Published September 27. 2012 4:00AM
Mohegan - It begins in the quiet gym. A squeaking sneaker. A bouncing ball and its echo. No cameras. No tweeting. Just the tragically underappreciated concept of diligence.
Footwork, rhythm, balance, touch. Footwork, rhythm, balance, touch.
This is the hook shot in its infancy.
It evolves with the dominant hand. Get your feet organized. Catch the ball. Hold it high. Two hands. Bury the shoulder.
This is the hook shot in its adolescence.
It finishes with ambidexterity. Righty. Lefty. Swish.
Holy Hallucinations, Batman. A women's basketball player with an equal opportunity arsenal?
This is the hook shot of Tina Charles.
Nothing else about her game better illustrates her passion for it than perfection of the hook shot, basketball's time-consuming version of the unhittable pitch. The repeated recipe: Proper mechanics. The right feel. Rhythm. Balance. Want-to.
And now Charles, a Most Valuable Player candidate in the WNBA, has the distinction of having the deepest repertoire of any other post player in the world. Forget the requisite post moves. Forget the consistent 17-footer. Charles' ability to make hook shots with both hands gives her a basketball uniqueness not merely relegated to her own gender.
What, you think there's some guy out there proficient in righty and lefty hooks at the moment?
Sun coach Mike Thibault, once an assistant with the Lakers, used to watch the greatest hook shot of all, the sky hook of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, every day. Surely, there have been others. Artis Gilmore and Dave Cowens retired the trophy for left-handers. Kevin McHale's jump hook should have its own exhibit in Springfield.
Now there's Charles, the Doctoress of Hook. ("Dr. Hook" is already taken with "Sylvia's Mother.")
"The basis of what Tina has came at a younger age," Thibault was saying earlier this week, while preparing his team for Game 1 of its best-of-three playoff series against New York tonight (8 p.m., ESPN2) at Mohegan Sun Arena.
"But she's been repetitive about it every day," he said. "We spend time on both sides of the floor with both hands. Hook shots, layups, drop steps. It's something you have to keep repeating to be good at. Like free throws. Or playing the piano. Or hitting in the batting cage. It's not exciting. It's muscle memory. What's the saying, that you have to do something 10,000 times to perfect it? She's probably done that now."
Ask Charles, who patterns her game after Hakeem Olajuwon, the question "who taught you?" and her answer comes without hesitation. Like reciting her phone number.
"It goes back to Chris Dailey," Charles said of UConn's associate head women's basketball coach, perhaps more renowned for teaching her players good manners, belying her breadth of basketball acumen. "She would always say 'one thing at a time.' Turn. Have the ball behind your head. I'm fortunate because I'm able to palm the ball and can get it up quick."
Dailey reported, quite happily, that Breanna Stewart, a UConn freshman and perhaps the program's Next Great One, can palm the ball, too. Stewart may be unwittingly enrolled in future Hook Shot 101 classes.
It happened to Charles' Sun teammate, lefty Jessica Moore, who also fashioned a hook shot at UConn. Moore knows the dedication required to developing the same consistency with the opposite hand.
"You barely see it in the women's game. It shows you what touch Tina has," Moore said. "You know it's the one move you have that no one can stop. Tina's not the biggest post player but she can score on all the bigger players.
"It all goes back to Chris Dailey," Moore said. "I know what Tina went through at practices. CD would come out with this big broom. You saw that and thought, 'OK, we're working on hook shots today.'"
Dailey, who played at Rutgers, said her hook shot developed from necessity. Who knew that all those years ago, learning the hook shot on the playground would bear so many tentacles?
"It was my only shot. Survival of the fittest," Dailey said earlier this week while doing some recruiting in California. "I was small and it was the only shot I could get off. Plus, I would play pick up games and I'd swing my left arm and the sissy guys would call 'foul!'"
Dailey began to recite the vagaries of a good hook shot. Rhythm. Footwork. Patience. Get your eyes on the rim.
And work at it.
"We don't see kids shooting hook shots a lot now," Dailey said, "because kids are interested in showing you how many moves they can make before shooting."
Charles said an injury to her dominant (right) shoulder in college forced her to learn how to use her left hand. But that's sort of the point: She did it. She continues to do it. And the rest, as they say, is current events.
"She's done the work," Sun assistant coach Scott Hawk said. "Whoever had Tina before here - high school, AAU the coaches at UConn - did a great job. Coach (Thibault) works with her more on her post stuff than I do. She didn't learn it here, but she still puts the time in. It's a weapon. When you shoot it with both hands, it's hard to lock in on a pattern.
"Look," Hawk said. "If my right shoulder is buried in your sternum - and not to encourage violence - and I'm holding the ball with two hands on my left shoulder, you'll need really, really long arms not to make contact with me. It's a distinct advantage to be able to do that from both sides."
This isn't going to be an easy series for the Sun. Or Charles. New York will lean on her with Kara Braxton, Kia Vaughn and DeMya Walker, among others. Charles will need all of her resourcefulness.
But then, it is of Tina Charles that the following was said:
"This summer," Dailey said, "Diana (Taurasi) said to me, 'Tina is the best post player in the world.' I said 'what?' She said, 'every time she touches it, she has a chance to score.' Diana has played with them all. That's good enough for me."