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BOUND FOR GLORY FORWARD CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW IS ON THE FAST TRACK TO BECOME TENNESSEE'S BIGGEST STAR EVER

Dec. 02, 1996
Dec. 02, 1996

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Dec. 2, 1996

College Basketball 96-97 Preview

BOUND FOR GLORY FORWARD CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW IS ON THE FAST TRACK TO BECOME TENNESSEE'S BIGGEST STAR EVER

Women's basketball practice runs three hours, sometimes longer,
at Tennessee, and within 20 minutes, the light-gray T-shirts the
players wear start to darken across their backs. With an hour to
go, most of the Lady Vols look as if they had driven a
convertible through a car wash.

This is an article from the Dec. 2, 1996 issue Original Layout

But Chamique Holdsclaw's shirt is still dry, which only
reinforces the widely held suspicion that basketball comes
amazingly easy to her. After all, Holdsclaw, a 6'2" sophomore
forward from Astoria, N.Y., didn't just start the opener of her
freshman season; she also averaged 12.7 points and 8.0 rebounds
over her first three games and was named the SEC player of the
week. She didn't just lead Tennessee in scoring (16.2 points per
game) and rebounding (9.1) last season; she also led the Lady
Vols to the NCAA title. And she did it with enough style and
grace to placate her grandmother June, who always dreamed that
Chamique (pronounced sha-MEE-kwah) would become a ballerina.
"But could you imagine, with those feet?" June says of
Chamique's size 14s. "Now I tell her she's like a ballerina on
the court."

With a braces-filled smile and a shake of her head, Holdsclaw
stops way short of conceding that basketball is no sweat for
her. "I'd say I make it look smoooooth," she says. But the
combination of Holdsclaw's smoothness and dry practice T has at
times even fooled the Tennessee coaching staff. "I'll practice
really hard, and the coaches will look at my shirt like, Why
aren't you sweating?" she says. "I just don't perspire much."

Holdsclaw was just 12 games removed from high school last
January when Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt pronounced her
potentially the best player ever to come to Tennessee. Photos of
the Lady Vols' 12 Olympians and 14 All-Americas covered the
locker-room wall behind Summitt as she made this proclamation,
and you could almost see each former star raise an incredulous
eyebrow. The way the rest of Holdsclaw's freshman season played
out, though, was enough to erase their--and anyone
else's--skepticism.

During a week last January in which the Lady Vols beat then No.
1-ranked Louisiana Tech, No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 20 Arkansas,
Holdsclaw averaged 20.3 points and 11.0 rebounds and was named
college basketball Player of the Week by ESPN, the only woman so
honored in the five years the award has been given. At the end
of the season she was named to the Kodak women's All-America
team, the only freshman on the 10-member squad. "I imagined
she'd make a positive contribution as a freshman," says Vincent
Cannizzaro, Holdsclaw's coach at Christ the King High in Queens,
N.Y. "But I don't think anybody envisioned her accomplishing
what she did."

Chamique was 11 when her parents separated and she and her
brother, Davon, then eight, moved to nearby Astoria to stay with
June. Davon eventually moved back in with their mother, Bonita,
who lives in Staten Island, but Chamique never left. She had
become too attached to her grandmother, whose name she lists on
her Tennessee bio where other players list their parents.
Chamique does keep in touch with Bonita, though, and with her
father, Willie, who also lives in Queens, and both plan to visit
her at Tennessee this season for the first time.

They'll find that their daughter has maintained a humble charm
even as she has become the toast of Knoxville. She seems
incapable of saying anything vaguely flattering about herself
without punctuating the sentence with a self-conscious laugh.
She comes across as mature and confident for a 19-year-old, but
if you made her repeat that assessment back to you, she couldn't
do it with a straight face.

