Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Instead of an Ice Bucket Challenge video, a story about ALS and former WNBA player KD Whittington

KD Whittington

I don't have a funny video to post of anyone dumping water on my head to show support for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. Though many find the videos tiresome at this point, I have no issue with the idea but instead choose to tell a story about a story I once told.

Girls basketball fans in Hampton Roads likely have vivid memories of a high school team that included T.J. Jordan, whose three-point shooting lit up Old Dominion for four years, and her Wilson High School teammate Khadijah "KD" Whittington, who moved to the area for her senior year of high school. Whittington and Jordan only played together for one season, 2003, a memorable one in Portsmouth, Va, when the Presidents got all the way to the state final before a crushing loss.

Whittington would go on to star at NC State under Coach Kay Yow, and a WNBA career followed.

Her father, Mansoor Mohammed, suffered from ALS.

Instead of following his daughter's basketball career, instead of sharing in her adult life, he was confined to a bed in a Hampton nursing home. Father and daughter had always been close. As much as she was the emotional heartbeat of her high school team, he was her emotional heartbeat. He never missed a game until he wasn't able to go anymore.

He laid in that bed for six years.

One Sunday, I accompanied her to visit her dad. She was visiting from Raleigh during her senior year at NC State.

For two hours, I said almost nothing. I watched KD and her dad. She kissed his forehead. She braided his hair. She read him cards that were sitting on a nearby table. She opened a present -- a dream catcher. She cleaned his ears and washed his face. She read from his Koran. She talked and talked and talked, sharing stories about her progress as a college player and her WNBA dreams. She talked about the Wolfpack's trip to the Bahamas, and then she began to weave his puffy black and gray hair into dreadlocks, joking that he looked too much like Don King with all that hair.

She dabbed away occasional tears and told him over and over how much she loved him.

Mohammed never spoke. Beyond occasional blinks from his eyes, nothing else about his body moved. I have never seen anyone so rigid, teeth entirely clenched. He stared intently at his daughter. She swore he smiled a few times, and I'd like to think he did.

But here's what I know. The ALS robbed him of movement and communication in a cruel way. Imagine if your mind worked, but you couldn't make any part of you work or speak or respond to those around you. During early visits, KD used an alphabet chart to try to communicate with her dad, but that became too laborious for both as the disease progressed. All life as most of us know it was impossible for this man in this bed who had tubes sticking out of every part of him with machines beeping that occasionally prompted nurses to check. His life was closer to death than life.

For me, ALS is Mansoor Mohammed. It was January 2008. That September he died at the age of 57.

I remember leaving that nursing home that afternoon, feeling a sense of relief when I walked out the door, more focused on my own movement than ever before. Walking and speaking -- two things I admittedly take for granted -- never felt so good. I hopped in my car and got back on the interstate, but the image of Mohammed couldn't escape me. Sometimes I would think of all the things I had done in an hour or in a day or in a week and I would think of him, still lying motionless, no chance of recovery.

Because here are the facts. ALS attacks nerve cells and leads to total paralysis. The mind, however, remains sharp. Life expectancy is two to five years after diagnosis. The cause isn't known. There is no cure.

I don't tire of the Ice Bucket Challenge for that reason. The added awareness has brought in $41 million and counting -- donations that can perhaps bring us closer to a cure so no one has to suffer the way Mansoor Mohammed did for more than half a decade.

I donate to the ALS Association today in memory of Mohammed and in honor of KD. No one should have to suffer as the two of them did.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A big year for Jazmon, who's not back and JMU schedule details, all from Coach Kenny Brooks

While Kirby and Nikki have moved on, there's still plenty of reason to be optimistic about the 2014-15 version of James Madison. We caught up with Kenny Brooks, who's in the middle of a move to a new house, and he shared some thoughts.

First, we asked about the move and Brooks admitted he's an HGTV junkie (all this time we thought he was watching hoops . . .). He's lived in Harrisonburg 17 years, and this is his fourth move with a fifth to follow shortly. The old house sold in two days and the Brooks family is in temporary housing, looking to build with an eye toward downsizing. "As long as I have my man cave, I'm OK," he said. Remember, in addition to wife Chrissy, Kenny shares his digs with daughters Kendyl, Chloe and Gabby.

As for the the Duke women, we asked who's had the best summer, and of course, he's impressed by all, offering these specifics on a few.  "At the top it has to be (Jazmon) Gwathmey," he said. "Her work ethic is on par with the Nikkis and the Kirbys and the Dawns and the Tameras."

JMU fans will love to hear about her developing three-point shooting prowess (she was 10-of-33
from behind the arc last season). "If Dawn and Kirby are 1 and 1A, she's probably B," Brooks said. "We had a workout this spring, which was probably one of the most impressive showcase performances I've ever seen."

Brooks had her attempt 25 treys after a workout.

"She made 23 of them," he said. "She's gotten stronger. She's put on some weight. She probably weighs 168, 170. I'm really excited about what's she's going to be able to do this year."

