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The Daily Wildcat

 

    Polk honored at game

    Arizona womens basketball head coach Joan Bonvicini unveils Polks framed jersey with President Peter Likins. Polk was remembered in a short ceremony Saturday in McKale Center.
    Arizona women’s basketball head coach Joan Bonvicini unveils Polk’s framed jersey with President Peter Likins. Polk was remembered in a short ceremony Saturday in McKale Center.

    Retiring a ‘legend’

    Click here to see a photospread from the game and ceremony

    Shawntinice Polk, the late Arizona women’s basketball player, was immortalized Saturday when her No. 00 jersey was hoisted to the McKale Center rafters.

    Polk, the 22-year-old who died Sept. 26 from a blood clot in her lungs, became the first women’s basketball player to have her number retired in Arizona history. She is also the fifth basketball player overall to have her number retired, along with Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, Mike Bibby and Jason Gardner.

    In what would have been her last home game, the team celebrated the life of the player affectionately called “”Polkey”” while recognizing all the team’s seniors on Senior Day.

    “”Today it was emotional and it was good in the same way, just remembering Polkey and remembering her accomplishments and everything that she’s done for this team and she’s done for us individually,”” said senior guard Natalie Jones.

    During warm-ups and for the first part of the game for the bench players, the Wildcats wore red T-shirts with Polk’s face on the front, just as they did during her memorial ceremony. On the back of the shirts was the quote, “”It is not what you did in life, but how you are remembered.””

    “”We definitely played for her and in our hearts tonight, without a doubt,”” said senior forward Anna Chappell, who was honored with Jones and former player Phakisha Peterson after the game as part of the Senior Day festivities.

    A video tribute to Polk played on the Jumbotron before her retired jersey was unveiled on the south ceiling of McKale next to the women’s Pac-10 championships banner while a framed “”00″” jersey was displayed at midcourt.

    Gov. Janet Napolitano and President Peter Likins joined the team on the bench for the game, often cheering whenever the Wildcats made a big play.

    Likins, who said he will remember Polk for her laughter, called her the “”poster child”” for a student-athlete. Besides her accomplishments on the court, Polk succeeded as a human being and a student and was on her way to graduation.

    Because Polk earned all-Pacific 10 Conference honors all three seasons she played, was a Wooden Award candidate for the top player in the nation this season and was Arizona’s career leader in double-doubles, rebounding average and blocked shots, Likins said her jersey may have been retired anyway.

    “”She could very well expect her jersey to be retired just because of her talent as a basketball player, but the fact that she experienced such a shocking end to her life gives us one more reason to think hard about Polkey,”” Likins said. “”It’s interesting to realize how many true friends she had, not just on her own team but men’s basketball team, men’s football team. People really loved Polkey.””

    While the entire UA community has been affected by Polk’s death, arguably nobody has felt it more than Jones, Polk’s teammate of three seasons who mentioned plans of carrying Arizona far into the NCAA tournament with Polk in their senior year.

    Before Jones’ final home game, she said she went to Polk’s old locker and talked to her, telling Polk she dedicated the game to her.

    “”I just wanted to make her proud no matter what; if we come out with the win or the loss, I was going to play my heart out,”” Jones said. “”I was going to play totally different than I’ve ever played in my last three years.””

    Arizona women’s basketball head coach Joan Bonvicini said Polk was a reluctant superstar.

    “”She could have easily – and I’m being sincere when I say this – been the best player in the country,”” Bonvicini said. “”That was not Polkey. Polkey played … because she liked being around her friends, and it was fun.””

    Polk’s biological father, Lonnie Williams, made the trip to Tucson for the ceremony with his family as well as Polk’s high school coach, Dwayne Tubbs.

    “”It’s nice to see all the outpouring of love,”” Williams said. “”It’s hard and rare nowadays to see people come together like this in any situation. It just felt real good.””

    When Polk left her hometown of Hanford, Calif., she moved to a new family, which is better known as the Arizona Wildcats athletics program.

    Arizona Athletics Director Jim Livengood called Polk the “”ultimate politician.”” She made herself accountable to improve the experience of all student-athletes and often visited Livengood if she had a problem.

    “”It was always about helping somebody else and never about Polkey. She is just a wonderful human being who will be part of us forever,”” Livengood said. “”There were very few sports in McKale that she did not have an effect on. I can’t say that about very many athletes around the country.””

    Seemingly nothing has gone right for Arizona this season, from Polk’s death to the string of injuries that have made the Wildcats a 20-loss team after reaching the NCAA tournament the past three years.

    But during this final gasp of Arizona’s home schedule – a time the team could look forward to as an end to this nightmarish season – Bonvicini told the players before the game that Saturday was a celebration.

    “”A lot of people look at our record and people on the outside might think that this has been a horrible, terrible season, but I’ll tell you there is a lot to celebrate,”” Bonvicini told the crowd of 1,700 during the ceremony through tears. “”When Polkey died, it was very, very difficult, but the thing is our players have grown so much more as people on and off the court.””

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