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When forward Sue Wicks graduated from Rutgers in the late 1980's, the WNBA was not an option for her professionally. She toiled overseas for years before the WNBA gave her the chance to play in front of her friends and family as an original player in New York at the twilight of her professional career. Since her retirement, she has returned to Rutgers and works with the next generation of women's basketball players.
Wicks is the Liberty's all-time leader in blocked shots.
Q. What were you doing prior to the formation
of the league? Were you playing overseas?
"Yeah, I was playing in Spain. Honestly, we still had to go overseas and play because we weren't making that much money, but the fact that you could play here all summer and play in the arenas and play at home in front of your family made it so special. That was what I was thinking before I came to play, and it just became the biggest part of my life when I was in it. Initially I thought, oh, I'll play in the summer and make a couple of extra dollars or I'll play in the summer and keep in shape. But it wasn't the same. It was what you lived for."
Q. How often do
you re-live some of those favorite memories?
"I mean, I don't see Spoon and say 'Remember when you hit that shot at mid-court?' It's more like you talk about the times when we almost cried and how we kept it together. I think those are the critical moments. You watch the NBA Finals and all that stuff and you know when someone cracks and when they break, because you can see the symptoms of it coming on. As an athlete, when we play, these are like big, huge moments. It's not the huge shots you remember, its when you pull together in the locker, when someone grabs someone and says calm down, and the New York Liberty was always very good at that. Those are the moments you'll always remember, because there's something very comical about them, but also very serious about them. So we'll joke about those moments."
Q. In those early training camps, did
you think the WNBA would last as long as it did?
"I know that we were emotionally, passionately invested in making that league work, that's how we felt about it because we didn't think that far ahead. We didn't know how long it was going to last, but we knew we were going to work as hard as we could whatever little part we were going to play to make it last and work and do our best. Whether it was signing an autograph, going to a school or shaking as many hands being as entertaining as we could when we played, we worked hard at it. When we went to practice, we played like every practice was the only practice they were going to give us. So we'd get there early and practice full tilt for as long as it was, and then when practice was over, no one wanted to go home because we wanted to play a little bit more. We were like kids. No one was going to go home until it was dark or our mother was calling it. That's how it felt, like we were nine years old again. No matter how old you were at the time - I was 30, Spoon was 30, Kym Hampton was 65 - it was like we weren't leaving. We were there and we were going to have fun and enjoy it."
Q. Do you consider yourself a pioneer?
"We definitely had some type of position there, whatever it is, I don't know, but timing is everything. Abraham Lincoln probably wouldn't have been much if he hadn't done what he done at that time of the crisis in the country, so timing is everything. We were exactly the right time to be something good."
Sue Wicks joined past teammates Kym Hampton and Teresa Weatherspoon, legend Teresa Edwards and current stars Alana Beard and Kristen Mann for the 10th Anniversary celebration in New York in May.
What is it like to still get such a great reaction and response from fans?
"Yeah its amazing, because if I had played all my time as a player, 16 years, in Europe, then I would be done and no one would even notice that I played. You might think, did it really happen? And there's no one would that could say it really did, I remember you. Even now, I'll forget that I ever played and I'll be working at the university and going to work everyday just like everyone else, and all of the sudden I'll walk in Madison Square Garden and everyone will treat me like a queen. You're like wow, that's so nice. It is such a break and a release from real life to see people. It certainly doesn't seem like reality, but it's certainly a nice break from my reality to walk into that."
Q. What exactly
are you doing at Rutgers?
"I'm coaching, and it's funny to go in there and be an adult with them and take that stance that you're going to teach them and keep your distance. Overseas I would sometimes played with girls that were 16 years old, and I would be motherly with them but would still joke around with them and play with them. You cant do that so much as a coach at a university."
Q. Which of today's current WNBA players do you like to watch the most?
Everyone, but outside of the old-school players that I got to play with, I'd have to say Tamika Catchings. She is all heart. She gives it her all and is one of the most talented players in the league. But I think that anyone loves her loves her not just for her talent, but for the full tilt and enthusiasm that she has. Every time she plays I want to watch that. Even if she's playing for the New York Liberty, I'm secretly rooting for her.