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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Special honor for UConn legend

The calls would come on a pretty much yearly basis.

The organizers of the Connecticut Women's Basketball Hall of Fame would reach out to former UConn star Nykesha Sales and said they've love for her to be a part of a late April Hall of Fame induction class. Unfortunately, Sales would always have the same answer as her playing responsibilities overseas kept her from being around for the ceremony.

Now that she is retired, it is time for her to be part of the Hall of Fame class.

Sales will be part of the seven-member Class of 2014 as Hartford athletic director Pat Meiser, referee Fran Vandermeer, New Fairfield coach Joe Russo (who coached Rizzotti in high school), former Southern Connecticut State star Kate Lynch, former Southington High great Jen Gombotz and ex Bristol Eastern standout Chryssandra Watts will be inducted in an Apr. 23 ceremony at Cascade in Hamden.

“This year now that I officially retired last year, I am able to come to the ceremony, accept it and celebrate,” Sales said. “When they told me I was of course extremely excited and proud. I know there have been some great people who have been inducted in the Connecticut Women's Basketball Hall of Fame so I am just honored to be a part and finally be able to make the ceremony.

“It always means a lot to an athlete who tries to achieve and succeed at the highest level and was able to get it done. A lot of times it is not just the player, it has to do with your surroundings, your coaches, your other teammates and AAU was a big part of that. It feels good that after it was all said and done be rewarded. Not a lot of players get rewarded when you are finished, a lot of them always get rewarded while you are playing or after you accomplish something but this is one of those retired awards where you can still be proud of what you have done especially for the state of Connecticut in being able to accept an award.”

Sales is one of the rare athletes who was able to blaze trails at the high school, college and professional levels in the same state.

Sales was named the national high school player of the year by USA Today after capping a brilliant career at Bloomfield High School. She helped UConn win its first national title in 1995 when she was a freshman and still holds UConn’s record for career steals. She is the all-time leading scorer in the history of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun franchise and now serves as a community liaison for the team.

“I think I am really proud of Nykesha,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. First she did a tremendous amount for high school basketball in this area to be the national player of the year, I think she brought an awful lot of attention to Connecticut basketball, the state of Connecticut high school and obviously her freshman year she was instrumental in us winning a national championship and it carried over to what she did to the Connecticut Sun to get their franchise off and running. There have been a lot of people who have contributed a lot to the sport in the state of Connecticut but I don't know anybody who has contributed any more than Nykesha has.

“She has grown up. She has grown up, she has become a spokesperson for the game which is ironic because when she was here she used to give a little fist pump when the media didn't want to talk to her. That is part of growing up and part of understanding your role in the game. I don't know if there is a nicer person in the entire world. I don't know if there is anybody that has fewer enemies, if she has one, than Nykesha.”

Sales said she revels in her role working with the community and it is a sign of her maturity as a person.

“I have turned into a people person,” Sales said. “When I was in college I was pretty shy and laid back but through the years that is one of the major things I have gotten out of basketball was to learn how to be in the community and be around people. For me that is an easy next step, I go out and speak about my experiences and help people understand about our program and try to get them involved in coming to games. Not a lot of cities have the opportunity to have WNBA teams and it is exciting to have professional teams in a state when women's basketball is so big. I am glad to be back and be a part of it. I am from Connecticut. I get to be home for half of the year and I think the welcome has been awesome and the fans still have a lot of respect for me and this game.”

While Sales is not sure what the next stage of her work as a community liaison is going to be, she knows her playing days are behind her.

“Sometimes I do help out a little bit and jump into practice with the girls or I just play around with them and challenge them on certain things but trust me I have no desire to lace up and play,” Sales said. “When I am retired, I am retired. It is good to think back and kind of dig up some old memories of playing but I have no desires to lace up.”

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