Hello all, and welcome back to Husky History, a new column focusing on one accomplished UConn athlete per week. Each article should detail the athlete’s accolades at Connecticut, as well as their ability to take their games to the professional level.
This week’s Husky History focuses on women’s basketball legend Swintayla “Swin” Cash. While she is notably a recent inductee of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Cash’s journey leading up to that moment was a long and tumultuous one.
She was born to high-school basketball star Cynthia Cash in 1979 with hooping in her blood. In fact, just two months after giving birth, the mother Cash was back out on the court finishing what she started.
“I knew that it was my last chance to play basketball,” she said in an article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “No college, no nothing. I had to be a mother to my child.”
With Cash’s father not around, it was up to Cynthia to solely provide for Swin, working two jobs while living in a public housing project in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Cash got her mother’s natural athletic talent, taking up a variety of different sports like baseball, soccer, gymnastics and cheerleading. It wasn’t until high school that her mother recommended Cash focus on just one sport in the hopes of earning a college scholarship. Choosing basketball, Cash excelled, averaging over 30 points per game. She was named to All-American teams and won the Pennsylvania Player of the Year Award in 1998.
After graduating from high school, Cash accepted a scholarship at the University of Connecticut, where she immediately made an impact, carving a role as a starting forward before going down with a foot injury. She finished her freshman year with 9.5 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game, making her presence known in Storrs on the court and in the locker room.
“She tried to win every possession,” reflected UConn head coach Geno Auriemma. “That was evident the very first day of our workouts when she got to Connecticut as a freshman. Of all the big kids that came in, no one competed harder or played with more energy than she did.”
“She tried to win every possession. That was evident the very first day of our workouts when she got to Connecticut as a freshman. Of all the big kids that came in, no one competed harder or played with more energy than she did.”Geno Auriemma, UConn head coach
To say her sophomore season at UConn was a success would be an understatement. The Huskies won yet another Big East Tournament, with Cash being named to the All-Tournament Team. Cash was integral in the NCAA Tournament as well, helping UConn win their second title in program history, defeating longtime powerhouse Tennessee by a score of 71-52.
“When I got to the University of Connecticut, one of the things Coach Auriemma instilled in all of us was this idea that every day you were chasing perfection with the understanding that you’re never going to get there and the bar was constantly moving,” said Cash. “Every year the bar was a national championship. For some people the bar is a conference championship or, ‘Hey, we made the tournament.’ At Connecticut, we hang banners.”
In Cash’s senior year, the Huskies had one of the most dominant seasons in NCAA history. Along with Sue Bird, Asjha Jones, Tamika Williams and Diana Taurasi, UConn’s starting five was a force to be reckoned with. The team had a historic season, going an undefeated 39-0, winning the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. Cash finished the year averaging 14.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, playing in all 39 contests. Her shooting percentage of .549 with the volume of shots she took (401) is absurd.
After their perfect season, Cash, Bird, Jones and Williams made history in the 2002 WNBA Draft, all being selected within the top six picks. Cash was taken No. 2 overall by the Detroit Shock. While she accounted for 21.3 percent of her team’s total points, rebounds and assists her rookie year, the Shock still finished the year with the worst record in the league with a 9-23 mark.
“You have to understand,” said Cash on Friday. “I was at UConn and we went 39-0 as a senior. I go to Detroit, drafted No. 2 behind my roommate Sue Bird, and we go 0-13. I really felt at this small moment that the world was coming down. I’m like, ‘Why are you guys okay with this?’”
“You have to understand, I was at UConn and we went 39-0 as a senior. I go to Detroit, drafted No. 2 behind my roommate Sue Bird, and we go 0-13. I really felt at this small moment that the world was coming down. I’m like, ‘Why are you guys okay with this?’”Swintayla Cash, UConn basketball alumna
A coaching change midway through the 2002 season brought in longtime NBA veteran Bill Laimbeer, who made Cash a team captain. The Storm also shook up their roster, priming themselves for a big 2003. As predicted by Laimbeer, the Shock had a championship season, winning the Eastern Conference regular season by seven games. They won three playoff series that postseason, the first three in franchise history, en route to an upset WNBA Finals win over the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Sparks. That season, Cash racked up 16.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, earning her first All-Star nomination.
After her sophomore year, Cash would go on to play 13 more professional seasons, last playing with the New York Liberty in 2016. She was a champion two more times, named an All-Star three more times, and was the All-Star MVP twice. She finished her playing career just one of two athletes to accumulate 5,000 points, 2,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists. For her overall efforts, Cash was named to the WNBA 20th and 25th Anniversary Teams.
Cash also saw a prolific career representing her country, playing for USA Basketball for several years. She collected two gold medals with the U.S. team, in the 2004 Athens Games and the 2012 London Games. In 2010, Cash was a part of the 2010 FIBA World Championship Gold Medal Team in the Czech Republic. With that win, the McKeesport native made history, becoming one of just eleven women to receive an Olympic gold medal, an NCAA Championship, a FIBA World Cup Gold and a WNBA Championship. At every level, Cash was a champion.
With the platform she earned, Cash used it to express her advocacy against racism and gun violence. She was an integral part of the 2016 WNBA protests of recent shootings of black men by police officers. Cash and other Liberty players wore black T-shirts without notice by the WNBA that read #BlackLivesMatter and #Dallas5.
“I think it’s a shame that we keep seeing people that want to make this movement as something that’s violent,” said Cash in 2016. “Five cops gave their lives up trying to protect a peaceful movement. And in this country, I do believe that you can assemble peacefully and protest against injustice. So until the system transforms, we cannot sit here and act like there is not a problem here in America.”
“I think it’s a shame that we keep seeing people that want to make this movement as something that’s violent. Five cops gave their lives up trying to protect a peaceful movement. And in this country, I do believe that you can assemble peacefully and protest against injustice. So until the system transforms, we cannot sit here and act like there is not a problem here in America.”Swintayla Cash, UConn basketball alumna
Cash also is involved in plentiful charity work, as her personal foundation, Cash for Kids, promotes fitness, solid health habits and education through sports camps. Another one of her efforts, Cash Building Blocks, renovates and provides affordable housing for lower income families.
After being inducted into the Huskies of Honor in 2006 and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021, Cash was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on September 10th, 2022.
“One of the things I learned (at UConn) was that you’re never chasing perfection, you’re learning to form great habits,” said Cash in her induction speech. “Thank you to Coach (Geno) Auriemma, to (Chris Dailey), Tonya (Cardoza), Jamelle (Elliott)… and my whole UConn family… Giving my all was my required gift to the game, and the game forever was a gift to me.”
Currently, Cash spends her time with her husband, Steve, and raising their two sons, Saint and Syer. Cash spent some time broadcasting, but now resides as the Vice President of Basketball Operations and Team Development of the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, making her one of the highest-ranking women in the NBA. She continues to both grow the game of basketball and pave the way for women in sport after her.