For day two of Women in Sports Week, Sports Editor Dan Madigan talked with former UConn star and current New York Liberty center Tina Charles. Charles, a two-time national champion at UConn who finished her career as the leading scorer in program history before being surpassed by Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart, nearly won the WNBA MVP award last season and helped the Liberty reach the second round of the WNBA playoffs. During her interview, Charles discusses her time overseas, her UConn career and her charity, which she founded in 2013.
Dan Madigan: What’s it like playing overseas?
Tina Charles: This is my second year playing in China. I actually look forward to going overseas, I look forward to embracing a new culture, meeting different people. Going overseas to me is easy. I know it’s a part of my job, and that it furthers my situation and my family’s as well. I don’t have any crazy stories or anything like that but I really appreciate, I’m really blessed to do what I love and wake up to do what I love every morning. I just consider it a blessing to travel the world and do what I love.
Madigan: You nearly won your first WNBA MVP award with the Liberty last season. What do you have to do this season to repeat and possibly improve your numbers this year?
Charles: Success to me is just team success. What I do, I’m just trying to help my team and make sure they’re in the best position for playoffs, and just growing as an individual. I believe a team gets better as individuals get better. To me, it’s just to be an example for my teammates in how I play, how I conduct myself on and off the court.
Madigan: Last year was the WNBA’s 20th anniversary. What did it mean to be a part of that historic season, and how much of a goal was it for you to play in the WNBA when you were growing up?
Charles: I grew up watching the New York Liberty. Just growing up watching the likes of Becky Hammon and Teresa Weatherspoon and all they were doing on the court, just paving the way for women’s sports period, it was really neat and it was really fascinating. It allowed me to want to go in everyday to the gym and just get better and to aspire to be a WNBA player.
Madigan: What do you see for the future of the WNBA? Will it continue to grow like it has?
Charles: I believe with the talent coming in, the league will continue to grow. I believe that the league will be around forever, especially for the likes of Coach [Geno] Auriemma. If you have coaches like that who teach the game of basketball, you’re really set apart from any other player in the league. I believe myself and every one of these folks on the UConn women’s basketball can say that. When you have coaches like Coach Auriemma, that’s teaching the game of basketball, allows you to fall in love of the game, I believe that’s what pushes you to want to get better and that’s why you see the talent level that the league sees already.
Madigan: What was the biggest thing you learned about yourself at UConn?
Charles: Just a level of dedication and commitment. I never knew how dedicated I could be to something. I never knew how committed I could become toward an end goal individually and also as a team collectively. One thing Coach Auriemma always told me is that if you chase perfection you can catch excellence. I think that throughout my tenure at UConn we displayed that and I’ve taken that with me as an individual.
Madigan: What’s it like to see the program continue to be extremely successful even now that you’re an alumnus?
Charles: It’s very special to see that. Since I was part of a team there for four years, it’s not surprising to me because I’ve seen and witnessed what Coach Auriemma can do with players who buy into his philosophy and his game plan. Just him tapping into every player and getting the best out of them, and once you buy in, anything is possible for you as an individual and for your team. It’s nothing short of greatness. It’s amazing what they’re doing.
Madigan: You have a charity you created called the Hopey’s Heart Foundation. Can you tell us a little about it and what it means to you?
Charles: So my foundation, Hopey’s Heart Foundation, started in April 2013 in memory of my late aunt Marie Hopey, who passed away in March 2013. My foundation raises awareness for sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly stops, through placement of AEDs and CPR training. These past couple of days, we featured Hopey’s week, where we went into institutions in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn and we donated an AED to those specific schools and we also to host a sports safety clinic through my partner, Safe Kids Worldwide. These sports safety clinics included stations that brought awareness to proper hydration, concussion awareness, emergency response and medicine and prescription. We were able to go into schools around the junior high school level and bring awareness to sports safety. Since starting my foundation, we’ve been able to collectively, including the four AEDs we just recently donated, donate 262 AEDs since April 2013.
Everything comes full circle, just how I was dedicated to basketball during my years at UConn, the commitment, being disciplined, just striving towards a goal, I attribute all that to my foundation. Coach Auriemma doesn’t just teach you the game of basketball, but also the game of life and how to impact and be of service to others.
Madigan: How important is it to you to use your power as a professional female athlete for things like Hopey’s Heart Foundation and to inspire others?
Charles: I think it’s really important to put others before you. Definitely knowing that I’m a role model, knowing that I do have a face in the league and making sure these young girls know that it’s not all about basketball, it’s also about life after basketball and what you want to do and what you want your legacy to be about. To me, the accolades always came with what you do on the court, but what you do off the court is how someone remembers you. How you make them feel is what really matters.