Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, June 08, 2015

WNBA: N.Y. Liberty's Candice Wiggins Uses Her Court Skills to Fight AIDS and Honor Her Late Dad

by ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

Inspired by her father’s memory, veteran New York Liberty guard Candice Wiggins embraces her purpose while honoring him by raising AIDS awareness and offering hope through her basketball gifts.

Witnessing the indelible ravages of AIDS through 3-year-old eyes, Wiggins realized then she wanted to make a difference.

Wiggins’ dad Alan, was an elite player for the San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles who died from AIDS in 1991.

The dynamic leadoff hitter helped the Padres advance to the 1984 World Series. Wiggins remembers her father’s funeral.

“From 1991 when my dad died from AIDS to now, I’ve seen how the whole world has changed their attitude toward AIDS and it’s amazing,” the effervescent Wiggins said outside of her locker room at the Verizon Center during an extensive pregame discussion Saturday night before the Liberty dropped a 67-62 decision to the Washington Mystics.

“We’re fighting all kinds of stigmas in our society. This is one I know how to fight very well. It goes beyond the scope of just HIV and AIDS awareness," she continued.

"For me, it’s about connecting with people’s souls and educating everyone who has a heart of hearts about all the stigmas that exist and just softening their hearts a little bit and reaching souls.

“This platform allows me to talk about that. For me it’s a lifelong journey that I had to come through. I want to get society to change their views on many things, but this is something that’s closest to my heart.”

While the death of her father rocked Wiggins, Magic Johnson’s historic HIV announcement a few months later in the same year brought Wiggins' mission into sharper focus even at that tender age.

It may not have been accident that Wiggins eventually spent a year playing for the Sparks under Johnson’s ownership.

“It was special in L.A. especially with Magic,” Wiggins said. “It was awesome to connect with Magic. I was able to share my story with him from how his announcement turned us from a baseball family into a basketball family.

"It was nice to play in L.A., a place I am from and play for my favorite team growing up. It would have been really safe and easy for me to stay in L.A. but I wanted to explore something that would challenge me.”

Wiggins is no stranger to overcoming obstacles.

The Stanford graduate’s story of incredible perseverance and persistence in the face of eight surgeries is encouraging considering her 5 foot, 11 inch body has been consistently banged like a drum throughout her basketball and volleyball career.

There were those who thought Wiggins’ career was finished after she ruptured her Achilles in 2010. However, she wasn’t one of them.

Wiggins returned to help the Minnesota Lynx win the 2011 WNBA title.

She also played for the Tulsa Shock and most recently with the Sparks, where she played 17 games last season. Wiggins signed as a free agent with the Liberty during the offseason.

Her experience, silky-smooth shooting stroke, pleasant personality, passionate play are quality additions to a revamped Liberty team featuring nine new players from last season.

“It seems like injuries have been the story of my whole career, but like Maya Angelou, ‘still like dust, I rise,” Wiggins said. “For me, I go the hardest I can go all the time and push myself to the limits.

"When I was younger I just didn’t listen to my body as much.

"In the WNBA it’s been a series of knee injuries. After I ruptured my Achilles in 2010, ironically at Madison Square Garden, that’s when I had to do a complete restart, sit down and relax.

"That’s when I started listening to my body more, slowing down and it helped me a lot.”

Wiggins, who has enjoyed a memorable career, turned down five offers to play overseas this past offseason. The third-pick of the Lynx in the 2008 Draft, Wiggins was named to the All-Rookie Team, honored as the Sixth Woman of the Year after averaging a career best 15.7 points per game and has made 271 career 3-pointers.

She has averaged double figures in scoring four times during her career, most recently in 2013 with the Shock (10.1 points per game).

She has started both of the Liberty’s games this season. Wiggins played 11 minutes in the season-opening 82-73 win over the Atlanta Dream. She scored five points against the Mystics. With Wiggins, the points are irrelevant as she offers a calming presence and serves as a mentor for the younger members of the team.

The Liberty host Indiana Tuesday and Phoenix Thursday at Madison Square Garden. Both games begin at 7:00 p.m.

“It was an amazing team win and probably one of the best team wins I’ve ever been a part of during my career,” Wiggins said of the opening night win over Atlanta. “Everybody came in and did their part. Just to have that as the starting point for us and to know that we can count on every single person makes the experience of playing here that much better.

"Our biggest competition is ourselves. We’re competing against ourselves to see how good we can get.”

Being in New York is another large platform for her to make an impact on and off the court.

When the Liberty visited Minnesota recently for their preseason finale, Wiggins invited media members to watch her get tested for HIV at the Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP), an experience she documented on her website www.candicewiggins.com.

“No matter how brave one might think he or she is, facing a stigma like HIV/AIDS is an incredibly daunting task, where one must confront their greatest fears and ask themselves troublingly uncomfortable questions regarding sex, drugs, life and death,” Wiggins wrote in a recent post her blog.

“For most of my life I intuitively kept these feelings compartmentalized, but here was a place designed to open up communication on this extremely controversial and taboo subject, and the MAP staff are the incubators that truly make all people feel welcome and safe.

"This time, I wanted my experience to be special. I wanted to connect with souls and be a leader in this fight. I wanted to do something that would show that the intent of my message has integrity.”

She founded the Candice Wiggins Foundation in 2008, an organization aimed at reaching out to youth about the AIDS/HIV epidemic. In addition, Wiggins has partnered with Until There’s a Cure.

It makes sense why Wiggins has a benevolent spirit and a heart of gold because she celebrates her birthday on Valentine’s Day.

Living in White Plains, a three-point shot away from the Liberty’s practice facility, Wiggins hasn’t had much of an opportunity to get out and experience New York’s exciting social and tourist scene yet. She plans on it in the immediate future.

Wiggins has spent most of her life in California, so it was natural that one of the toughest adjustments coming to the east coast for her was handling the time change along with the faster pace.

“I feel this is the right place for me,” Wiggins said. “It’s an honor to be part of this team, the new New York. I hope to look back on my time here in New York and realize that I was part of something special. I count my blessings every day.”

Surely there are many people who have been blessed by Wiggins’ consistent education of HIV/AIDS awareness. Who knows, a life or two may have been saved.

That’s the ultimate tribute to her dad.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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