "
While she trained, Simms offered her a job coaching for his teen basketball program, "Blue Chip Basketball. "
"The kids loved her," he said.
While back in Canada, Constand took more college courses, which the University of Arizona paid for, and earned her degree, Bonvicini said.
That's when Temple's then-new women's basketball coach, Dawn Staley, came calling. She knew Constand from the basketball world and asked her friend to join her at Temple as director of operations for the women's team.
Constand saw it as an opportunity to begin a new career path coaching college basketball, Simms said.
She arrived in Philadelphia in December 2001. She met Cosby about a year later, her civil suit against Cosby said. He is a close friend of Staley's and a huge supporter of the women's team. Cosby became her friend and mentor, Constand's civil suit said.
Constand threw herself into her job, coming up with ideas to increase attendance at the women's games, said a former Temple colleague. Although Staley declined several requests for interviews for this story, the former colleague described Constand as "straight-up, stable, smart and hardworking. "
"She was serious about her career and serious about her sport," said the former colleague, who didn't want to be identified. "She was always trying to do what was best for the team. "
After two years at Temple, Constand began thinking about switching careers, her lawsuit against Cosby said. In January 2004, Cosby invited her to his home to offer his assistance, the lawsuit said. Instead, he drugged and sexually assaulted her, the lawsuit said. She waited a year before going to police.
Her former Temple University colleague said that he and others at the university had been taken aback by her claims.
"I don't know what to say. I don't know why it took a year, but I do know that you don't say something about Cosby and Temple without thinking about it real carefully. "
Four months after Cosby allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted her, Constand quit her job at Temple and returned to Canada to start the new career she'd settled on.
By the time she returned home, Simms said, the spark seemed to have left her. He also said he was surprised she'd given up on basketball.
"She was on the path toward getting a coaching position," he said. "She took all the steps. Then you're in a phenomenal opportunity at a phenomenal school and just say, 'It's not working out. ' What's not working out? I don't get it. "
Simms said the first he heard about what Constand alleged Cosby had done to her was when he read it in the newspapers in January. Her lawyers say she had told no one about her allegations until she told her mother, a few weeks before she went to the police.
Since the story exploded into world news, Simms said, the media frenzy has been difficult for Constand.