It's been a memorable journey

As a teenager, Cappie Pondexter had the WNBA logo tattooed on her bicep and, sure enough, she's now playing for the New York Liberty. Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY Sports

Growing up, I have never imagined all of this would happen to me. I worked really hard despite many bumps in the road, and I continued to believe in the dream. It’s been a long journey, but I have met some really influential people who helped shape and mold my career into what it is today. To them, I am truly and extremely thankful.

For me, sports were a “moving vehicle’’ to get out of Chicago, where I grew up. There’s always a story about how tough it is to grow up in a city, but I used my spiritual beliefs, family and great peers to help me move to the next phase in my career.

Today, young girls and women have so many different outlets to get to that next stage of their careers. Sports can help change someone’s life. I think it’s important that we, as role models, continue to motivate and inspire the next generation.

1995: This is a fifth-grade photo, around the age when I first started to develop a love for basketball. As you can see, I have a Kevin Garnett jersey on. He was my favorite to watch in the Chicago area. I actually went to a Christian school where we were required to wear a uniform, but on picture days we got the opportunity to express who we were in the way we dressed. This is what I decided to wear.

1999: Now let’s journey back to my high school days. As a freshman, I had the opportunity to start and play on one of the best basketball teams in Illinois. It’s not very often you see a freshman start and play, but I was a huge contributor to my team’s success my freshman year.

2000: A very special moment in my high school career was the opportunity to meet and speak with basketball legend Sheryl Swoopes. My team was participating in a Christmas tournament with some of the best schools in the country, and we finished in third place. I wasn’t too happy with the outcome, but I really appreciated the overall experience. I never would have imagined that I would be playing against a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, let alone later become friends with her! It’s amazing how sports bring people together.

2000: This photo is from the day I won the Illinois Miss Basketball trophy. This was a huge accomplishment early on in my career. It was amazing to be part of something so special. It was an awesome feeling knowing that I became a part of basketball history on this day.

2001: Fast forward a year later, I became the first player to ever win the Illinois Miss Basketball’ trophy back to back! I never imagined that I would make history at such a young age. The two people sitting beside me in this photo helped motivate me to accomplish such a great feat.

2001: It’s safe to say that every young kid who aspires to play professional basketball works hard to eventually become a High School All-American. This became a clear goal of mine once I realized how good I actually was and how great I could become. My team won the game, and I won the MVP trophy. For me, this was a new era of basketball and I was excited to begin my college career, committing to Rutgers University to play for legendary Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer.

2005: I was redshirted my first year of college and had to watch my team end the season with a 9-20 record. It was the most I had lost in a single season, which pushed me to give more to my teammates because I couldn’t actually play in the games with them. The following year, I officially began my career as a Scarlet Knight, and I was able to accomplish a lot. I earned All-America honors in college and became one of the top players in college history. Some argued that I was the best player on my team. My college years were an amazing journey.

2006: If anyone can remember, I was that teenage kid who had the WNBA logo tattooed on my right bicep. This caused a craze with some people, but in my eyes it was a significant symbol of motivation. It was my dream to play professional basketball, and this photo captures that very moment. I got to spend my draft night with some of the most important people in my life. It was an unbelievable feeling and one that I will never forget.