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Former WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw visits UAlbany

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By Aaron Cheris

On Tuesday night, the University at Albany welcomed former WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw back to campus.

After speaking at the school last year, Holdsclaw returned for a screening of her new documentary “Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw.”

Even though Holdsclaw has a Hall of Fame-worthy resume as a basketball player, the event focused on her journey and mental health struggles throughout her career on and off the court.

Coming out of high school in Queens, Holdsclaw was one of the top recruits in the nation. In 1995, she chose to attend the University of Tennessee and play under legendary Head Coach Pat Summitt.

While at Tennessee, Holdsclaw led the Lady Vols to three straight national championships between 1996-98, the first time a women’s team had ever won three titles in a row.

After graduating, Holdsclaw was the first overall pick by the Washington Mystics in the 1999 WNBA Draft. During her long WNBA career, Holdsclaw earned many records and was a six-time WNBA All-Star.

“That was my dream when I was a kid,” Holdsclaw said of her top selection in the draft.

At one point, Holdsclaw was called the female Michael Jordan because of her star power and athletic prowess.

But her time in the WNBA is when her life took a turn for the worst. When playing with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2006, Holdsclaw tried to take her own life. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression, and needed to step away from the game.

“Having to walk away from the game when I had those struggles with mental health,” Holdsclaw said of the low point of her career, “to know that something that brought me so much joy over the years, it was killing me that I had to step away to take care of me.”

The sequence of events in her life were chronicled in the documentary that was shown in the Campus Center ballroom to about 200 students, faculty, and community members.

Holdsclaw posed with students that attended a screening of her documentary. Photo by Aaron Cheris / Albany Student Press
Holdsclaw posed with students that attended a screening of her documentary. Photo by Aaron Cheris / Albany Student Press

After speaking at UAlbany last year, Counseling and Psychological Services were happy to bring Holdsclaw back again.

“She is so authentic in the way she speaks, and the way students react to her is great,” Heidi Wright, a staff psychologist, said. “[The film] showed her story in a different way. We got to see different people in her life.”

Before the documentary was screened, Holdsclaw briefly talked about her life and the journey she took to becoming a mental health advocate. After the screening, Holdsclaw took questions from the crowd, and many students were eager to hear from the former Olympic Gold Medalist.

“I just love young minds and how they break it down. This is mental health and we’re trying to spread the conversation,” Holdsclaw said. “These kids hit it from all different angles and I love that.”

Holdsclaw has been spreading her message of mental health since she retired from the WNBA in 2010.

“It’s about a journey. Being with college students is amazing because these are the people of the future that are going to continue to change the conversation,” Holdsclaw said. “I use my platform to get it out there. I’m going to make people real uncomfortable to help bring some attention to this and help de-stigmatize it.”

Toward the end of the event, one student stepped up to the microphone and talked about her own struggle with bipolar disorder before asking Holdsclaw a question.

“It’s really powerful. You’re in school, you’re shy and you don’t want to talk in front of people but she recognized that this is who she is. The fact that she recognized it is admirable because it shows she’s working to be better,” Holdsclaw said. “People are empowered. They’re saying it, claiming it because they want to get better.”

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