Tina Charles, the WNBA’s fourth-leading scorer, is feeling right at home in her second season with the New York Liberty. Charles, who grew up in Queens, New York, played for the Connecticut Sun from 2010–13 before requesting a trade in 2014.
She played for the University of Connecticut in college and was a national champion in 2009 and ’10. As a senior, she earned every major player of the year accolade, including the Naismith Trophy and the Wooden Award.
Recently, I had the chance to go to the MSG Training Center to watch the Liberty practice. The players did a lot of shooting drills and half-court scrimmaging. Following practice, Tina and I played two rounds of H-O-R-S-E.
She was a really fun person to be around, and I enjoyed talking to her and competing against her. During H-O-R-S-E there were backwards shots, jump shots, layups, and other creative attempts. Her best shot was the one she took backwards. Then I had to make it too — and I did! That was my best shot. We played two rounds; Tina won one and I won one.
Before our friendly game, I sat down with Tina to talk about her background, on-court and off-court rituals, and what she hopes to do in the future.
You went to college in Connecticut and played for the Connecticut Sun but grew up in New York. What does playing basketball for the New York Liberty mean to you?
Playing basketball for New York means the world to me. I grew up a fan of the Liberty. I was born and raised in Queens, so to be able to play for my hometown team is a blessing and a dream come true.
When did you start playing basketball?
When I was in first grade. I was six or seven.
Who was the biggest influence on your basketball career?
(Coach) Geno Auriemma from UConn. His confidence that he had in me and his belief was able to get me prepared for the next level. I really appreciate him for that.
You got your first recruiting letter at age 12 from Stony Brook University. Did you receive more shortly after or not until you were a bit older?
More after — I actually framed that one. To be 12 years old and to receive a collegiate letter gave me a lot of confidence to keep playing the sport of basketball.
Did you play any other sports as a kid?
I played softball, tennis, and soccer. Softball was my favorite.
To what extent did those sports help you become a better basketball player?
Softball helped me because it was a team sport. To be around other teammates, get to know other people and how to adjust — just being around other teammates helped me.
Do you have any pregame rituals?
I speak to my mom and my dad. They tell me good luck and things that they think I should do. I always call my parents.
What was your best on-court experience while you were playing with UConn?
Winning a national championship.
What has been your best on-court experience while playing in the WNBA?
My first game with the Liberty. The welcome I received from the crowd was great, and my dream really came true.
I know you are involved in several charities. What makes them special to you and why?
My foundation, the Hopeys Heart Foundation, raises awareness for sudden cardiac arrest. That’s when the heart suddenly stops. My foundation places AEDs [automated external defibrillators] to make sure if sudden cardiac arrest does happen, an AED is there to give you an electric shock to save your life. My foundation has been able to put out 156 AEDs starting in April 2013, so it’s really important to me.
What are you normally doing when you are not playing basketball?
I have a dog, Huey. I am usually playing around with him.
What are your hobbies aside from basketball?
I love museums. Any time we travel to different cities to play another team, I go to a museum. In New York I love Broadway shows. I recently saw Aladdin.
What sneakers do you normally wear when you are not playing basketball?
I usually don’t wear sneakers. I love wearing dress shoes because I am always in sweats, so I love to dress up.
What would you recommend to kids who want to become successful athletes when they get older?
My advice would be to have fun with the game and play for yourself, nobody else. Also, stay determined and patient.
Photos: Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images (action), Kate Gilliam (with Kid Reporter)