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Holdsclaw, Chamique

Chamique Holdsclaw


American basketball player

Chamique Holdsclaw's story is one of courage. She struggled against imposing odds to escape the inner city of Queens, New York, becoming Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) Rookie of the Year in 1999. Setting milestones all along the way, Holdsclaw set all-time scoring and rebound records in high school and college. In 1999 when Sports Illustrated listed the fifty greatest sports figures from New York, newcomer Holdsclaw appeared at number forty-seven, cited for her four high school championships for Christ the King High School, and for her four-time run as an All-American. Her high school team's four-year record of 106-4 was impressive. She was a member of championship teams for eight consecutive seasons, beginning with a junior national championship in junior high school, through four Class A state championships at Christ the King High School, and three successive National College Athletic Association (NCAA) titles for the Lady Vols of Tennessee.

Born Chamique (pronounced Sha-MEEK-Wah) Shaunta Holdsclaw on August 9, 1977, in Flushing, Queens, she lived with her unmarried parents, Bonita Holdsclaw and Willie Johnson until the age of eleven. Holdsclaw's mother, a data entry clerk, and her father, an auto mechanic, battled alcohol problems, leaving Holdsclaw and Davon, her younger brother, too frequently on their own. The children sometimes scrounged for meals, and were unsupervised overall, with Holdsclaw looking after her brother as best as a small girl might.

Holdsclaw was eleven when she and her brother were placed with their grandmother, June Holdsclaw, at Astoria House in Queens, a housing project well-known for depravity and crime. June Holdsclaw provided a stable, structured home life for the two children, and when

Holdsclaw skipped school the first time, there were no second chances. She was enrolled immediately at Queens Lutheran School where the teachers were more demanding and students were better supervised.

By junior high school Holdsclaw's innate effervescence overflowed onto the neighborhood basketball courts. Already as a child she had studied ballet and jazz and performed on stage at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Now, living just minutes from Madison Square Gardens, she dreamed of playing basketball there as an adult. She had learned some game technique from her Uncle Thurman and soon earned the nickname Flat-out for her flat-out refusals to miss a chance to shoot hoops with her friends.

At the Astoria House after school program she dominated the all-male playground field. She had hops and she had a game, giving new definition to "Playing like a girl!" As she readied for high school, Tyrone Green, her coach in the after school program, dropped the word to Christ the King High School coach Vincent Cannizzaro to come and take a look. Holdsclaw could toss the ball goal-to-goal, a skill that duly impressed Cannizzaro, as did her ability to dominate the all-male court.

Four straight championship seasons followed at Christ the King, and as the dust cleared, Holdsclaw graduated from high school, leaving behind two all-time school records. She accumulated 2,118 points and 1,532 rebounds over four years. Additionally Holdsclaw spent her secondary school summers traveling for the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) with Cannizzaro. By her senior year she was posting stats of 24.8 points per game and averaging 15.9 rebounds.

While some high school athletes might peak early, Holdsclaw's court dominance was far from over. At her grandmother's urging she accepted a scholarship to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where she impressed the women's coach, Pat Summitt , with a special sense of confidence and strong will to win. Harriet Barovick quoted Summitt in Time, "Coaching Holdsclaw was an opportunity to 'raise the intensity level of one of the most gifted high school players I'd seen.' [she] used to laugh away losses. [but] hates to lose." Summitt put Holdsclaw on the varsity team, the Lady Vols (Volunteers), with little hesitation.

As a freshman starter, Holdsclaw was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week in her first week. Also as a freshman Holdsclaw made All-American first team. ESPN named her College Basketball Player of the Week, and she was the first woman ever to get the nod. The Lady Vols won the NCAA championship that year, and in the end the fuss over the first-year starter proved to be much more than hype. The final stats showed that she led her team both in scoring and in rebounding for the season.

What amounted to a sophomore year slump for Holdsclaw and the Lady Vols during the 1996-97 season might have been the envy of a lesser team. Despite finishing the season with ten games in the loss column, the squad won an historic back-to-back NCAA championshiponly the second on record with the NCAA. Holdsclaw led the team with 20.2 points per game that year.


