Mom plays matchmaker for Swin Cash

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Swin Cash counts two NCAA titles, two Olympic gold medals and three WNBA championships among her list of accomplishments.

Swin Cash had to look no farther than just outside her apartment window to find her true love, one that promised adventures in faraway places from her housing project in McKeesport, Pa.

"When I was really young, my mom told me, 'I can't afford to send you to college, but you have an amazing gift from God and you need to do well in school and play as hard as you can to get a better life,' " said Cash, who is in her 12th WNBA season and second with the Chicago Sky.

Her mom, Cynthia, knew firsthand the opportunities basketball could bring. Having been recruited by a number of colleges, her life shifted dramatically from shooting hoops to changing diapers when she gave birth to Swin during her senior year of high school.

As she watched her daughter pick up a ball for the first time on the court outside their apartment window, it was clear to Cynthia that Swin possessed a similar talent. Surrounded by her cousins, many of whom lived in the same public housing development, Swin was schooled early and often on the blacktop.

"Being out there able to compete with the guys, it wasn't about, 'Hey, I'm a girl,' it was just about having fun," Cash said. "I think I developed a natural toughness that came from learning how to play the game at a certain intensity."

At 13, Cash joined an organized league, with her mom serving as her first coach. The only girl on the team, she helped lead it to a championship. It wasn't until she began to play on the seventh-grade team, however, that she grasped her potential.

"That's when I started realizing that I wasn't just good in the neighborhood, but I was pretty good at school, too," she said. "It came so naturally, I just fell in love with it."

Cynthia advised her daughter, an all-around athlete who participated in everything from track to baseball to cheerleading, to focus on basketball once she reached her freshman year of high school. Cash didn't hesitate, putting everything she had into improving her game.

"I come from humble beginnings and my mom never let me use my environment as an excuse. She used to say, 'Use it as motivation,' " Cash said. "From then on, I just always had this motivation to not only have success in life, but to make my neighborhood and family proud."

Around the same time, the formation of the WNBA further brought Cash's ambitions into focus.

"Seeing the WNBA come along, it was like, 'Wow, not only could I play in college, I could actually make this into a career,' " said Cash, 33, who will look to lead Chicago to its first WNBA title when the playoffs begin next week. "We were the first generation to be able to think like that."

Having looked up to players like Tina Thompson and Lisa Leslie during those years, she hopes that she might be able to pay it forward and serve as inspiration for today's up-and-comers. Through her Cash for Kids program, she's been deliberate in maintaining a connection to her roots in McKeesport.

"Sports have always been an outlet for me, and I hope I can help show them what's possible through my love for the game," she said. "I always tell them, 'Don't be the next Swin Cash -- be better than me. Take what I've done and build on it.' "

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