She isn't your stereotypical loudmouthed New Yorker, that's for
sure. The Tennessee players found that out when Holdsclaw went
for her recruiting visit in the fall of her senior year in high
school. Holdsclaw, in turn, quickly found out that her
prospective teammates, all of whom had impressive basketball
pedigrees of their own, wouldn't treat her like a big star if
she decided to join the Lady Vols. After attending the
Tennessee-Alabama football game on a Saturday afternoon, the
players went to see Wes Craven's New Nightmare, a blood-and-guts
movie in the Freddy Krueger series. Somehow blocking out the
horror-film pandemonium, Holdsclaw dozed off. Her new friends
promptly inserted straws into her nostrils. "I was trying to
breathe and it felt all weird," she says. "Then I realized I had
all this stuff up my nose." Holdsclaw knew she had found a place
where she would fit in.

In her final season at Christ the King, which has arguably the
best girls' high school program in the country, Holdsclaw
averaged 25.0 points and 15.0 rebounds. The Royals lost one game
that year, giving them four defeats in Holdsclaw's four years on
the team. Christ the King also won the Class A state
championship, its sixth in a row. "We've been blessed with a lot
of great players," says Cannizzaro, who in 16 years at Christ
the King has coached 56 players who earned college scholarships,
"but she has to be the best."

Tennessee, too, has been blessed with a lot of terrific players,
and it's a rare freshman who can make an instant impact. In her
first game, against No. 2 Virginia, Holdsclaw contributed 13
points and 10 rebounds. "She's very competitive, very intense,
but she has this composure," says Michelle Marciniak, a senior
guard for Tennessee last season who now plays for the Portland
Power in the ABL. "From a freshman, I couldn't believe it. We
could draw confidence from her."

But the Lady Vols never let Holdsclaw forget she was a rookie.
On the first road trip, to Hawaii for the Kona Classic, her
teammates found a yellow broomstick on the van that took them to
the Knoxville airport. "It's the freshman pole," guard Laurie
Milligan told Holdsclaw, "and you have to carry it for the whole
trip." The other players nodded, and Holdsclaw, who claims she
isn't a gullible person, carried the stick through the airport
and onto the plane. "I thought it was tradition, and I didn't
want to break it," she says. Somewhere over the Pacific, a coach
finally tipped her off, but the Lady Vols enjoyed the joke so
much that an instant tradition was born and all three of this
year's freshmen will take turns carrying the pole. Oh, and sure
enough, Holdsclaw carried Tennessee to the Kona title and earned
MVP honors.

Holdsclaw realized how much the Lady Vols were relying on her
the afternoon after Connecticut had won 59-53 at Tennessee,
ending at 69 games an NCAA-record home unbeaten streak that
dated back to 1991. She had led the Lady Vols with 15 points but
did not score in the final nine minutes. "The second half of
that game was probably the only time I saw her really hold back
all season," Tennessee assistant Mickie DeMoss says. "It was
like she was waiting for someone else to do it."

Braving a January snowstorm that had paralyzed Knoxville, the
Lady Vols gathered in their locker room, where they were met by
an unsmiling Summitt. She instructed them to write down the
things they could have done better against Connecticut.
Holdsclaw came up with quite a list: I shouldn't have just sat
back, I should have stepped my game up. I played like a
freshman. I played like I didn't want the ball, like I was scared.

After practice Summitt and Holdsclaw went to watch film of the
game and have a talk. Summitt told Holdsclaw in no uncertain
terms that she was expected to make her share of big plays and
not rely on seniors Marciniak and Latina Davis to take over and
that she wasn't to worry about what might be proper for a
freshman. "After that I didn't really care what anybody else
thought, I knew it was what the coach wanted me to do,"
Holdsclaw says.

She averaged 18.6 points a game through the rest of the regular
season, but in the final of the SEC tournament she was presented
with a new challenge. Nine minutes into the game against
Alabama, Holdsclaw collided with an opponent and crumpled to the
court with a partially torn ligament in her right knee.
Tennessee won the game 64-60, but suddenly there was a question
about whether Holdsclaw would play in the NCAA tournament. She
didn't handle the uncertainty well. "I just shut everybody out,"
she says. "I felt pretty down, going to practice and not being
able to participate, so I wouldn't talk to anyone."

