By Dave Wagner
FARWELL, Texas — Former Texas Tech standout Sheryl Swoopes is one of the WNBA’s few remaining original players.
Still, as she approaches her 34th birthday next week, she’s challenging herself to maintain a high level of play.
Swoopes signed a contract last month to play with the expansion Lubbock Hawks of the National Women’s Basketball League, hoping it would sharpen her game for the WNBA season which begins in late May.
She was at Farwell High School on Friday for one of several youth basketball camps she is conducting in conjunction with the team. The Hawks, meantime, are winding down their 24-game season and trying to earn one of four postseason berths in the six-team NWBL.
“My biggest thing was to challenge myself to get back to where I was two years ago,” said Swoopes, who has spent her entire WNBA career with the Houston Comets and helped them win the league’s first four championships (1997-2000). “I still feel I can play with the best of them.
“I feel like I’m in good shape. I just take it one day at a time. I think I could probably play another five or six years, but I’ll just see how I feel. I’m not sure if I want to do that.”
Lubbock is third the NWBL, but with three home games left could still move up or down a notch. Swoopes, who led Tech to the 1993 NCAA title with a record 47 points in the championship game against Ohio State, has averaged 17.4 points in seven games since signing with Lubbock.
“Getting Sheryl to come to Lubbock is a huge deal for us,” Hawks general manager and part owner Ricky Romero said. “She’s the best player ever to come out of West Texas. She’s a great role model, and everyone knows who she is.”
Previously in the NWBL, she had spent two seasons in Houston and one in Dallas.
“I’ve known Ricky since he was about 2 years old,” said Swoopes, who spent several months last fall playing in a league in Russia. “I knew he was getting up a team, and I called him. It was an opportunity for me to come back home and to keep playing.”
Romero said unlike some men’s pro minor leagues, the caliber of play in the NWBL isn’t that far from the WNBA because all the teams have six or seven players from that league.
“People like Sheryl use this league to stay in shape so they don’t have to go overseas to play (in the WNBA’s offseason),” he said.
Swoopes, a 1989 graduate of Brownfield (Texas) High School, said she enjoys working with youth, about 60 of whom were on hand for Friday’s camp.
“Most people have camps in the summer,” she said. “Usually in the off-season I do a lot of traveling, whether it’s for camps or speaking engagements.
“To see smiles on kids’ faces and know how much they enjoy it, that makes me feel good. It’s great to see all the kids come out, and to know that people embrace me when I come back.”
Several area coaches helped out with the camp, among them Farwell boys coach Clint Conkin and girls coach Doug Boyd and Portales girls coach Brenda Gomez.
For Dellani Jones, a Farwell High sophomore who worked the camp, it was experience toward what she hopes might eventually be a career in coaching.
“It was really fun coaching the little kids,” Jones said. “It made me feel good. I was nervous at first, but I got more comfortable as it went on.
“I really like basketball, and I hope to be able to play in college.”