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Sue Wicks had long journey en route to Hall of Fame

Sue Wicks, then of Rutgers University, prepares to

Sue Wicks, then of Rutgers University, prepares to take a shot. Credit: Newsday File, 1987

Sue Wicks' road to basketball stardom began in a driveway in Center Moriches and ends in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

To get from start to finish, however, Wicks took the scenic route. Her trip from Long Island to the 2002 WNBA Finals with the Liberty included stops in Japan, Hungary, Spain, Israel and France.

Although she played soccer, baseball and football with her brothers and their friends as a kid, she said the guys got too big and strong and she turned to basketball.

"I would play before the school bus came, I'd play at lunchtime at school, I'd have my practice, then I'd practice with the boys team," Wicks said. "I was playing eight hours a day of basketball."

By the time she was a senior at Center Moriches High School, she was averaging close to 40 points a game. "Sue could score 50 points a game if she wanted to," her coach, Dietmar Trick, told Newsday in 1984.

Wicks went on to star at Rutgers after being pursued by about 100 colleges, including Auburn and North Carolina State.

But, Wicks said, the transition from high school to college wasn't easy.

"I didn't understand even how to run an offense," Wicks said. "I had individual skills, one-on-one skills and that's what I brought to the table. All those other things I had to learn there."

Eager to compete, Wicks became a student of the game.

"We were playing basketball on a whole new level for me," Wicks said. "So every day I couldn't wait to get back in the gym to get better and learn from my teammates and my coaches."

Wicks' passion and persistence, combined with her natural ability, led to a monumental college career. Wicks was a three-time All-American and was named National Player of the Year as a senior in 1988. She still holds Rutgers records for points (2,655), rebounds (1,357), scoring average (21.2 ppg.) and in five other categories.

Before the establishment of the WNBA in 1997, American female athletes hoping to pursue a career in professional basketball had to go overseas. During her senior season at Rutgers, representatives from professional teams in Japan and Italy came to visit Wicks with the hopes of signing her to a contract.

"My first contract offer was on a napkin." Wicks said.

She signed that napkin, deciding to play in Lake Como, Italy. It initially was a struggle.

"The first year it was miserable trying to learn Italian and being away from a nurturing, sheltered environment that I had at Rutgers," Wicks said. "The fans, because they loved their home team so much, they had to hate you so much. So, they had chants where they would call me names and throw stuff at you. "

But Wicks eventually embraced her new lifestyle."I loved the challenge of being in a new culture and playing a different style of basketball."

Soon enough, Wicks was a nomad. She left the raucous gyms of Italy after three seasons and headed to Japan, where she became immersed in "the perfect culture for team basketball," in which her team practiced from noon to 6 p.m. daily. She stayed on the move, playing in Israel, Spain, France, Turkey and Hungary.

After 10 years as a professional overseas, Wicks got the call that would bring her back home: the WNBA had been formed. With the 30th overall pick in the inaugural draft, the Liberty picked Wicks.

"From growing up in Center Moriches, where the only people at the game were my dad and the scorekeeper, to playing in Hungary, where it was freezing cold in Budapest," Wicks said. "So then to go to the Mecca of the world and play in front of 20,00 people when they're chanting your name, it was a fantastic experience."

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