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Humble Cash savors giving back to community

| Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, 9:30 p.m.
Former McKeesport, UConn, WNBA and Olympic basketball star Swin Cash accepts the Chuck Cooper Leadership, Diversity and Community Service Award at the 5th Annual Chuck Cooper Foundation Awards luncheon Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, Uptown.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Former McKeesport, UConn, WNBA and Olympic basketball star Swin Cash accepts the Chuck Cooper Leadership, Diversity and Community Service Award at the 5th Annual Chuck Cooper Foundation Awards luncheon Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, Uptown.

In many ways, obvious and not so obvious, Swin Cash is much like Chuck Cooper, trailblazers in their own right, both a bit of an anomaly.

“When I first heard of Chuck Cooper, I said, ‘Who's Chuck Cooper?' ” said Rondell Jordan, a 25-year-old Pitt law student from New York. “Being from Brooklyn, I'd never heard of him. As a kid, when I thought of a big-time basketball player, I thought of Magic Johnson.

“I need to Google Chuck Cooper.”

Perhaps if not for some determination from the former Westinghouse High School and Duquesne University basketball star who was the first African-American player to be drafted into the NBA, nobody would be talking about Magic Johnson.

And Rondell Jordan almost certainly wouldn't be one of six recipients of postgraduate scholarships Wednesday from the Chuck Cooper Foundation.

Cash, whose real name is Swintayla, meaning “astounding woman,” is the McKeesport native and forward for the WNBA's New York Liberty, who was this year's honored guest at the fifth annual Chuck Cooper Foundation Awards Luncheon at Consol Energy Center.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist, six-time WNBA all-star and renowned philanthropist, Cash accepted the annual Chuck Cooper Leadership, Diversity and Community Service Award with a dose of humility and a sparkle in her eye.

“I checked out this foundation, and it's directly aligned with what I stand for,” said Cash, gazing at the sellout crowd and beyond through the windows of the Lexus Club.

“I'm home,” she said. “For me, it means a lot to see people from your hometown.”

Cash acknowledged the McKeesport girls basketball team in attendance as well as her former classmate, McKeesport athletic director Charley Kiss, among others.

“Charley, we were voted most athletic man and woman in our class, weren't we?” Cash said with a big smile. “Without my family, without my friends, I am nothing.”

The foundation, which received its first $10,000 grant from the Penguins, also presented postgraduate scholarships to Bernandie Jean, a PhD candidate in chemistry and biochemistry at Duquesne; Joshua Nyarko, also a law student at Pitt; Nicole Johnson, enrolled in a five-year Master's program in speech language pathology at Duquesne; Shelly Brown, a doctoral candidate in education at Duquesne; and Sylvester Hanner, a PhD student in the counseling and education supervision program at Duquesne.

The event, which is the foundation's primary fundraiser, was formed in 2011. It evolved each year, moving in 2014 to PNC Park before arriving at Consol Energy Center, where Saturday, Duquesne will meet Dayton in the Chuck Cooper Classic men's basketball game.

“This luncheon is our most successful yet,” foundation founder and president Chuck Cooper III said. “To be able to honor a person such as Swin Cash with my dad's name is phenomenal. She's a genuine spirit.”

Cash doesn't want to be remembered just for her basketball exploits — two NCAA titles at Connecticut, one Final Four MVP and all-state recognition as a high school player at McKeesport, where she said she overcame a lot of distractions — but also for what Cooper characterized as tireless work to help others.

Said Cash: “I always started out in my career hoping to be a trailblazer. I don't want to be just put in a box with people knowing just about basketball.

“I looked at those girls from my school. They were wide-eyed. You have one moment to reach them. You want to be a role model. You want to make sure you plant the seed.”

Cash, who lives in New York and is a broadcaster in the offseason for CBS Sports and NBC Sports, is the founder of Swin Cash Enterprises. Her Cash Building Blocks program serves as an urban development company that renovates and offers homes to low-income families, and her Cash for Kids project is designed to educate children about the importance of fitness.

“I've been able to have the career I've had because of my roots to Pittsburgh,” Cash said. “We're hard workers.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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