WNBA All-star shar­ing her knowl­edge

For­mer Hog, WNBA player shar­ing her love for the game

The Saline Courier Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Tony Le­na­han

BEN­TON – Hot Springs na­tive, for­mer Arkansas Ra­zor­back and WNBA All­star Shameka Chris­ton has been spend­ing time in Ben­ton lately. Chris­ton, who moved back to Hot Springs af­ter re­tir­ing from the WNBA to spend time with fam­ily, has been run­ning skills and drills camps at the Boys & Girls Club of Sa­line County in Ben­ton the past few months.

“It’s for ev­ery­one,” Chris­ton said of her skills and drills. “It’s not nec­es­sar­ily struc­tured for one po­si­tion. It’s for ev­ery­one and it’s skills that every player needs. You need to know how to drib­ble the ball.

You may be the tallest player in ju­nior high, high school, as I was too, but when I got to col­lege, when I got to the league, I was a guard. There were girls taller than me, so I had to have guard skills, too. That’s why it’s very im­por­tant that ev­ery­one get

all the skills of bas­ket­ball. It’s only go­ing to help and el­e­vate your game.”

Chris­ton runs her skills and drills in Ben­ton on Mon­day’s and Tues­day’s, from 5-7 p.m. She moves her camp to Lit­tle Rock on Wed­nes­day’s and Thurs­day’s, and is open for in­di­vid­ual ses­sions on Fri­day’s.

“As we con­tinue to progress, there will be more camps strictly by po­si­tion,” Chris­ton ex­plained. “But with the way the game is go­ing now, there’s not re­ally any true 5s (cen­ters) any­more. Back to the bas­ket is not re­ally hap­pen­ing. My job is to give you that, but de­velop a mid-range shot, as well. You need to be able to shoot the ball; shoot threes as well, be­cause that’s where the game is at. The more you know, the bet­ter off. You be­come a ver­sa­tile player.”

And a ver­sa­tile player is what Chris­ton was forced to be­come af­ter her days at Hot Springs. Stand­ing at 6-2, Chris­ton went to Arkansas un­der the tute­lage of Coach Gary Blair and av­er­aged 15.9 points and

5.8 rebounds dur­ing her four-year ca­reer, in­clud­ing net­ting the SEC Player of the Year her se­nior sea­son af­ter av­er­ag­ing 21.8 points per game, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 as­sists, in­clud­ing hit­ting 36.4 per­cent of her shots from be­hind the arc and

75.9 from the char­ity stripe.

“My time at Arkansas was great,” Chris­ton said. “I was re­cruited heav­ily com­ing out of high school. The re­cruit­ing process was a lit­tle stress­ful for me. The only other per­son who played bas­ket­ball was my brother (La­juan Chris­ton) and he was al­ready off to col­lege, so I didn’t know re­ally what I was get­ting into. That day they were al­lowed to con­tact me, the let­ters, the calls just did not stop.

“I nar­rowed my choices down to LA Tech, Texas, Univer­sity of Arkansas,

Duke and Howard, only be­cause it was like so far away. I ended up com­mit­ting to Arkansas. As soon as I went up there, I en­joyed the cam­pus, the peo­ple, my team­mates, all of it. It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence. It was my first visit and I com­mit­ted right there and can­celed my other vis­its.”

Chris­ton listed her most mem­o­rable mo­ment in col­lege com­ing dur­ing the SEC Tour­na­ment and some high ac­co­lades re­ceived from an idol.

“We lost, but we were down by a lot,” Chris­ton said of an SEC Tour­ney game vs. Van­der­bilt. “Coach came in and ripped us a new one at half­time. I think I had 12 points in the first half, and af­ter he ripped me a new one pretty good, I scored 28 points, so I had 40 points for the game, but we still ended up los­ing by one point.

“The game be­fore that I scored 36 but got a busted lip and had to get stitches. I was so mad, but I’m walk­ing up the stairs and I’ll never for­get, a voice said, ‘Man, they didn’t know what to do with you. You were just ab­so­lutely amaz­ing.’ I was like, ‘Thanks, thanks,” and I looked up and it was Cyn­thia Cooper. She was my idol. I was just so starstruck, and I don’t re­ally get starstruck, but I was starstruck with her be­cause she was my fa­vorite player.”

Cooper won two NCAA Tour­na­ment cham­pi­onships while at USC, gold medals with Team USA and was an in­tro­duc­tory mem­ber of the WNBA, where she played five years for Hous­ton av­er­ag­ing 21.0 points and 5.0 as­sists and won four WNBA cham­pi­onships, in 1997.

