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Focus on Faces: Nicky McCrimmon

Focus on Faces: Nicky McCrimmon photo
Kobe Bryant and Nicki McCrimmon

10/10/2011 4:24:10 a.m. - Hobbs, NM. New Mexico Junior College has its fair share of sports legends. And Nicky McCrimmon is among the best of them-for a number of reasons.

The youngest of seven children, Nicole "Nicky" McCrimmon grew up in Harlem, N.Y., where her poor academic performance in high school resulted in her being transferred to an alternate high school. There, she found the support and encouragement she desperately needed. "At that time, everybody was telling me I wasn't going to amount to anything, so I took all that negative energy and turned it into something positive," she said. At the new school, she was an honor student, never missed class, and appreciated the teachers there because "they took the time" for her. That extra attention, she contends, made the difference in setting her on the right track and was the first step in helping shape her future aspirations.

After setting all-time scoring records for New York high schools (she scored 80 points in one game), she was recruited by Coach Brent Palmer to attend NMJC. As a Lady Thunderbird from 1990-1992, her performance garnered a number of honors for her, including being selected to the Parade All-American Team and the All-Western Junior College Athletic Conference in 1991.

In her sophomore year at NMJC, "Nick-Nice" or "Quicky Nicky," as she had been called back in Harlem, was named Junior College Kodak All-American and Western Junior College Athletic Conference Player of the Year.

Nicky also earned a scholarship to the University of Southern California, where the 5'8", 125-pound point guard soon became a standout, earning a First Team AII-Pac-10 in 1994. That same year, she not only received Basketball Times' Honorable Mention All-American, was chosen #7 point guard in the nation, and was named a pre-season Pac-10 pick by NCAA Basketball Magazine, but also graduated from USC with a bachelor's degree in communication, with a minor in sociology.

After a stint in the American Basketball League, Nicky went on to join the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) in 2000, playing 28 games her first season as a member of the Los Angeles Sparks. The next two years, she and her teammates made WNBA history as the Sparks won back-to-back national championships.

Along with the fame, glory, and excitement of a rising career during those years came a rush of opportunities, such as appearing in movies (Space Jam) and television ("Sports Theatre with Shaquille O'Neal," "Smart Guy," and "Before and After'noon Movies"). However, even during the most dizzying highs of personal and professional victories, Nicky remained true to herself, whether it was appearing at a celebrity benefit to help the disabled or speaking to grade school children on the dangers of drug use.

Nicky never forgot the encouragement and support that had helped her achieve her dreams. Thinking back on the teachers and coaches whose guidance had enabled her to fulfill her potential, she was compelled, in turn, to help others. During offseason and between stints playing internationally in countries such as Poland, Israel, and Austria, Nicky repeatedly returned to the classroom, where she substitute taught all grade levels, from elementary to high school. It was during this time that she also formed Play Mode, Inc., a non-profit foundation that helps inner-city youth and women better themselves through sports. Through basketball camps, clinics, and exhibition games, Nicky taught others the importance of self-discipline, hard work and, most importantly, believing in themselves.

Today, Nicky has taken her commitment to help others to a new and different level. For the last three years, she has served as a probation officer in LA County, one of the toughest areas in the nation for gang-related crime. Unafraid of the hardened youth offenders and gang members she deals with, Nicky draws on her own life experiences and the lessons taught by her mentors through the years. It's undoubtedly a difficult, frustrating, and sometimes dangerous job, but ask anyone who knows her, and they'll tell you that Nicky McCrimmon is fearless-on and off the court-and she's just the person to share with these kids what it takes to overcome challenges and become a winner in the game of life.

Nicky McCrimmon is not only a great young lady, she is also the best player I ever coached. I know she must have gone through culture shock in coming to Hobbs and New Mexico Junior College from New York, but she learned quickly and adjusted well. For instance, I remember that no matter how much or how little money she had, she was vel}' responsible financially. I used to laugh and say that if you gave her $10, she'd save $9.99. She was just responsible that way about things.

Nicky took advantage of the opportunities NMJC provided, both athletically and academically, and she had two really good years with us before going on to even greater things at USC and in the WNBA. While she was at NMJC, she was the #1 sophomore in the nation, and her phone was ringing off the wall with recruiters calling constantly. I remember she couldn't even do her homework, and her academics were pretty important to her.

Nicky was an awesome player and a great role model and leader. She was the starting point guard surrounded by a great group or "supporting cast" of team members, and that entire team was just super. They were fun, supportive of one another, and it was simply a great time and a great group. I'm proud that Nicky got her collegiate basketball start here, and we're fortunate that we all got to be a part of it.

- Brent Palmer, NMJC Head Women's Basketball Coach, 1989-1999

My time at NMJC was one of the fondest memories of my life. At first, I was just a kid from New York on my own, way out in New Mexico at this little college in the country. Everything was so different from what I knew. But the people at NMJC were really nice, and Coach Palmer and Coach Baldwin took good care of us all, and pretty soon, the team and coaches became my family. While I was at NMJC, I learned how to be responsible and discipline myself. Coach Palmer also taught me so many basic things, too, like how to take care of my financial aid and not to spend everything all at once. I was even able to send money home to help my mom.

My memories of that time are awesome. I remember learning to drive a stick shift at NMJC, and there was this place in town that put fruit on their pizza and sold fried ice cream. And there was this wonderful older lady who tutored me and became my friend. I learned so many things there and have so many great memories of my friends and teammates. And the houses! In New York, I was used to seeing everyone live in apartments, but in Hobbs, everyone lived in houses! That opened my eyes to the idea of home ownership. Thanks to my experience at NMJC, I wound up getting my realtors' license and own five houses today. It made that much of an impression.

If I'd gone to USC instead of NMJC those first two years, it would have been overwhelming for me, and my life could have been very different. NMJC taught me what college could be. NMJC gave me my start.

During my life, I've learned a number of lessons, and I always tell kids that they should never let anyone tell them they can't be successful. Instead, they should go after their dreams, no matter what. I always tell them this: "Only you can stop you."

- Nicky McCrimmon

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