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SPORTS HERO:
CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW
by Richard Kent

Chamique Holdsclaw

So let's dispense with the easy stuff first. Chamique Holdsclaw is one of the greatest players ever to play basketball on the high school, college and WNBA level.

Holdsclaw attended Christ The King in Queens, New York and led her team to four straight New York State championships in basketball. She then went on to the University of Tennessee after a fierce recruiting war with teams such as UConn, North Carolina and Duke and played under head coach Pat Summitt. She helped to lead the Lady Vols to three consecutive women's NCAA Championships in 1996, 1997 and 1998. The 1998 Championship was Tennessee's first ever undefeated season at 39-0. She also helped lead Tennessee to two SEC regular season titles in 1998 and 1999 and to three SEC Tournament Championships in 1996, 1998 and 1999.

At Tennessee, Holdsclaw was a four time All-American. She is one of only six women to earn that honor. She finished her career with 3,025 points and 1,295 rebounds making her the all time leading scoring and rebounder at Tennessee in either men's or women's basketball history, the all time winning scorer and rebounder in SCC women's history and the all time leading scorer and rebounder in the NCAA Tournament women's history with 470 points and 197 rebounds. She was also only the firth women's player in NCAA history to have 3,000 points.

In 2006 Holdsclaw was named to the women's college basketball Silver Anniversary team for being picked as one of the 25 greatest players of all time.

In the 1999 WNBA draft Holdsclaw was selected first by the Washington Mystics and was named the Rookie of the Year and was a starter in the inaugural WNBA All-Star game. She averaged 16.9 ppg and 7.9 rpg in her first season. The next year Holdsclaw was named to the Olympic team and helped the United States to a gold medal.

On March 21, 2005 Holdsclaw was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks.

The above information is really just the statistical data about Holdsclaw. Her story and her personal hero in life go much deeper than that.

Holdsclaw was born on August 9, 1977 in Flushing, New York. She had two bickering parents and both eventually lost custody of her and her brother to their grandmother June who became Holdsclaw's emotional anchor.

June Elain was the third of thirteen children born to Isom and Nettie Barber of Camden, Alabama. She played forward for the Camden Academy High School basketball team in the early 1950's and well before the social upheaval that hit this country regarding black-white relations.

She married Thurmon Holdsclaw in 1956 and in 1965 they moved to Queens, New York where she worked in medical records for Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Holdsclaw accepts WREI's 2002 American Woman Award.
June has lived in Astoria, Queens since 1965 and she raised her children there and in 1988 took in Chamique, then 11 and her brother Davon, then 9. They all lived in a relatively small three bedroom apartment. June called it "the projects with its share of shootings and drug dealing but it had some good people who lived there, working people."

From June's bedroom window can be seen the basketball courts at Astoria Houses. June was a very disciplined grandmother and Holdsclaw credits the rules and structure for much of her future development as a basketball player and as a person.

Holdsclaw was becoming quite a talent on the Astoria courts, playing with both boys and girls and developing a deadly outside shot as well as the ability to drive to the basket and to rebound with the best of them.

June knew that Chamique was a great athlete but also wanted an excellent education for her. She was disenchanted with New York's public school system and had Chamique take the entrance exam and was admitted to Queen Lutheran School. She finished middle school there and passed another test to gain admittance to Christ The King High School. Chamique wanted to go there because she was aware of its reputation in basketball and June knew that it was a highly acclaimed academic school as well.

The private school tuition was quite a sacrifice for June but she made it happen living on a budget.

Before she entered Christ The King Holdsclaw had a soft fall away jumper, a spin move in the lane and an awareness of the game that was emblematic of her street smarts. As soon as Vince Cannizzaro, the girls' basketball coach at Christ The King saw her play he knew that she would be a superstar and when he delved more deeply into her story knew the great sacrifices that her grandmother had made to get her to Christ The King.

Holdsclaw earned good grades at Christ The King and by early 1994 college coaches throughout the country were pursuing her. In reality though they were pursuing both her and her grandmother because both had to be satisfied about the college before Holdsclaw would sign a binding letter of intent.

In September of 1994, Tennessee coaches Pat Summitt and Mickie DeMoss were the first to make a home visit to the Holdsclaw residence. They sat in the living room with Chamique and her grandmother and stressed discipline almost over everything else. That was a word that June wanted to hear because it was a word that she had instilled in Chamique ever since Chamique was 11 years old and came to live with her.

Holdsclaw poses with junior WNBA members at the Women's Research and Education Institute awards gala.

June was originally from the south and both Summitt and DeMoss had strong southern drawls and were southern women by nature. They were soft spoken, humble and gracious and June knew immediately and Chamique knew later that these were the coaches that the doting grandmother would entrust her granddaughter with.

Holdsclaw wanted to make the trip down to Tennessee alone but the coaches insisted that she make the trip with her grandmother because of the significant role that her grandmother had played in her upbringing.

As soon as they got to the campus and spoke to players, other coaches and students they were sold on the University of Tennessee. It had a great academic reputation and in Chamique's own words "would provide the best place to play for a national championship."

June knew that it would be far away and difficult to get to in order to watch Chamique play but she really wanted Chamique "to be far away from home and to be on her own."

June was able to travel to Knoxville to attend a few games and went to all three Final Fours which Chamique participated in.

It was difficult to bring June to tears but when she watched her granddaughter win a gold medal in the Olympics for the United States on television she couldn't stop weeping. That was the pinnacle as far as she was concerned. Chamique had gone from an 11 year old with very few roots to a mature and stable woman with a gold medal around her neck and a college degree.

Holdsclaw's grandmother passed away in 2002 and she lost her grandfather in 2004. The emotional impact of losing these two anchors in her life caused her to leave the Washington Mystics for a few weeks as a result of depression. The therapist told her that everything started to reoccur with respect to her grandmother's death when her grandfather died. She overcame the depression with psychiatric treatment and is now still playing in the WNBA and overseas in the winter.

The most important person and the hero in Chamique's life is a no brainer. It is her grandmother. No one else is even close.


Written by Richard Kent
Photos courtesy of Women's Research & Education Institute (WREI)
Last changed on: 3/29/2007

Women's Research & Education Institute Chamique Holdsclaw's biography on the Women's Research & Education Institute website.

WNBA The Women's National Basketball Association has photos and stats on all players. This link goes to Chamique's page.

 

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