On Precious Hall: "She's has been tremendous, taking more of a leadership role. I think she's going to be a little bit more off the ball this year because of (Angela) Mickens' role. I think she's going to have a fantastic year as well."

On Toia Giggetts: "She has really blossomed as a player here so much so that we've gone out recruiting based on Toia's performance. As she's an undersized post player, normally, I would have been hesitant to take them, but now we compare them to Toia, and if they compare relatively, we think they can do it. She's probably going to be more of a go-to player than last year."

Look for 6-2 sophomore forward Da'Lishia Griffin to gain minutes. "She came on tremendously in February. She actually broke the rotation a little bit and played over a couple of kids. We went with her because she's got a high basketball IQ, tremendous hands, soft touch around the basket and rebounds well. She needed to get in shape, and it took her a while. It was very reminiscent of Toia's freshman year."

They have newbies -- freshmen 6-foot forward Carley Brew, 5-10 guard Hailee Barron and 5-7 guard Candice Williams -- but they are likely to play behind a pretty experienced group, even with the loss of Burkholder and Newman.

On a side note, 6-2 Beverly Ogunrinde (who averaged a double-double for Pallotti High in Laurel, Md., is not on the roster, going the junior college route in New York instead, a mutual decision, Brooks said. Senior Crystal Ross is also not back, focusing on academics with plans to graduate in May. (We noted in an earlier post that Amani Tatum has transferred to Manhattan College and incoming transfer Allysia Rohlehr has opted not to play college ball due to number of concussions.)

All this talk of players makes us anticipate the season and Brooks gave us a peek at the schedule, which includes a home opener against UCLA, St. Bonaventure, American, Pitt, Maryland (in Puerto Rico where they'll have Houston, too), Richmond, Ohio, Hampton and Vandy before the CAA slate.

Closing it off, we asked about Kirby and Nikki, kids Brooks has known since they were 10. The future looks fun for both. Kirby is set to play in Italy for Italian A1 League based in Orvieto (she'll love the shopping), and Nikki, on the JMU staff as assistant director of operations, is going to sit alongside David Taylor for Dukes broadcasts. Nikki will be doing color, a good fit for her zany personality. (Also look or rather, hear her voice for "Inside the Huddle" on the JMU website.)

One more question, Coach? Is it time to tip off the season yet? Can't wait to see these Dukes!

Monday, August 18, 2014

ODU loses recruit to junior college

Gilmore on Senior Night
Point guard Auteaonna Gilmore, who had committed to Old Dominion, will instead attend Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., according to the All-Star Girls Report.

Gilmore, whose height is listed anywhere between 5-6 and 5-9 depending on the source, graduated from Capitol Christian High in Landover, Md. and was a three-star recruit, according to ESPN.com. The Fort Washington (Md) native played AAU ball for the Fairfax Stars.

Chipola, a junior college in the Florida panhandle, is coming off its best season in school history, finishing 33-2 with a loss in the national semifinals.

Prior to her senior year, Gilmore attended Riverdale Baptist High, and had she attended ODU, she would have been reunited with Jennie Simms, an alum of that high school. Simms and Gilmore played together on a nationally ranked Riverdale team.

Simms, a transfer from West Virginia who will be eligible for the coming season, leads what has been ranked as the top recruiting class in Conference USA. In addition to incoming freshman Maia Lee, a 6-3 forward, and Keyana Brown, a 5-11 guard, 6-2 forward Annika Holopainen will be eligible to play for the Lady Monarchs.

Monday, August 11, 2014

JMU's Dawn (Evans) on Dawn: "Hollywood, here I come!"

LadySwish caught up with James Madison great Dawn Evans, who's recovering nicely from kidney surgery. She hasn't ruled out a return in basketball (and yes, Dawn, there is a Filipino national team!), but at the moment, she's Cali bound, pursuing that acting itch (remember, she was a child star). Her are Dawn's words about life as she knows it, and as always, LadySwish thanks her for sharing.

Burbank is where I will be taking classes at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles/ Burbank. It's strange because when I was applying to the school, the housing complex that they use is actually the exact complex I lived in as a child pursuing acting, Oakwood Corporate Housing. But I still haven't decided if I want to live there yet, although the students of the school get discounted prices. My plan is actually to move to California in an apartment with Keyla Snowden, who played at the University of Kentucky; we will be roommates, but until we find the perfect apartment I will live with people I know for the first couple weeks. 

BUT . . . I haven't completely ruled out basketball. This is just me making the most of what was a difficult situation, and honestly it's been perfect timing. My dad got stationed in Clarksville back almost 23 years ago, and my family has been in Tennessee ever since, away from all our extended family but since recently, my mom has joined my dad and they are now both retired. My family is moving back to their home in Texas. Austin Texas specifically, extremely soon, like with weeks soon, My brother and nephew will still be in Tennessee but most likely not Clarksville, and I am moving to LA which is perfect timing really and I get to take advantage of this time off recovering. 

