Franklin Township, NJ - Before she was as Slam Magazine terms 'poetry in motion'....and 'absolutely earth stopping', there was an abundance to be learned.
Surprise as it may seem, Dr. Naismith's game did not always come easy to Tina Charles. NCAA champion, Olympic titlist and the best in the WNBA, Charles, to the casual observer is a gifted talent that probably found the game easy.
The man who knows as well as any was my officiating partner for a travel tournament at Franklin Township High School. Not far from the Rutgers University campus, the school is a beautiful facility with three courts. On this Saturday prior to Thanksgiving a girls event with a few boys games is on tap. After finishing a girls assignment, the assignment shifts to another court and a new officiating partner.
Cecil King, a man probably in his fifties, is my partner for a boys game. He looks familiar and at halftime he tells me he is from Teaneck, New Jersey. I am sure we have worked together.
"We have," he says. "And I coached the New York Gazelles for years."
He goes on to tell me one of his best, if not best known players, was Tina Charles.
Time does not allow a long interview but with a reporter's pad and a few minutes post game, King recounts his time with Charles.
"I coached her about six years since she was twelve," he said. "She was always so nice but the fire wasn't there."
King goes on to describe how her mother drove her from their Queens neighborhood into Manhattan.
"The toll over the bridge wasn't too bad then," King laughed, "but her mom saw she was only getting a few minutes a game and not really going anywhere."
Mom was ready to pull the plug on her daughter's basketball career. Then it happened. An 'awakening' of sorts.
"We had a Hoop it Up event on Wall Street that the Gazelles were entering," King said. "Tina was not chosen for it. She was hurt and it affected her."
Charles was neither mad at King nor her teammates. Rather, at a tender age of roughly 13, she took a long, mature look at where she was headed.
"After that (not being chosen) Tina dedicated herself," King said. "Her work ethic, time put in and attention to fundamentals were outstanding."
We basically know what followed. A stellar career at prep power Christ The King, based in her native Queens, UCONN, the Olympics, the WNBA. Recognition as one of the best in the world.
Before departing King was asked if he dealt with UCONN mentor Geno Auriemma during Charles' recruitment.
"Not much," King answered. "I do remember we had an 8 a.m. AAU game one Summer day and here comes Geno in cutoff jean shorts taking a seat up in the bleachers." King recounts the incident with a laugh.
King has been around and knows New York. He also coached as an assistant at St. Francis(NY). He coached and speaks in praise of Melanie Murphy, a senior guard at Stanford. A mention of St. Bonaventure brings a quick response regarding Doris Ortega and Cece Dixon from Murray Bergtraum High School, another New York based power. The conversation reverts back to Charles, with little surprise.
Tina Charles, with her accomplishments both on and off the court is an inspiration. Knowing where she was and what she did to get where she is now is an even greater inspiration and story.