Chris­ton would come onto the WNBA seen al­most a decade later as hard work paid off for the self pro­claimed “late-bloomer.” Chris­ton would be se­lected the No. 5 over­all pick in the 2004 WNBA Draft and went on to have a suc­cess­ful 11-year ca­reer.

“I was very, very happy, but I had to work for it,” Chris­ton said of her firstround se­lec­tion. “It was by far one of the best ex­pe­ri­ences ever. Just to know where I came from, it just made me that much more proud. Peo­ple think of the lat­est, most re­cent thing that I’ve done, not when I first started.

“I first picked up a bas­ket­ball in sev­enth grade and I was go­daw­ful, so bad. I would shoot right over the bas­ket. I had a coach lit­er­ally tell me I’m raw meat and would never make it as a bas­ket­ball player. I went home and cried to my mom. She was like, ‘Hey, this is what you need to do. Ei­ther you go out there and prove him wrong or you quit. But just know if you quit, you’re go­ing to quit ev­ery­thing else in life.’”

Chris­ton didn’t quit and went on to be­come an All-star for the New York Liberty in 2009 when she av­er­aged 16.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 as­sists, a long way re­moved from that “raw meat” sev­enth-grader.

“So my sev­enth- and eighth-grade year, I played two years up in AAU against boys the whole time,” Chris­ton said. “I played against my brother who is two years older than me. To this day I still can’t beat him. I just made sure I stayed in the gym. It got so bad my dad said you have to get in the kitchen and learn how to cook, and I was like, ‘No, dad.’ I was a gym rat. I was try­ing to prove some­body wrong. It wasn’t that I was pas­sion­ate about it or that I love the game … I didn’t fig­ure that out un­til the ninth grade. For me to come from that to go first round, fifth pick, I’m very proud of it.

“It was a lot of sac­ri­fice. I was al­ways away from my fam­ily be­cause with the WNBA, we played in the sum­mer, and then we would go over­seas to sup­ple­ment our in­come. We were lit­er­ally play­ing bas­ket­ball 12 months out of the year. That was tough, but at the end of the day I loved the sport. I was able to travel and meet a lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple, ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent cul­tures, eat a lot of dif­fer­ent food, be­cause I love food.”

Chris­ton was a suc­cess her first year play­ing over­seas, as she won a cham­pi­onship with Is­rael in the 2004-05 sea­son. Chris­ton would def­i­nitely get cul­tured over­seas as she went on to play in France, Spain, Rus­sia, Poland, Czech Repub­lic and Italy.

“I had a great ca­reer,” Chris­ton said. “In my sixth sea­son I was named All-star. I’ll never for­get all the work I put into that sea­son, as well. I was in­vited to try out for the Olympic Team, and I got pretty far, but I ended up mess­ing up my knee, which was a bum­mer be­cause I felt like I was never the same player af­ter that.

“Once I got back, I ended up play­ing three sea­sons in San An­to­nio and then my last sea­son in Phoenix. I was ready for fam­ily. Bas­ket­ball as a ca­reer has been great. Get­ting paid to play bas­ket­ball was great, but I was ready (to re­tire). But, I could still be around it by help­ing oth­ers, train­ing oth­ers, be­cause I had a great plethora of knowl­edge. I had great coaches in the WNBA, as well as Jr. Olympics and Olympics.”

That fam­ily she was ready to get back to is her 12-year-old daugh­ter Sky­lar, 8-year-old son Lo­gan and the new­est ad­di­tion, 5-month-old Gauge. Of course, Chris­ton cred­its her mother, Bev­erly, with over­whelm­ing sup­port.

“My mom has been my big­gest sup­porter through all the kids, pe­riod,” Chris­ton said.

Grow­ing up in Hot

Springs since she was 2-years-old, Chris­ton was ac­tu­ally born in Spring­field, Illi­nois.

“I have no rec­ol­lec­tion of that be­cause my mom only stayed there I think my first two years and then she moved back to Hot Springs, so I was raised in Hot Springs, so that’s all I know,” she said.

And from Hot Springs to Fayet­teville to the WNBA to play­ing over­seas, Chris­ton lists Becky Ham­mon, the cur­rent San An­to­nio Spurs as­sis­tant coach and long­time WNBA player, as her best friend from her play­ing days.

“Becky Ham­mond is still to this day my go-to per­son,” Chris­ton said. “We take fam­ily va­ca­tions to­gether. Ob­vi­ously she’s busy be­cause she coaches for the Spurs right now, but she was my go-to per­son. We played a lot over­seas. She was prob­a­bly the one player I played the most with be­cause we played in New York for six years and over­seas another three to four years to­gether and against each other, as well. And we played in San An­to­nio another three years.

