This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes. As we prepare to unveil the 2013 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Girls Basketball Team at the end of the season, we'll dig into the archives and check in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades. Today, we catch up with 2006 ALL-USA Player of the Year Tina Charles from Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.), who played for Connecticut and is the reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player with the Connecticut Sun.
Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles has taken opponents to school in her first three WNBA seasons, leading the league in rebounding each season while putting up 63 career double-doubles.
Off the court, she’s taking people to school as well, albeit in a more humanitarian fashion. Last year, she donated $32,000 to build a school in Ganale, a village in Mali in western Africa. The school has three classrooms that accommodate 150 school children as well as adult literacy classes at night. The act was not unusual for Charles, who won the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player and Dawn Staley Community Leadership award last season.
“I believe that God gives you what you need to be able to give others what they need,” Charles said. “I always put myself last. I think the thing about life is not how much money you make or how famous you are but whether you’re able to impact somebody’s life.”
Charles was able to build the school by working with buildOn, a Stamford, Conn., charity and through the aid of Mary Fanaro, the CEO of OmniPeace, which bills itself as a humanitarian fashion brand.
“My sophomore year in college, I was looking at websites and I saw Jennifer Aniston in a T-Shirt that said OmniPeace,” Charles said. “I did some research and found out the charity’s apparel line goes toward the goal of ending poverty in Africa by 2025. Later, I was able to meet [actress] Mary Fanaro and I told her I wanted to build a school.”
Charles’ other philanthropic efforts include paying for the college costs for four girls in Africa and donating 5,000 pairs of athletic shoes that she had purchased from Nike to students at St. Jago High in Jamaica. Charles’ grandmother, Naomi Holgate, had been the principal of Holgate Primary Basic School. As a little girl, when her family would vacation in Jamaica, Charles wondered why some of the children in the school didn’t have shoes.
Putting Charles’ donations in perspective, they are more impressive than even the most generous of the NBA players. Last season, according to Forbes, Carmelo Anthony topped all NBA players by donating $837,200 through his foundation. That’s certainly admirable, but Anthony made more than $19 million last year in salary alone, not counting endorsements. His foundation’s donations were slightly more than 4% of his salary. Charles earned the WNBA maximum of $105,000 last season. Assuming she made five times that salary overseas (she’s currently playing for Wisla Can-Pack in Krakow, Poland), her Mali donation was 5% of her income and wasn’t her only charitable effort.
Recently, after learning that Fennville, Mich., basketball player Wes Leonard’s life could have been saved had an automatic external defibrillator (AED) been available, Charles donated $7,275 to the Wes Leonard Heart Team so it could buy five AEDs for New York City schools.
“Tina Charles is the bomb,” Jocelyn Leonard told the Detroit Free Press.
Charles didn’t begin playing organized basketball until the sixth grade and wasn’t an elite basketball player when she enrolled in Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.), but her consistent work ethic made her into one. She led Christ the King to a 30-0 record and No. 1 spot in the Super 25 rankings as a senior in 2006, averaging 26.5 points, 14.8 rebounds and 5.2 blocked shots per game.
At the University of Connecticut, she would come early to practice and endured coach Geno Auriemma’s helpful criticism and became the school’s all-time scorer and rebounder (Maya Moore has since surpassed her UConn scoring total). The Huskies won national championships in 2009 and 2010.
“Rebounding is just great effort,” Charles said. “That’s one thing that I learned from coach Auriemma. It’s a part of my job as center to post up and do all the little things to make a team win.”
Last summer, Charles helped lead Team USA to a Gold Medal in the Olympics. The only place she hasn’t won a title yet is with the Sun, though they reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season, their best finish since Charles was in high school.