The Women's National Basketball Association regular season kicks off on Friday with the Minnesota Lynx taking on the Los Angeles Sparks in L.A. Led by Candace Parker and rookie Maya Moore, the Sparks looked strong during an easy preseason win over the Phoenix Mercury. Saturday features a host of match-ups, including 2010 champions the Seattle Storm playing Phoenix at home. The all-star team includes Storm veterans Sue Bird and Swin Cash, as well as Seattle newcomer Katie Smith, the WNBA's all-time leading scorer who was traded from the Mystics in April. As Seattle looks for another championship season, HuffPost caught up with three-time team championship winner Swin Cash to talk about 10 years of professional basketball, the secret to her alma mater's success and life after the WNBA.
As I begin my tenth year in the WNBA, I must say the past nine months have been such a blessing. It started with us winning the 2010 WNBA championship -- my third overall, but first since joining the Seattle Storm. Next, I hopped a plane straight for the Czech Republic en route to winning the gold medal in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Championships.
I have been equally blessed in my off-court achievements, with the pinnacle being my mother's wedding where I was maid of honor. Following that, I was inducted into the Pittsburgh History Museum's Hall of Fame. And last but certainly not least, I received my honorary doctorate in public service from Washington and Jefferson College in May.
As I began to look back on the past year of accomplishments and memories, I started to think back to my wonder years as a Husky and to what helped me achieve success at the University of Connecticut and beyond. Everywhere I go, people always want to ask me the same questions: What is Coach Geno Auriemma's secret? People see the finished on-court team, which has produced championships year in and year out, and think all the players came into the program as champions. If you want to get to the core of UConn's successes you have to start at the top with Geno.
Coach Auriemma and his staff create a basketball system, culture and environment that puts players in a position to achieve success. Attaining that success depended on one's physical and mental approach to the challenge.
I know most think UConn's secret ingredient to success lies in the spaghetti sauce coach has with his mother. Although we love her Italian cooking, the secret isn't that complicated: Winning is the only option. I don't care if it's in the weight room or the classroom, when running sprints, shooting free throws or tying your shoes, winning is what matters. The bar is set so high that UConn players don't even realize until their senior year that it was really impossible to reach the bar to begin with. That's because it was always topped off at perfection.
As I've gotten older and entered into the business world, I am starting to realize a lot of the principles that were instilled in me at UConn translate into success in other areas of my life. My competitive drive to succeed, my ability to understand how to get the best out of my teammates, coworkers and employees and my belief that success is the only option have all helped me more than most realize.
I'll never forget during my freshmen year when Coach Auriemma informed us -- no, let's keep it real -- screamed at us about names on the back of our jerseys, or the lack thereof: "The reason we don't have names on the back of our jerseys is because no one gives a damn about the name on the back of our jerseys, only the name on the front!” That was a powerful statement and always stuck with me.
Now don't get me wrong, as a freshman I looked at him like he was crazy. I was looking forward to seeing "Cash" on the back of my jersey. But in the end, Coach Auriemma gives you no choice but to buy into his philosophy and trust the bigger picture.
It's easy for any university to provide you with the tools to be good, but our experiences allowed us to be great. When a team has an assistant coach like Chris Daily, who can be more intimidating than Joan Rivers on the "Fashion Police" (or so she thought), players fall right in line. At UConn, we had to arrive at all home games, banquets and team functions dressed in business casual attire. If a player started to act like she didn't want to wear stockings when it was clearly apparent she should have, Chris would bring it to her attention quickly.
I remember in 2000, we were at the Final Four in Philly, and all four teams gather for a banquet together. One of the teams walked in wearing their team sweat suits. C.D. (as we liked to call her) said, "Now, is that how you want to look or represent yourself?" Shaking my head as I laughed, I looked at her and said, "No, thank you."
This wasn't only about UConn and our appearance -- it was about preparing us for life as adults in the real world. I always tell people when you leave UConn you are "Pro Ready."
I was talking to Sue Bird, my college teammate and roommate, about our rookie years in the WNBA. She was the first pick and I was drafted second. She told me a story about getting off the plane in Seattle and receiving a big speech about how there would be a lot of media. She walked in the room and actually chuckled. What they considered to be a lot of press was the equivalent of a typical media day after one of our college practices.
That's not a knock on Seattle, just the reality of media we were exposed to at UConn. Let's just say today's media coverage of the Seattle Storm is a lot different in the Emerald City. Thanks, Seattle!
When my playing days are over, I plan on transitioning into the business and television worlds like Magic Johnson. I mean, someone has to fill Oprah's time slot!
My mentor would always tell me, basketball is what you do, not who you are. I've always tried to show the children I help with my charity, Cash for Kids, how important it is to set a foundation of good work habits. Our goal is to educate, motivate and elevate each and every child we touch. My goal has always been to try and inspire the next generation of young men and women to believe in themselves, achieve their goals then lead for the next generation.
As I prepare for the start of this WNBA season, equipped with a foundation from college and from years of professional life lessons, I give thanks to my family and loved ones who have been on this ride with me since day one. Defending a title is by no means easy but I am excited to embrace the challenge ahead with my Seattle Storm teammates ready to go toe-to-toe with whoever stands in our way. As the master of foolishness, Charlie Sheen, would say: winning!
Catch Cash and the rest of Seattle face off against Phoenix on Saturday at 3 p.m. EST on ABC.