“She is my go-to per­son for ev­ery­thing, on and off the court. She is such a great per­son, a great friend to have. She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m go­ing to have her come talk to some of my campers. She’ll come. I love her to pieces.”

Chris­ton also played un­der some leg­endary coaches, as well, from Blair at Arkansas, Uconn Coach Geno Auriemma in the Olympics (where Chris­ton won bronze in 2001) and Anne Dono­van with the New York Liberty.

“I re­ally en­joyed Coach Gary Blair,” she said. “He’s just a great guy. He’s a great bas­ket­ball coach, but he’s a very gen­uine, great guy, so I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated hav­ing him as my coach for three years. Over­all I had a great ex­pe­ri­ence. I love Fayet­teville, it’s a great city.

“Gary Blair and Gino Auriemma be­cause I’ve never been cursed out more in my life, but I re­spected him be­cause you know he knows his X’s and O’s, but his de­liv­ery, you just got to be ready for it. He says ex­actly how he feels and you just deal with it. I re­mem­ber Gary Blair, he said, ‘Oh, so he makes me look like a Charmin’s Lit­tle Angel.’

“In the WNBA, I’m go­ing to say Ann Don­a­van, rest her soul, she was great. X’s and O’s. She used to tell me, ‘Shameka, you’re too nice. You come from Arkansas, I get it, but you can be nice off the court. You have to be able to be that B.’ She was an Olympian, won medals coach­ing as well. She was amaz­ing.”

And play­ing un­der some ex­cel­lent tute­lage, Chris­ton has much to of­fer to those she men­tors.

“I learned so much and that’s why I’ve come back and I’m here and just train­ing,” she said. “I give all my play­ers this knowl­edge. More than any­thing I want to in­still a con­fi­dence in them. Es­pe­cially around this age, it’s all about the con­fi­dence. It’s so easy to say, ‘I can’t do it, I quit.’ I was that same player, I had that same op­tion to just quit. I didn’t and it paid off for me.

“I want to start at Pre-k be­cause the sooner you start, the bet­ter chances you have as well. I’m not say­ing it’s im­pos­si­ble be­cause I was a late-bloomer and still made it to the top of the league level.”

For those in­ter­ested in train­ing with Chris­ton, email her at s.chris­[email protected] com.

“I want to help out as much as I pos­si­bly can, but at the same time I’m just one per­son,” she said. “Nor­mally when I have my big groups, I’ll bring my brother be­cause he is a bas­ket­ball ge­nius. He has a bas­ket­ball mind. He trained his sons and they have played at col­lege with one still at LA Tech now. He went to col­lege to play. He has a son, a sixth-grader, who is a beast, he trains them. He has a daugh­ter in fifth grade, who is just start­ing out, and she will also be a beast. He helps me with my big, big groups just to make sure every client is get­ting the at­ten­tion they need and I’m not spread too thin.

“Tech­ni­cally he taught me. I had to play against him and he didn’t take it easy on me at all. He treated me as if I was a guy. It paid off. He has that bas­ket­ball mind, as well.”

Chris­ton said she’s in it for the long haul.

“If any­body wants to come train with me, I’m def­i­nitely here and pas­sion­ate about it,” she said. “If you want to learn, I’m here to teach you be­cause bas­ket­ball has treated me so well. I’m here for any type of bas­ket­ball, and it’s not just girls. I love what I do. I love the game. It’s not work for me.”

TONY LE­NA­HAN/THE Sa­line Courier

For­mer Ra­zor­back and WNBA player Shameka Chris­ton gets set to lead her skills and drills ses­sion at the Boys & Girls Club of Sa­line County in Ben­ton ear­lier this week.

TONY LE­NA­HAN/THE Sa­line Courier

Shameka Chris­ton talks to skills and drills par­tic­i­pants at the Boys & Girls Club of Sa­line County ear­lier this week.

Chris­ton

GREG Davis/spe­cial to The Sa­line Courier

Bryant Black Sox bat­ter Lo­gan Cat­ton gets set to bunt in a game ear­lier this week. Cat­ton went 3 for 4 with the gamewin­ning run in a 4-3 vic­tory over the Mid­west Na­tion­als Fri­day at the Mid-amer­ica Premier in Spring­field, Mis­souri.

TONY LE­NA­HAN/THE Sa­line Courier

Shameka Chris­ton, left, gives in­struc­tion at a skills and drills ses­sion re­cently.

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