2014 USA 3x3 National Championship
Colorado Springs, Colo.
May 9-11
2014 USA 3x3 National Championship
Colorado Springs, Colo.
May 9-11

Tina Charles Exhibits A True Spirit of Giving

December 13, 2013

Tina Charles has been blessed with athleticism, a strong 6-foot-4 inch body and a perfect touch around the basket. She is a dominant figure in the lane, no matter what end of the court she is on. Her size, skill, hard work and dedication to the game have taken her around the world.

The consensus national collegiate women’s basketball player of the year in 2010, Charles left the University of Connecticut with the 2009 and 2010 NCAA titles before being drafted No. 1 by the Connecticut Sun in 2010.

She first came onto the USA Basketball scene at the 2005 USA Youth Development Festival, and she played on three junior national teams from 2005-09 before being invited to attend the USA National Team’s 2009 fall training camp. Charles later became one of two then-collegiate athletes on the 2010-12 USA National Team and eventually added some coveted and rare hardware to her trophy case: Olympic and FIBA World Championship gold medals. 

Her meteoric rise in the game produced awards such as the 2009 USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year and 2012 WNBA MVP honors. In 2010, the 21-year-old Charles started the final six games at the FIBA World Championship and contributed a USA third-best 10.7 points and second-best 4.8 rebounds, despite playing fewer than 17 minutes a game en route to gold.

Fast forward two years later and Charles, still one of the two youngest on the roster, started six of eight games and recorded a USA third-best 10.5 ppg. and second-best 7.4 rpg. in 21.3 minutes a game as the U.S. squad rolled through its eight games with an unblemished record to claim the gold medal in London.

A four-year standout for the Connecticut Sun and the 2010 WNBA Rookie of the Year, Charles is a WNBA All-Star, and a EuroLeague All-Star who has played three EuroLeague seasons for Nadezhda in Russia (2010-11), Galatasaray Medical Park in Turkey (2011-12) and Wisla Can-Pack in Poland (2012-13) before transferring to the EuroCup squad Moscow Dynamo in Russia this season.

Playing against many of the athletes who the U.S. will face at the 2010 FIBA World Championship helps in many ways.

“It is very important to compete in Europe because the competition is just as hard as it is in the States,” wrote Charles in a recent email from Russia. “The Europeans take pride in their play and the legacy of their clubs and want to represent that each time they step on the court. Each game is always a challenge.”

She enjoys the world playing basketball, soaking up cultures, seeking out gastronomy adventures and making lifelong friends, but definitely misses the comforts of home.

“I miss my family and friends the most when playing overseas. And of course the food,” she wrote, adding a smiley-face emoticon. “But, the best thing about playing overseas is playing in countries that I never thought I would ever go to. I am big on going to museums and venturing out to different restaurants that are highly regarded. We are also able to develop friendships with Americans that we don't play with on our WNBA teams and with Europeans that can potentially last a lifetime. It’s a blessing to do what you love and to make friendships along the way.

Charles is indeed blessed with the life she leads. But she is someone who knows that she benefitted from the charity of others when she was younger, so she and strives to give back.

In 2011, Charles read about the untimely passing of Fennville High School (Mich.) basketball player Wes Leonard, who died of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) at the end of one of his basketball games. Leonard could have been saved with an automated external defibrillator (AED). Moved by his tragedy, Charles donated $14,775 to the New York Department of Education and the Wes Leonard Heart Team to purchase AEDs.

In 2012 Charles partnered with OmniPeace and buildOn to build a new school in Mali. She paid for the entire project, which cost about $32,000.

She contributed additional efforts to charity, but changed her focus eight months ago when her aunt, Maureen “Hopey” Vaz passed away due to multiple organ failure.

The Leonard tragedy, coupled with her aunt’s death, motivated Charles to set up a foundation in her aunt’s memory.

“I believe in a higher power and that God grants us all with a spiritual gift,” she said. “Once we discover what that is we should use it serve one another in a positive way. I know that mine is my acts of service and giving back to others. There were many things I did to help communities before, and I want to always impact individuals with my actions and with Hopey's Heart Foundation I am capable of doing just that and potentially saving a life.

“Hopey's Heart Foundation is important to me because it was founded in honor of my late aunt Maureen "Hopey" Vaz. I wanted something to share with others the impact she had on my life and the rest of our family and close friends. When she passed of multiple organ failure, the previous year I had donated five automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to the Wes Leonard Heart team. Wes Leonard passed away from multiple organ failure at his high school basketball game and because there wasn't an AED on site, SCA took his life. The impact this article had on me and with the passing of my aunt, I knew that having a foundation bringing awareness to SCA and putting AEDs into schools and communities throughout the U.S. would be profound and a true meaning of “Hopey's Heart.”

The foundation has so far donated 23 AEDs to schools and organizations around the U.S. and Charles says there are more to come before the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31.

“By the end of this month, there will be a total of 52 recipients before the new year. We just granted an additional 29 AEDs to applicants across the U.S.”

Eventually Charles would like to see AEDs in all the gyms where EuroLeague and EuroCup games and practices are conducted. And they can get the AEDs for free for a very low price: the cost of an essay.

“A European Club could apply for an AED by simply going to our website (www.hopeysheart.org) and filling out the AED Donation Application by providing a 300-word essay on ‘the meaning of life & why they feel having an AED is important,’” wrote Charles. “Once submitted, my board members and myself carefully review each application and later grant an AED to our applicants.”
 
While focused on her quest of having AEDs available in every gym across the globe, Charles hasn’t lost her focus on the sport that has made it possible for her to give so much to others.

In October she and 26 other elite athletes stepped onto the court for a USA National Team mini-camp in Las Vegas – and that didn’t include the five who were unable to attend because they were competing in the WNBA Finals. The talent on the floor was eye-popping. From Olympic gold medalists down to the six collegiate athletes in attendance, it was clear that the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Committee has its work cut out for it in having to pare down to just 12 for the 2014 FIBA World Championship next September.

A fact not lost on Charles.

“It will be extremely difficult (for them to name the team), and the better we play and assert ourselves it will be even harder,” she wrote.

She pointed out, however, that, “the committee always does a great job analyzing and bringing the right individuals together to get the job done.”

The competition at the World Championship won’t be a walk in the park. Yes, there will be some blowouts, but there will also surely be some very close games. The world’s top teams continue to improve, a fact not lost on Charles. 

“I believe every team will be a top competitor. USA Basketball respects each team and what they did to be in the position of competition. I personally never overlook any team or individual.”

While awaiting the hoped-for call to be a part of the team that defends the USA’s title at the 2014 Worlds, Charles is keeping her skills sharp playing alongside Kristi Toliver and her USA National Team teammate Lindsay Whalen in the EuroCup and Russian league. The trio has aided Dynamo Moscow to a 5-1 record in the regular season and is poised for a deep playoff run in the second-tiered EuroCup, the EuroLeague being the top tier competition.

So why did Charles, who was very successful in her three seasons in the EuroLeague, step down to a EuroCup team, albeit one that plays in the highly competitive Russian Premier League?

“Financially it was the best situation for me and I had the opportunity to play with Lindsay Whalen and Kristi Toliver,” she said. “They are up to this point one of the best backcourt (duos) I have played with for a full season since turning pro. The way they can see the court, everyday they’re working on their game in practice and are very unselfish but demanding- it raises the level of my game and (my) teammates.”

There are stories of athletes who are chasing the money for themselves. However, Charles’ move to Moscow will benefit so many people and might just save a few lives along the way. And that’s a very good thing.