1977 Born August 9 in Flushing, New York
1999 Goes to Washington Mystics as a forward, number one draft pick in the inaugural WNBA draft, and only college player taken in the first round; achieves season average of 16.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game after starting 31 of 32 games; ranks sixth in scoring, third in rebounding; named as Special Sports Correspondent for Nickelodeon Games and Sports (GAS) cable network on May 11; graduates with a degree in political science
2000 Ranks seventh in average scoring in WNBA at 17.5 and seventh in rebounds per game at 7.5 and third in minutes per game with 35.3
2001 Publishes a book during the off-season, Chamique: On Family, Focus and Basketball ; releases her own shoe: BBMiqueShox

Holdsclaw returned at full steam for a most impressive college season in 1997-98. She led the team to a 39-0 record and a third championship. In the conference finals against Louisiana Tech University, she scored twenty-five points, hooked ten rebounds, and recorded six assists and a steal, bringing Tennessee to a final score of 93-75. Holdsclaw at that point boasted a track record of eight championships in eight years. She earned the most valuable player (MVP) title for the collegiate final four (NCAA finals). Two years behind Holdsclaw were freshmen Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall, who rounded out a collegiate power player trio, which came to be called "The Meeks."

Tennessee lost the championship in 1999Holdsclaw's senior yearhaving recorded only fourteen losses during the previous three-year period. Holdsclaw regardless was one of only twelve college athletes to be drafted that year, going to the Washington Mystics as the first pick in the first round. The recent demise of the American Basketball League (ABL) had created large pool of professional players from which to pick, and Holdsclaw was the only collegiate draftee to go in the first round. When she graduated with a B.A. in political science that year, she left behind an all-time school record of 3,025 points and 1,295 rebounds, more than any player ever in the history of the schoolmale or female.

Holdsclaw's pro rookie season was as remarkable as was her past. She started in thirty-one out of thirty-two games and was the only rookie to appear on the WNBA's inaugural All-Star team. With a year-end scoring average of 16.9 points per game she was named Rookie of the Year. Having spent her college summers traveling internationally with the U.S. National team, Holdsclaw was named to the gold-medal U.S. women's basketball team for the summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, in 2000.

From her outstanding high school and college years, her participation on the Olympic Basketball team, and now as a star in professional basketball with the Washington Mystics, Chamique Holdsclaw has proven herself one of the greats in American basketball.


Address: c/o Washington Mystics, MCI Center, 601 F St. NW, Washington, DC, 20004-1605.

Career Statistics

WAS: Washington Mystics.
1999 WAS 31 .437 .172 .773 7.90 2.4 1.19 .87 3.48 2.20
2000 WAS 32 .465 .256 .680 7.50 2.5 1.47 .56 2.91 2.30
2001 WAS 29 .400 .239 .682 8.80 2.3 1.52 .48 3.24 1.70
2002 WAS 20 .452 .393 .830 11.60 2.3 1.00 .30 2.25 2.50
TOTAL 112 .438 .261 .737 8.70 2.4 1.32 .58 3.04 2.10

Awards and Accomplishments

1995 Olympic Festival; Naismith award as best female high school player, Atlanta's Tip-Off Club; named to Street & Smith All-American; three-time USA Today All-American; named Player of the Year by New York City, Rawlings/Women's Basketball Coaches Association, and Touchdown Club (Columbus, Ohio); Southeastern Conference Player of the Week; won Kodak All-American Honors
1997 World Qualifying Tournament; USA Basketball Player of the Year Award; Honda-Broderick Cup from the National College Athletic Association
1997-98 Named most valuable player of the National College Athletic Association playoffs
1997-99 Naismith finalist; won James E. Sullivan award (first female recipient); named AP Women's Basketball Player of the Year
1998 Won Gold medal at the World Championships; honored as one of 12 female athletes selected as inspirational role models by Women's Sports and Fitness; Broderick Awards for Basketball Player of the Year and for Athlete of the Year
1998-99 Named female college player of the year; ESPY award for Women's Basketball Player of the Year
1999 Named Women's National Basketball Association Rookie of the Year ($5,000); Named to Kodak 25th Anniversary Team, Women's Basketball Journal, Sports Illustrated, and Sporting News; National Women's Player of the Year; ESPY award for Female Athlete of the Year; starter in the inaugural Women's National Basketball Association All-Star game
1999-2000 Selected to the USA Basketball team
2000 Selected as one of the Naismith College Basketball Players of the 20th Century on March 21; won a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Sydney; league All-Star game starter
Recipient of Conde Naste's Woman of the Year and USA Today 's "Shining Star in Basketball.
University of Tennessee male/female all-time leading scorer with 3,025 points, and leading rebounder (1,295).
One of only five NCAA females to achieve 3,000 points.
College jersey, number 23, was retired by University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers (only the fourth jersey ever retired).
Led Lady Volunteers to three Southeastern Conference titles.
Twice-named most valuable player of the Southeastern Conference play-offs.
Has a street named after her in Tennessee.
Named Miss Basketball of New York State on three occasions.


