Basketball has been good to Swin Cash.
She was a high school standout and played in the WBCA All-Star game -- and then took her toughness and athleticism to UConn, where she won two national titles and was part of the 2002 39-0 team that many consider the best in NCAA history. She was the second overall pick in the 2002 WNBA draft, and went on to win championships with the Detroit Shock and Seattle Storm. Along the way, she picked up an Olympic gold medal, and of course has had a lucrative career in Europe as well.
And every once in a while, her basketball success allows her other experiences that most of us can only dream about. For example, after the Chicago Sky defeated the Atlanta Dream July 1, Cash and her teammates had a special moment in the locker room when Jessie Jackson dropped in to offer his congratulations. He spoke briefly to the players, mixing words of encouragement and with a request that they use their status to help their communities. While absorbing the message, Cash and the rest of her teammates took advantage of his presence by getting plenty of pictures -- and Cash now has a picture of herself and the historic civil rights leader to go with her pictures of herself with presidents Bush and Obama, which she received on one of her visits to the White House.
But in turn, Swin Cash has been good to basketball -- and especially to the teams she's played for. Though followers of the sport can get lost in a maze of statistics, from the mundane to the esoteric, ultimately, only one number matters: Wins. Cash can fill up a stat sheet, no doubt, but it is her propensity for playing on winning teams that sets her apart. She is one of a small handful of players whose teams have won an NCAA championship, an WNBA championship and an Olympic gold medal. Barring an upset of titanic proportions, she will become part of an even smaller group of players to win multiple championships in each level after this summer’s Olympics, as she currently has two NCAA championships, three WNBA titles and an Olympic gold medal.
And of course there's the pursuit of WNBA championship No. 4 with Chicago, and that's the reason the Sky pried Cash from Seattle. She was surprised by the deal, but the Sky want to win, and no one does it better than Cash. With a team built around center Sylvia Fowles, who some say is the best in the world at a critical position, Chicago has set its sights on a WNBA championship -- but despite Fowles continued improvement, the Sky have yet to make the playoffs.
So after another disappointing season in 2011, Sky coach and general manager Pokey Chatman made the decision to revamp the squad. She not only traded the number two overall pick in the draft to Seattle for Cash, Le’Coe Willingham and another pick, she also signed free agent Ruth Riley. “They make it a little easier for me,” says Fowles about the three frontcourt additions. “It’s kind of like pick your poison. You can’t double and triple team me as much.”
But beyond the strategic advantages Cash brings is the knowledge of how to win. She knows she brings the experience of winning, and she also knows that is invaluable. Even when she is on the bench she “talks to the players and tries to give them the benefit of my experience.” On the court, “I try to get them to stay positive," she says. "At times stuff happens and you get discouraged and I try to help them through it.”
And it's not just players who get advice. “When she’s on the bench, she’s constantly in my ear," says Chatman. "She tells me the number of timeouts left and what to watch out for from certain players. It’s different when you hear that coming from a player.”
Cash's presence translated into immediate success for Chicago, as the Sky won seven of their first eight -- but then an injury to 20-point scorer Epiphanny Prince triggered a four-game losing streak. But after Sunday’s 71-69 victory over Atlanta, the Sky trail Connecticut by just one game in the East.
With Prince out until at least after the Olympic break, other players will have to step up to make up for the 22 points a game Prince was scoring -- and Cash will have to be one of them. She is currently averaging 10.2 ppg, which is the lowest of her career except for her last season in Detroit when she was feuding with coach Bill Laimbeer. Her 4.8 rebounds are also a career low, other than that season, but then again, she will be 33 in September. Her job, she says, is to “be consistent and play her game,” for experience tells her that players who try to do much get in the way of winning, and for this team, would get in the way of taking that big first step into the WNBA playoffs.
Or maybe that’s the second step. The first is getting the players to really understand what it takes to win and to really believe that they can. As Jessie Jackson has said, “If my mind can conceive it, my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it.”
And achievement is something Swin Cash is very familiar with.
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