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Cash, Swin

Swin Cash

1979–

Professional basketball player

Swin Cash has become one of the brightest lights in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). Known for her passion on the court, Cash has earned an enviable cache of awards—two college NCAA championships, a WNBA championship title, an Olympic gold medal, and even a coveted spot on a box of Wheaties, the "breakfast of champions." She has also earned enough personal trophies to fill a room in her mother's home—All-American, All-Star, MVP. Yet Cash, who is respected among players and coaches as a true team player, deflects her glory back on those who run the court with her. "I have never, ever done anything in my life alone, and that's how I like it," she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "To me, sports is about championships, and you get those by knowing how to be part of a team."

Born with Basketball in Her Blood

Cash's mother Cynthia Cash was a star high school basketball player when she got pregnant in her senior year. On September 22, 1979, she gave birth to Swintayla Marie Cash. The name means "astounding woman" and would prove to be an apt foretelling of Cash's future. It is also a good description of Cynthia. Barely two months after giving birth, Cynthia was back on the court playing her heart out. "I knew that was my last chance to play basketball," she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "No college, no nothing. I had to be a mother to my child." It wasn't easy. With Cash's father out of the picture, Cynthia worked two jobs and raised Cash in a public housing project in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, a working-class town outside of Pittsburgh.

It was obvious from a young age that Cash had inherited her mother's athletic abilities. She played basketball, baseball, and soccer, ran track, did gymnastics, and even flipped cartwheels as a cheerleader. However, when she reached McKeesport High School, her mother suggested that she focus on one sport with an eye on earning a college scholarship. Cash chose basketball and knew she was on the right track when the head coach of the University of Connecticut's women's team showed up at a game. "I was only going into 10th grade," she told Women's Basketball. "He couldn't talk to me or anything, but it was him over there looking."

At McKeesport, Cash became a star athlete known not only for her ability to score points—an impressive average of 30.1 per game—but also for her dedication. "She would outwork everybody," her high school coach Gerald Grayson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, adding that "she leaves her heart on the floor every moment in practice, every moment in the game." She landed on several All-American teams and earned Pennsylvania Player of the Year accolades in 1998. Still, her mother kept Cash's pride in check. "She would never tell me it was a great game and just leave it there. She just always analyzed every little thing," Cash recalled to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2001. "I think that's what made me tougher because every game I wanted to go in and have it perfect."

Became a Two-Time NCAA Champ

Upon graduating in 1998, Cash accepted a scholarship to play for the University of Connecticut Huskies. Off-court, she enrolled as a communications major and thrived in her courses, landing on the dean's list. On the court, she quickly learned how to improve her game on a team full of women equally as talented as she. As a starting forward, Cash quickly proved her merit, scoring in the double digits in eight of her first ten games. However, a stress fracture in her foot soon sent her to the sidelines. Her sophomore year she was back, stronger than ever. She remembers bonding with her teammates on the court. "We were so focused we didn't feel we could be beat," she told Women's Basketball. They were right. The Huskies soared all the way to the NCAA championships, bringing home the 2000 title.

Cash's junior year was full of good plays and solid double-digit scoring, however it wasn't enough to help the team retain its title. That would change in Cash's final year of college. She recalled the team's resolve to reclaim the championship to Women's Basketball, "For us, it was something that was deserved, and we were going to go out and take it." It turned out to be one of the most impressive seasons in Huskies' history with a final tally of 39-0 and a second NCAA championship. For averaging 14.9 points and 8.6 rebounds during the play-offs, Cash earned the Most Outstanding Player award.

The 2002 NCAA championship marked the end of Cash's college career. Her total 1,583 points with the Huskies made her one of the team's all-time highest ranking scorers—an impressive feat considering the school has one of the best basketball programs in the country. It was an accomplishment that also peaked the interest of the WNBA. In the 2002, Cash was the second draft choice for the league, ending up as a forward for the Detroit Shock. Cash had entered the big time, however the shock for her was yet to come.

Learned to Lose and Win Again

A champ since high school, Cash found herself on the worst team in the WNBA. She had to learn how to lose as the Shock limped to a season close of 9-23. Cash took it reflectively. "Of course, things could be better," she told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "But you can't always measure how you are playing in terms of wins and losses. Each loss has made me a better player." Indeed, despite the team's dismal showing, Cash racked up impressive numbers, averaging 14.8 points per game and coming in third in Rookie-of-the-Year voting.

