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Chamique Holdsclaw Biography

Chronology, Contact Information, Career Statistics, Awards And Accomplishments, Further InformationSELECTED WRITINGS BY HOLDSCLAW:


American basketball player

Chamique Holdsclaw's story is one of courage. She struggled against imposing odds to escape the inner city of Queens, New York, becoming Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) Rookie of the Year in 1999. Setting milestones all along the way, Holdsclaw set all-time scoring and rebound records in high school and college. In 1999 when Sports Illustrated listed the fifty greatest sports figures from New York, newcomer Holdsclaw appeared at number forty-seven, cited for her four high school championships for Christ the King High School, and for her four-time run as an All-American. Her high school team's four-year record of 106-4 was impressive. She was a member of championship teams for eight consecutive seasons, beginning with a junior national championship in junior high school, through four Class A state championships at Christ the King High School, and three successive National College Athletic Association (NCAA) titles for the Lady Vols of Tennessee.

Born Chamique (pronounced Sha-MEEK-Wah) Shaunta Holdsclaw on August 9, 1977, in Flushing, Queens, she lived with her unmarried parents, Bonita Holdsclaw and Willie Johnson until the age of eleven. Holdsclaw's mother, a data entry clerk, and her father, an auto mechanic, battled alcohol problems, leaving Holdsclaw and Davon, her younger brother, too frequently on their own. The children sometimes scrounged for meals, and were unsupervised overall, with Holdsclaw looking after her brother as best as a small girl might.

Holdsclaw was eleven when she and her brother were placed with their grandmother, June Holdsclaw, at Astoria House in Queens, a housing project well-known for depravity and crime. June Holdsclaw provided a stable, structured home life for the two children, and when

Chamique Holdsclaw

Holdsclaw skipped school the first time, there were no second chances. She was enrolled immediately at Queens Lutheran School where the teachers were more demanding and students were better supervised.

By junior high school Holdsclaw's innate effervescence overflowed onto the neighborhood basketball courts. Already as a child she had studied ballet and jazz and performed on stage at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Now, living just minutes from Madison Square Gardens, she dreamed of playing basketball there as an adult. She had learned some game technique from her Uncle Thurman and soon earned the nickname Flat-out for her flat-out refusals to miss a chance to shoot hoops with her friends.

At the Astoria House after school program she dominated the all-male playground field. She had hops and she had a game, giving new definition to "Playing like a girl!" As she readied for high school, Tyrone Green, her coach in the after school program, dropped the word to Christ the King High School coach Vincent Cannizzaro to come and take a look. Holdsclaw could toss the ball goal-to-goal, a skill that duly impressed Cannizzaro, as did her ability to dominate the all-male court.

Four straight championship seasons followed at Christ the King, and as the dust cleared, Holdsclaw graduated from high school, leaving behind two all-time school records. She accumulated 2,118 points and 1,532 rebounds over four years. Additionally Holdsclaw spent her secondary school summers traveling for the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) with Cannizzaro. By her senior year she was posting stats of 24.8 points per game and averaging 15.9 rebounds.

While some high school athletes might peak early, Holdsclaw's court dominance was far from over. At her grandmother's urging she accepted a scholarship to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where she impressed the women's coach, Pat Summitt, with a special sense of confidence and strong will to win. Harriet Barovick quoted Summitt in Time, "Coaching Holdsclaw was an opportunity to 'raise the intensity level of one of the most gifted high school players I'd seen.…' [she] used to laugh away losses.… [but] hates to lose." Summitt put Holdsclaw on the varsity team, the Lady Vols (Volunteers), with little hesitation.

As a freshman starter, Holdsclaw was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week in her first week. Also as a freshman Holdsclaw made All-American first team. ESPN named her College Basketball Player of the Week, and she was the first woman ever to get the nod. The Lady Vols won the NCAA championship that year, and in the end the fuss over the first-year starter proved to be much more than hype. The final stats showed that she led her team both in scoring and in rebounding for the season.

What amounted to a sophomore year slump for Holdsclaw and the Lady Vols during the 1996-97 season might have been the envy of a lesser team. Despite finishing the season with ten games in the loss column, the squad won an historic back-to-back NCAA championship—only the second on record with the NCAA. Holdsclaw led the team with 20.2 points per game that year.

Holdsclaw returned at full steam for a most impressive college season in 1997-98. She led the team to a 39-0 record and a third championship. In the conference finals against Louisiana Tech University, she scored twenty-five points, hooked ten rebounds, and recorded six assists and a steal, bringing Tennessee to a final score of 93-75. Holdsclaw at that point boasted a track record of eight championships in eight years. She earned the most valuable player (MVP) title for the collegiate final four (NCAA finals). Two years behind Holdsclaw were freshmen Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall, who rounded out a collegiate power player trio, which came to be called "The Meeks."

Tennessee lost the championship in 1999—Holdsclaw's senior year—having recorded only fourteen losses during the previous three-year period. Holdsclaw regardless was one of only twelve college athletes to be drafted that year, going to the Washington Mystics as the first pick in the first round. The recent demise of the American Basketball League (ABL) had created large pool of professional players from which to pick, and Holdsclaw was the only collegiate draftee to go in the first round. When she graduated with a B.A. in political science that year, she left behind an all-time school record of 3,025 points and 1,295 rebounds, more than any player ever in the history of the school—male or female.

Holdsclaw's pro rookie season was as remarkable as was her past. She started in thirty-one out of thirty-two games and was the only rookie to appear on the WNBA's inaugural All-Star team. With a year-end scoring average of 16.9 points per game she was named Rookie of the Year. Having spent her college summers traveling internationally with the U.S. National team, Holdsclaw was named to the gold-medal U.S. women's basketball team for the summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, in 2000.

From her outstanding high school and college years, her participation on the Olympic Basketball team, and now as a star in professional basketball with the Washington Mystics, Chamique Holdsclaw has proven herself one of the greats in American basketball.


(With Jennifer Frey) Chamique: On Family, Focus, and Basketball, Scribner, 2000.

Sketch by G. Cooksey

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Famous Sports StarsBasketball