Moving in the fast lane

UConn's Tina Charles (left) offers consolation to Baylor's 6-foot-8 freshman center Brittney Griner after scoring 21 points and pulling down 13 rebounds during the Huskies' 70-50 semifinal win on Sunday.
UConn's Tina Charles (left) offers consolation to Baylor's 6-foot-8 freshman center Brittney Griner after scoring 21 points and pulling down 13 rebounds during the Huskies' 70-50 semifinal win on Sunday. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Her UConn career came to an end Tuesday night with a massive celebration on the floor of San Antonio's Alamodome deep in the heart of Texas.

But Tina Charles' basketball career - not to mention the new stage of her life - has only just begun.

Thursday, less than 48 hours after leading the Huskies to back-to-back NCAA championships, Charles will go from college student to professional athlete when the Connecticut Sun are expected to select her with the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft.

She will have her first full-time paying job, and before she graduates, no less. No more teachers. No more books. Just basketball and a life ripe with possibilities.

"The biggest change (from college to the pros)," said Rebecca Lobo, "is she's going to have her three-to-four hour commitment to weights and working out (with the Sun), then the rest of the day is hers."

Lobo graduated from UConn in 1995 after leading the Huskies to their first national title. The WNBA began two years later and she was allocated to the New York Liberty.

"I just remember really enjoying that when I played for the Liberty that there was no more studying," said Lobo, now a member of the ESPN broadcast team. "It was kind of a freedom that I could just focus on basketball. That part could really be nice. And you're living on your own. You just feel like you're really grown up."

To quote Dr. Seuss' 'Oh, the Places You'll Go!' — "You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go."

Charles will encounter all the changes a student faces when they get out of school and into the working world. First and foremost is she will no longer be in the kind of social environment students enjoy while in school.

"In college, when you're done with practice, you go eat with your teammates, go back to the dorm with your teammates and hang out with your teammates," Lobo said. "You do a lot of things with your teammates.

"In the WNBA, you have players of such wide age range. After practice, you go and eat on your own and go to your own apartment. You go to the movies by yourself. There's not that kind of close-knit family where you're going to places together. It's a lot more of an isolated experience. It's different, and I think that's one of the hardest things to get used to. One teammate may be going back to her husband or son and daughter. People are in such different places in their lives."

Charles and fellow senior Kalana Green, who is also expected to be drafted in the first round Thursday, will also have to adjust to the difference in quality of players in the WNBA, Sun coach Mike Thibault said.

"Everytime you play, you have to be at your best," Thibault said. "Every night, you're playing against somebody who's all-league, all-something. There aren't any off nights in our league. She's going to be facing really good players who are her size or bigger."

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