Which, back to the basketball -- I am doing and well. Things are great. It's only been almost four and a half months, and my kidney health is nearly perfect, thanks to my cousin and Vanderbilt :). Your body is most prone to rejection within the first year, and I want to maintain this blessing for as long as possible, I don't want to push things too soon. Yes, I am working out -- that's just in my blood, but I'm not pushing professional basketball player workouts anytime soon. Even though when I get in the gym, it's hard to maintain myself. I want to be the old D, running and shooting and it feeling great without missing a beat! I know in due time. Right now I'm working out, staying tone, and headed back to LA, this time feeling great about it because I don't have basketball hanging over my head, because it's just not an option right now.

I compare it to any other major basketball injury except I've seen people recover from common knee injuries, and returning to basketball is hard especially with all the lateral movement. Yes, I have this big war wound on my right side, but once that incision healed, the rest of my body felt ready for another season. I can't say though that I'm not keeping myself in a position where in the next five months I could be prepared for a contract somewhere nice in Europe, Asia, maybe South America. My agent is always locked and loaded for that -- that man has done magic for my situation in keeping people completely understanding of my health with their misperception of my not being able to play due to people just not understanding. Maybe France, I loved it mostly there, but anywhere with good basketball and where I can stay safe with all the madness in Europe right now. And because I have the capability to get a Filipino passport (currently in the process of that),  it would be nice to just play there as a citizen or on a national team if they even have one. But in the meantime, I'll be in LA, doing what I've loved even before basketball. 

Imagine that.



Monday, August 4, 2014

Who's gone from your favorite team? Check out our findings

The transfer carousel is in full motion, and we've tracked as many as we can. Are we missing someone? Email us with info at ladyswishing@hotmail.com.

Otherwise, here's what we've come up with so far about who's gone, gone, gone from 2014-15 rosters. (Richmond and William and Mary, all present and accounted for; Hampton has no official roster available yet.)

George Mason

Char-Dell Dunningan: the 6-2 sophomore, who saw limited action, is no longer on the roster.
Brittany Jackson: the 5-7 sophomore who averaged five minutes and 2.5 ppg last season is no longer on the roster.
Dominique Dawson: the little-used 6-foot senior from Baltimore is no longer on the roster.
Denisha Petty-Evans: the 5-9 sophomore from New Jersey, who started three games, has transferred to Siena.
Christine Weithman: Has not played the last two seasons and will not return following hip surgery.


Sade King: the tiny guard from New York, who played in just 15 games and scored a total of 32 points for the season, is at Division II University of New Haven.

James Madison

Allysia Rohlehr: We were eager to see the 5-9 guard, a transfer from Pensacola Junior College, but one too many concussions has ended her basketball career.
Amani Tatum: the 5-7 guard from New York who saw little time with the Dukes will play at Manhattan College.
Crystal Ross: the 6-3 center, who averaged seven minutes her junior year, will not play this season.

Moriah Begin: the 5-7 guard, who scored just eight points as a freshman, is no longer on the roster.

Jessica Parker: the 6-2 junior, who didn't play her first two years and scored eight points last season, is no longer on the roster.

Norfolk State
Logan Powell: All-Rookie MEAC team, the 6-foot forward who started six games, returns close to home to play for Kentucky State (love the nickname Thorobrettes).
Janel Cannon: the 5-8 sophomore, who played in 12 games, is no longer on the roster
Quineshia Leonard: the 6-1 senior, who averaged 5.6 ppg and 5.9 rpg, will not play her senior year.

Old Dominion

Shae Kelley: the Lady Monarchs leader in nearly every category will finish out her collegiate career at Minnesota under new coach Marlene Stollings, the former VCU coach. We spoke with Shae in-depth about the decision in May. 


While all three are gone from the Highlanders, a decision the players say was not theirs, we can only find info on one.

Paris Brower: Averaged.  0.9 ppg; now at Division II Mount Olive
De'June Robinson: Averaged 8.2 minutes and 1.2 ppg.
Kermisha Clark: Started 11 games and averaged 5.4 ppg
LaShe Walker: Will remain a student at Radford, though not returning to team for medical reasons.

Jessica Pellechio: VCU's major loss is Drexel's gain. The 5-6 sophomore guard averaged 9.1 ppg, made five starts and shot .348 from behind the arc.
Amber McCann: the senior, who made one start as a junior, is no longer on the roster.


Amanda Fioravanti: Transferred to St. Joseph's after one semester.
Raeshaun Gaffney: the highly touted redshirt freshman guard, who averaged 11.1 minutes and 3.1 ppg, is headed back home to play for Xavier.

Virginia Tech

Lauren Evans: the junior, who saw her playing time fall off last year, will play for Niya Butts at Arizona.
Serafina Maulupe: last year's backup point guard is headed closer to home to play at Cal State Northridge.