Marciniak noticed Holdsclaw was struggling and gathered the Lady
Vols in the locker room before practice one afternoon. "I wanted
to let her know in front of the team that there wasn't going to
be any jealousy and that we were all proud of her," says
Marciniak. "If we lost at the end of the season, it wasn't going
to be because she didn't perform. I think she needed to hear
that."

Holdsclaw was able to play in Tennessee's first-round game, 12
days after her injury. And it turned out that her absence from
practice helped. "Her injury was the key to the championship,"
Summitt says. "When she went down, all the others realized they
had to do more. It made us a better team."

Holdsclaw, too, realizes she needs to do more. Defense is the
hole in her game. "Not that I didn't expect her to play defense
last year, but I started to wonder, How much more can you ask of
her?" Summitt says. "I really felt she was doing all she could
do."

Which raises the question, How much can she do? Are four
All-America awards too lofty a goal? Four national titles? When
asked what she's shooting for, Holdsclaw only has to think for a
second. "I want to be able to say I helped the women's game
become more competitive and exciting," she says. "I want to
bring a flair to the game. I want people to say, 'That Holdsclaw
kid, she really could play.'"

No sweat.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LANE STEWART IT'S A LONG WAY FROM THE SUBWAY TO THE SOUTH, BUT HOLDSCLAW HAS MADE THE TRIP GRACEFULLY [Chamique Holdsclaw]COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY HOLDSCLAW COULD LEAD THE LADY VOLS TO THE TITLE GAME AGAIN [Chamique Holdsclaw in game]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY LANE STEWART CHAMIQUE WENT TO LIVE WITH JUNE FOR A WHILE--AND THEN NEVER LEFT [Chamique Holdsclaw and her grandmother June]

Rank School

1 Stanford

Skinny
Coach Tara VanDerveer, fresh from Olympic triumph, should get
NCAA's gold medal

2 Alabama

[Skinny]
After a year lost to injury, Yolanda Watkins joins All-America
Shalonda Enis up front

3 Iowa

[Skinny]
Angie Lee, coach of the year last season, expects national
honors for her players

4 Tennessee

[Skinny]
Junior point Laurie Milligan must be next Michelle Marciniak for
Lady Vols to repeat

5 Connecticut

[Skinny]
Kara Wolters gets ample help from Nykesha Sales as Huskies vie
for third straight Final Four

6 Georgia

[Skinny]
Ballyhooed recruiting class of '93, including star La'Keshia
Frett, ready for last go-round

7 Western Kentucky

[Skinny]
Leslie Johnson, '94 freshman of the year while at Purdue, is
best of three transfers

8 Vanderbilt

[Skinny]
6'7" center Angela Gorsica's 3.3 blocks a game ranked third in
NCAA

9 Old Dominion

[Skinny]
Portuguese point guard Ticha Penicheiro averaged 7.1 assists and
4.3 steals a year ago

10 Kansas

[Skinny]
Big Eight's last player of the year, Tamecka Dixon, should
repeat in larger Big 12

11 Colorado

[Skinny]
Raegan Scott, at 6'4", and Erin Scholz, at 6'3", form a tough
tandem down low

12 Penn State

[Skinny]
Keeping injury-prone forward Angie Potthoff healthy is the key
to Lady Lions' success

13 Texas Tech

[Skinny]
Alicia Thompson should help extend 30-game home win streak
(second to Stanford's 33)

14 Louisiana Tech

[Skinny]
Even after losing four starters to graduation, Lady Techsters
will be tough to beat

15 Florida

[Skinny]
Shot-blocking center DeLisha Milton stands 6'1" but boasts a
7-foot wingspan

16 Virginia

[Skinny]
Cavs look to jet-quick senior point guard Tora Suber for points
(17.6) as well as leadership

17 Texas

[Skinny]
Sharp-shooting senior Danielle Viglione already holds Longhorns'
long-range records

18 Clemson

[Skinny]
Four starters are back from school's first ACC tournament
championship team

19 Notre Dame

[Skinny]
Center Katryna Gaither and guard Beth Morgan are both
All-America candidates

20 LSU

[Skinny]
First NCAA bid since '91 is well within reach for team that has
five starters back