(With Jennifer Frey) Chamique: On Family, Focus, and Basketball, Scribner, 2000.



Business Wire (May 11, 1999).

Business Wire (May 13, 1999).

Jet (March 8, 1999).

Jet (May 24, 1999).

Jet (September 20, 1999).

Jet (February 19, 2001).

Sports Illustrated For Kids (December 1, 1998): 66.

Time (March 22, 1999): 95.


"University of Tennessee Basketball." (January 17, 2003)

Sketch by G. Cooksey

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Holdsclaw, Chamique 1977–

Chamique Holdsclaw 1977

Professional basketball player

Joined Team as Freshman

Led Team to Championship

Signed Nike Deal


The pioneering womens professional basketball player Nancy Lieberman-Cline summed up her feelings with a single word when asked about Chamique Holdsclaw by the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service in 1997: What Im saying is, Yikes On the strength of her four-year college basketball career at the University of Tennessee, sports-writers searched for superlatives to describe Holdsclaws abilities; she was thought to be not just a great player, but someone who was fundamentally changing womens basketball. In 1999, her first year in the pros, she disappointed no expectations. Holdsclaw has often been compared to male basketball superstar Michael Jordan, who has expressed admiration for Holdsclaws skills.

Chamique Holdsclaw (her first name is pronounced shuh-MEEK-wah, and she is known by the nickname Meek) was born on August 9,1977, and raised in New York City. Her family was never well off, and the financial strains became severe when her parents went their separate ways. When she was eleven, Chamique went to live with her grandmother, June, in a housing project in the Queens borough neighborhood of Astoria. In her grandmothers home she found a warm, stable environment; years later at the University of Tennessee, when she had to contribute to a listing of team members parents, she entered her grandmothers name.

Joined Team as Freshman

The religious upbringing Holdsclaw received from her grandmother was strong; her lifelong jersey number of 23 refers not to any sports figure or tradition, but to the Bibles Twenty-Third Psalm (The Lord is my shepherd). But it still left her time to play basketball at a neighborhood court, where the local schoolboys set male pride aside and clamored for her to join their teams. She had the nickname Rat Out because she would flat out drop anything to play basketball. By the end of the eighth grade, approaching her mature height of six feet, two inches (with size 14 feet), Holdsclaw could throw a basketball the length of the court, and Vincent Canizza-ro, coach of one of the nations top girls basketball programs at New Yorks Christ the King High School, put her in his teams varsity lineup during her freshman year.

At a Glance

Born August9, 1977; mothers name Bonita; raised from age 11 in Queens, New York, by grandmother June Holdsclaw. Education: Graduated from Christ the King High School, New York, New York; graduated from University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, 1999.

Career: Professional basketball player with Washington Mystics of WNBA league. Led Christ the King High to four consecutive state championships; led team to national championships for three of four years at Tennessee, 199698; became Tennessees all-time leading scorer; drafted by Washington Mystics in first round, 1999; signed six-figure endorsement deal with Nike, 1999; named WNBA Rookie of the Year, 1999.

Awards: Numerous awards include selection for Associated Press All-America team, 199697, 199798, and 199899; named four consecutive years to Kodak All-American team; won Sullivan Award as nations best amateur athlete, 1999.

