Holdsclaw, Chamique Shaunta

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HOLDSCLAW, Chamique Shaunta

(b. 9 August 1977 in Flushing, New York), four-time All-American and professional basketball player known for her grace and style on and off the court.

Holdsclaw grew up playing basketball on the cement courts outside of her grandmother's housing project, Astoria Houses, in Queens. Holdsclaw is the eldest child of Bonita Holdsclaw, a data entry clerk, and Willie Johnson, a car mechanic. Her parents' struggle with alcohol often left Holdsclaw caring for her younger brother, Davon. The children would often steal money from their parents in order to buy dinner. Holdsclaw always had to be strong and driven.

When Holdsclaw was eleven years old her unmarried parents split, her mother entered treatment for alcoholism, and she and Davon went to live with their grandmother June. Although Astoria Houses was a tough and sometimes violent neighborhood of twenty different buildings, her grandmother gave Holdsclaw the structure and security she had never had with her parents. After catching Holdsclaw skipping school, her grandmother placed her in Queens Lutheran, a small private school, and enrolled her in ballet and jazz classes. Grandmother Holdsclaw also made certain that homework was completed right after school and took the children to church every Sunday. Eventually, Davon went back to live with Bonita, but Chamique chose to stay with her grandmother.

Holdsclaw's uncle Thurman introduced her to basketball when she was nine, but she did not play regularly until moving to her grandmother's. Under the watchful eye of her grandmother, Holdsclaw began playing ball with neighborhood boys. Soon she was hooked and earned the nickname "Flat Out" because she would flat out quit anything to play basketball. Between basketball, her grandmother, and good friends she avoided the pitfalls of inner-city life.

Holdsclaw's experience with organized basketball began at Christ the King High School, from which she graduated as the all-time school leader in scoring (2,118 points) and rebounds (1,532). Coach Vinny Cannizzaro already had one of the top basketball programs when Tyrone Green, Astoria House after-school program director, told him he needed to see Holdsclaw play. Cannizzaro expected to see Holdsclaw playing with other girls and was shocked to find her the only girl on the court. Within just a few minutes he knew he had to recruit Holdsclaw.

She led the team to four state titles and a record of 106–4 by her graduation in 1995. Averaging 24.8 points and 15.9 rebounds per game during her senior year, she became the school's all-time scoring leader. She also earned New York's Miss Basketball title three times and the Naismith Award for the best female high school player in the United States (1995). Holdsclaw received a good deal of national exposure during her high school career. Cannizzaro ran the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) program for girls during the summer. These teams traveled and competed in tournaments to showcase players for college coaches.

Fiercely recruited—by the time she was a junior she was getting upwards of twenty letters a day—Holdsclaw chose the University of Tennessee–Knoxville and Pat Summitt's Lady Vols. Tennessee was not the initial front-runner; even Coach Summitt doubted whether a big city girl would come to live in Tennessee. In the end Holdsclaw was impressed with Tennessee's graduation rate, its stress on academics, and the overall structure and discipline of the program. She was also influenced by her grandmother, June Holdsclaw, who liked Pat Summitt and believed that Chamique would benefit from going to a southern school. The University of Tennessee was her second college visit; she did not go on any others.

Her college career was nothing less than spectacular. Earning a starting position her freshman year, Holdsclaw led the team in scoring and rebounding as well as to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship. In her first week of play she was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week, averaging nearly thirteen points per game over her first three games. She was also the only freshman named to the All-America first team. Also her freshman year, ESPN named her the College Basketball Player of the Week, the first time a woman had been so honored.

Holdsclaw's sophomore season was much tougher. That year the team lost ten games, more than any other Lady Vol squad. Individually, however, Holdsclaw was having a good season, scoring an average of 20.2 points a game. Despite regular season difficulties the Lady Vols took home a second national championship, making them the second women's team to win consecutive national titles. During Holdsclaw's junior year she led the Lady Vols to their third consecutive NCAA title and a perfect 39–0 season, the best record in either women's or men's basketball. Her performance earned her the Final Four Most Valuable Player Award. A fourth national title, however, eluded the Lady Vols in 1999. This was the first time Holdsclaw had not taken home a championship title since junior high.

Overall Holdsclaw boasted an amazing college record. She led her team to three consecutive titles, a total record of 131–17; she set NCAA tournament and university records for scoring, with 3,025 career points, and rebounding, with 1,295 rebounds. She became the first female basketball player to win the James E. Sullivan Memorial Award given to the nation's top amateur athlete. Holdsclaw graduated in 1999 with a B.A. degree in political science. Always a solid student, Holdsclaw opted to remain in school when the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) was organized and finish her degree, honoring a promise she had made to her grandmother. The University recognized her contribution to the sport and school by naming a campus street for her, and she is one of the few Lady Vols players who have had their jerseys retired. During her first three collegiate seasons, Holdsclaw earned All-American honors and All-America from 1996–1997 to 1998–1999. In June 1998 Holdsclaw was awarded the Honda-Broderick Cup, given annually to the nation's most outstanding female collegiate athlete.

Holdsclaw's collegiate career also included international play. During summers she played on the U.S. National Women's Basketball Team. The youngest and only college player on the national team, Holdsclaw led her professional and Olympic teammates in scoring and rebounding in 1997 and became USA Basketball's Female Athlete of the Year.

Holdsclaw began her professional career when she was chosen as the first-round draft pick by the Washington Mystics in the WNBA draft. She was the only rookie voted onto the WNBA All-Star team during the inaugural year (1999) for the WNBA All-Star game. While the Mystics still struggle on the court, their record has improved with Holdsclaw's help. In her first year with the Mystics, Holds-claw averaged 16.9 points per game and started thirty-one of thirty-two games. Holdsclaw received the 1999 WNBA Rookie of the Year award for her first year with the Mystics, and she continues to play strong and influence the game. In 2000 she was given the Naismith Award for women's player of the century.

Holdsclaw revolutionized the world of women's basketball, taking it to a new level of intensity. Her versatility and skill set her apart from past players. She can elevate above male adversaries and dominate the game. Throughout all her hardship and success, Holdsclaw has remained humble and ever thankful. An issue of SLAM, a magazine for NBA fans, states, "Holdsclaw should be overdosing on attitude. But she isn't. Never has."

More insight can be found in her first advertising commercial. She told Nike she wanted her first commercial to be personal. They came up with several options, and she chose the one in which she recites part of Psalm 23, which is also why she wears jersey 23. Her grandmother instilled in her a strong faith in God. Her faith and her character make her an outstanding role model for young players, especially girls. Holdsclaw lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her boyfriend, Larry Williams. The couple met during Holdsclaw's freshman year at UTK.

With Jennifer Frey, Holdsclaw wrote Chamique: On Family, Focus, and Basketball (2000), in which she discusses growing up in New York, her grandmother, and her first impressions of Tennessee. Pat Head Summitt with Sally Jenkins, Raise the Roof: The Inspiring Story of the Tennessee Lady Vols' Undefeated 1997–1998 Season (1998), gives an account of the Lady Vols' undefeated season. HBO did an excellent documentary on the Lady Vols during Holdsclaw's sophomore season called A Cinderella Season: The Lady Vols Fight Back (1998). There are numerous articles written about Holdsclaw; two of the most interesting are "Chamique Holdsclaw" in Biography Today (Sept. 2000) and "Is Chamique Holdsclaw Ready for the NBA?" in SLAM (Oct. 1998).

Lisa A. Ennis