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Catching up with a UConn all-timer: Nykesha Sales

Hartford - Numbers, numbers everywhere in the first half Sunday for Tina Charles, who made nine of her 10 field goal attempts. She finished the game with 34 points. More big numbers from the kid who has already produced the biggest numbers in UConn women's basketball history.

Numbers, indeed, have been occupying Charles' airspace recently, cementing her legacy here, while also happily recalling another all-timer in Connecticut sports history.

"Yeah," Nykesha Sales was saying Sunday half a world away, "it finally came to an end. I'm actually surprised it took this long."

It was Sales' scoring record that Charles eclipsed last Monday at Notre Dame. And while they always leave the light on for their own in the UConn program, Sales' name has been especially relevant, in the state news here, there, everywhere.

Sales admitted Sunday night in a telephone conversation from overseas where she's playing professionally that she's been "a little out of the loop."

"First, I'm happy for Tina," Sales said. "I got to meet her at my golf tournament a couple of years ago."

Sales texted UConn coach Geno Auriemma after Monday's game, congratulating him on the win and also asking for Charles' e-mail. The top two scorers in UConn history communicated earlier last week.

"I wasn't really aware that (Charles) was close to it, but then my grandmother started talking to me about it," Sales said. "I was sleeping when she broke the record. When I woke up, there were a good 20-25 messages on my phone. They were like, 'Sorry, man.'"

Sales even got a chuckle at seeing the clip of her infamous basket that enabled her to break the program record. Sales ruptured her Achilles' tendon a point short of Kerry Bascom's record on Senior Day in 1998. The next day, Auriemma tearfully announced to the media that Sales' career was over, lamenting fate's cruelty. And a few days after that, Auriemma was screaming at the same media members, some of whom skewered him over the arranged basket at Villanova.

That clip was played quite a bit Monday and Tuesday on ESPN.

"I really don't think about it at all," Sales said, "except when they keep playing it on TV."

Her name even came up after Monday's game as Auriemma and associate coach Chris Dailey watched the aforementioned clip on "SportsCenter." Soon, the Nykesha stories started flowing like Bud in the bleachers. Sales always managed to entertain, even if unintentionally.

Like the time she was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Auriemma liked to tease Sales about how to her, defense was one dimensional: Steal the ball. So when asked by reporters about her defensive prowess, Sales was a little sheepish, but managed to deadpan, "Aw, they just give me the easy ones to guard."

Sales, one of the most popular players in the history of the program, reconnected with the fans when her WNBA team, the Orlando Miracle, became the Connecticut Sun. Sales became the first face of the franchise, leading the Sun to the 2004 and 2005 WNBA finals. She had 32 points in what could have been the 2004 clincher in Seattle. Sales took the last shot, a three-pointer at the buzzer, with the Sun trailing by two. She missed a shot that would have altered the perception of her career drastically.

Sales, 33, and the Sun parted ways, essentially, after the 2007 season. Is she done with the WNBA?

"I still think about it," she said. "I'm not exactly sure. Every time the season ends (overseas) and I think about training camp, I think 'no thanks.' But I think I can still play."

It's probably safe to assume that Sales won't be back playing in the states. But the idea that people here are still talking about her and still recalling her days and accomplishments fondly suggests that it's been one hell of a ride.

"Tell everybody back there I said hello," she said, an independent, vibrant woman now long since graduated, none since forgotten.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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