Addresses: Team officedo Washington Mystics, MCI Center, 601 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20001

Canizzaros judgment proved sound when Holdsclaw led the Christ the King team to four consecutive state championships; the team lost only four games during her entire career there. Weve been blessed with a lot of great players, Canizzaro told Sports Illustrated, but she has to be the best. In her last year, Holdsclaw averaged 25 points a game, and found herself the object of heavy recruitment from college programs. Her grandmother, a native Southerner, nudged her toward the University of Tennessee, partly out of admiration for Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.

Summitt, who became a second strong female presence in Holdsclaws life over her four years at Tennessee, was as immediately bowled over by her new protegee as Canizzaro had been. Holdsclaw, who played the position of forward, was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week in her very first week of play at Tennessee, as she averaged nearly 13 points a game over her first three games. 12 games into Holdsclaws freshman season, Summitt praised her as potentially the best player ever to come to Tennessee, a perennial powerhouse in womens college basketball.

Led Team to Championship

Holdsclaw had a sensational freshman year, averaging 18.6 points a game and becoming the only woman ever named college Player of the Week by the ESPN cable-television sports network during one particularly torrid stretch. Summitt honed Holdsclaws competitive instincts, taking Holdsclaw to task for her initial relaxed attitude in the face of the occasional loss, but eventually becoming the kind of strong yet nurturing guiding force Holdsclaw needed. At the seasons end, Holdsclaw was named to a womens All-America squad sponsored by the Kodak corporation, the only freshman to be so honored. Injured in the finals of the Southeastern Conference tournament, she bounced back, and Tennessee romped to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship.

That years worth of accomplishments by itself would have brought major prestige to any basketball player, but for Holdsclaw it was only the beginning. That NCAA championship would be the first of three that Tennessee would win during her college career. The Tiger Woods of womens basketball is here, observed John Small-wood of the Knight-Ridder Tribune News Service, and Holdsclaw may very well take the game to another level. Holdsclaw eventually became Tennessees all-time leading scorer and rebounder, and in her senior year won the Sullivan award as the best amateur athlete in the United States.

Neither the biggest nor the most physically powerful woman in the game, Holdsclaw had uncanny mental strength, consistently summoning incredible energy in clutch situations. Some people compete when its convenient, Nancy Lieberman-Cline told Time magazine. Chamique steps up when the team needs her. A typical performance came in January of 1999, when Holdsclaw scored 25 points to lead the Lady Volunteers to an away-game victory over arch-rival Connecticut, dealing that team its first loss at home in 54 games.

Signed Nike Deal

As Holdsclaw neared the end of her time at Tennessee, speculation about her future ran hot and heavy in the nations sports press. With her camera-friendly looks and a disarming manner often described as humble, Holdsclaw has been expected to reap huge financial rewards not just from her work on the basketball court, but also through endorsement deals and the like. She had already been approached about a movie deal; filmmaker Spike Lee had wanted to cast Holdsclaw in his college basketball story He Got Game (whose title, with gender altered, provided the headline for many a Holdsclaw newspaper story). NCAA rules did not allow that, but once her final season was over, the marketing of Chamique Holdsclaw began. She agreed to a five-year contract with Nike, Inc., that was easily the largest ever signed by a female athlete; it promised to bring her an annual income in six figures before she even picked up a basketball. She also announced plans to join the Nickelodeon television network as an on-air sports personality.

Holdsclaw was the only college player selected in the first round of the Womens National Basketball Association (WNBA) draft. Though she had expressed a desire to return home to New York, she was drafted by the Washington Mystics. Her first-year performance was as remarkable as ever: she averaged 16.9 points per game (good for a ranking of sixth in the league), started 31 of 32 games, and was named the WNBAs Rookie of the Year. Whether Holdsclaw could become the female Michael Jordan remained to be seen, but she was well on her way.



Jet, September 20,1999, p. 48: May 24,1999, p. 46.

Interactive Sports Wire, May 14, 1999.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, May 14,1999.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 31,1997.

Newsweek, March 15,1999, p. 63.

Sporting News, April 7, 1997, p. 17.

Sports Illustrated, December 2, 1996, p. 100.

Time, March 22, 1999, p. 95.

James M. Manheim

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