Things began to look up for Cash and the Shock when former Detroit Piston champion Bill Laimbeer took over as head coach mid-2002. One of the first things he did was make Cash team captain. "I knew I had to make somebody the lead person, and I might as well pick the hardest working person," Laimbeer told Women's Basketball. Cash's belief in teamwork made her ready for the challenge. "The biggest thing for me was being very selfless and putting the team above myself," she told Women's Basketball. "At the end of the day, I felt like our team goals were more important than any individual accolade that I could have received."

At a Glance …

Born Swintayla Marie Cash on September 22, 1979, in McKeesport, PA. Education: University of Connecticut, BA, communications, 2002.

Career: Detroit Shock, WNBA Professional Basketball, forward, Detroit, MI, 2002–; Cash Swin Enterprises, motivational speaker, fashion designer, founder, Rochester Hills, MI, 2005–.

Memberships: Cash for Kids, founder, spokesperson, 2005–.

Awards: University of Connecticut, NCAA Division I Championship Title, 2000, 2002; WNBA, Community Assist Award, 2002; Detroit Shock, WNBA Championship, 2003, 2006; Women's Senior USA Team, Olympic Gold Medal, 2004.

Addresses: Office—2939 South Rochester Rd., Ste. 190 Rochester Hills, MI 48307.

Under Laimbeer's tutelage, Cash and her teammates hit the court running. In a complete turn around, they barreled through the season winning game after game and going straight to the championship playoffs. In a best of three series against the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Sparks, Cash dazzled with an average of 17.5 points per game. The third and final game drew over 20,000 fans, the largest audience in WNBA history. With the crowd roaring, Cash and crew trounced the Sparks 83 to 78, earning the Shock its first championship trophy. The following year, Cash was selected to play for the Women's Senior National Team at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. When they won the gold medal, Cash became one of only six women to have scored a championship at every level of play—college, professional, and Olympic.

Championed Children's Causes

Though Cash scored a team-high 16.4 points per game in 2004, it wasn't enough for a repeat championship. Late in the season, she tore a ligament in her knee and was sidelined well into 2005. However, Cash was by no means inactive. Bolstered by her on-court fame, Cash used her striking beauty to pursue off-court celebrity. She walked the catwalk in New York, did a photo shoot for Elle, and made television appearances, eventually joining ESPN as a sports presenter. Yet, as her profile grew, she never once forgot where she had come from and made giving back a priority. She founded Cash for Kids, an organization that helps disadvantaged children and schools in Detroit and her hometown of McKeesport. She also started a "Strive with Pride Basketball Camp," a scholarship program, and lent public support to a host of children's causes.

Fully recovered by the 2005/06 season—and with a three-year renewal contract in hand—Cash returned to the court with a vengeance. As satisfying as her other pursuits were, basketball remained her passion. "I want to be known as one of the greatest players to play this game and be an ambassador for young girls coming up," Cash once told the Seattle Times. "Plus, be a champion. I love to win championships." She got her wish fulfilled yet again when the Shock sailed through another winning season, earning a second WNBA championship in 2006. As for being an ambassador for young women—that has been assured too. "[The kids] in public housing look at her and see that you can achieve anything you want if you're willing to work hard," Cynthia Cash told ESPN.com. "We didn't have a whole lot, but Swin never let that stop her." And with her hard won championships and fame, Swin Cash seemed determined to do even more.

Sources

Periodicals

Seattle Times, September 8, 2004, p. D7.

Women's Basketball, February 2004, p. 18.

On-line

"Athens Seems Next Logical Step in the Life of Swin Cash," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, www.post-gazette.com/pg/04222/358862.stm (January 3, 2007).

"Cash Learning the Ropes of Losing in WNBA," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_76747.html (January 3, 2007).

"Cash Machine Looks to Extend Career to Acting," ESPN.com, http://espn.go.com/wnba/s/2004/0518/1804310.html (January 3, 2007).

"NCAA Tournament: Mother's Lessons Make Cash Top Player," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, www.postga-zette.com/sports/collegeother/20010323swin4.asp (January 3, 2007).

Swin Cash, www.swincash.com (February 6, 2007).

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