The photos included here were all from Tamika, and very much appreciated.
When we moved to Albuquerque we acquired our WBB season tickets early on, and have had them for over 20 years now. We have enjoyed good seasons, and survived bad ones, but never really knew a lot of the history pre-Jordan Adams. With the end of the 2018-19 season I decided to try and contact some of the pre-1998 players and do a (hopefully) series of interviews about lives after their Lobo careers.
While tracking Cherise’s achievements last season it was impossible to miss how many places Tamika was mentioned in the Lobo stat lists:
–Started every game in her 4 seasons at UNM, 117 of them
1017 points for her career
–32 points in a conference game vs Wyoming (8th most)
–606 rebounds, 15th best in Lobo history
–One of only a dozen Lobos with 1000 pts and 600 rebounds–as a 5’3” PG
–6th in career 3-pt field goals (141)
–Led Lobos in assists all four seasons, including the 10th & 11th highest single season marks
–Third in career assists with 469
–Every steal record for game, season, and career, including 4 of the top 7 steal seasons. Her 354 career steals are almost 150 more than the second player on the list, Mandi Moore
–Six times a Lobo has had 8+ steals in a game—Tamika did it 5 of those 6 times
–Most minutes per game for a season (39.2) and a career (35.2)
–WAC All Defensive Team three years in a row, only Lobo to do so
So with that refresher for those who, like I, were not fortunate enough to watch her, here is the interview with Tamika. Hopefully I will add some photos from the UNM archives shortly.
Joe: Good evening. Thank you for taking time. I appreciate it.
Tamika: No problem.
Joe: This is the second year I’ve tried to do this—interview some former Lobo players. The first year I went back a bit further into the 80s and didn’t connect with any of them. So, I decided not to be so adventurous this time. The past two seasons have attracted a lot of new fans who knew nothing about the history of the program, so I’m trying to do a number of little pieces on previous players from some of the past Lobo eras. I figured that I might as well start with one of the best point guards in UNM Lobo history. I am glad you are taking some time to do that.
Tamika: No problem. I appreciate it.
Joe: You were at UNM from 1994 to 98. (Yup) You started all 117 games. (I did.) You had some incredibly impressive steal totals. In fact, you had the two best single seasons steal totals in history and four of the top seven. You still have the record for the most steals at a game, a season, and a career–almost 150 more than the second-place person.
Tamika: That’s shocking. That’s been some time.
Joe: Yes, it has and what’s especially impressive to me is that playing three years under Don Flanagan, he did not play in a very fast pace so there were a limited number of possessions in which to make all those steals.
Tamika: Yea, that was kind of my thing. Being 5’ 3”, you have to find other ways to make an impact on the game. I found a niche and I was pretty passionate about what worked out for me.
Joe: And you still found time to be in the top three all time career assist leaders. (Yeah) So it was not a one-dimensional effort out there. Let me ask you, what brought you to UNM to play basketball in the first place?
Tamika: Coming out of high school and being 5’ 3” it was not like every college in the country was knocking down the doors to give me a scholarship. It was a school that was close to home–I knew that I wanted to go out of state if I was going to play basketball but I didn’t want to go too, too far away. Most of the interest that I had coming out of high school was from the junior colleges. Every local junior college opened their doors and said, “Hey, come here, come here.” But I only had a few Division One schools that had been showing some interest. I agreed to do my visit with New Mexico. It was Maureen Eckroth at that time who actually recruited me. She just showed a genuine interest. She recognized that coming from a small high school, with my size, understanding and knowing that a lot of people didn’t want to give me that opportunity. She made me feel like they [the UNM staff] never hesitated. They had no questions about my size or what they thought that I could bring.
It worked great at the time so one of things I knew that when I went to college, I wanted to come in and have an impact on a program right away. I didn’t want to do the Red Shirt thing or have to sit or wait my turn. I really did want to come in a play right away. It was kind of the perfect storm. They needed somebody that could come in and play right away and were very open about wanting to give me the opportunity to do that. After I got back from the visit and meeting all the girls, I had made up my mind just from that visit that UNM felt like home.
Joe: You are in Arizona now. Are you from Arizona?
Tamika: Pretty much. My Dad was in the Air Force and he retired out of Luke Air Force Base [outside Phoenix]. I moved there when I was in the fifth grade so I pretty much grew up there.
Most of my childhood days were growing up on Air Force bases. We moved around. I was born in California, lived in Germany for a little while, and had a short time in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. Then we landed in Arizona and I have pretty much been there since.
Joe: The Upper Peninsula to Arizona. That had to have been a bit of a culture shock.
Tamika: [Laughs.] A little bit. I went from jumping off of my roof into snow to trying to find the nearest pool.
Joe: So, you came in as a freshman and they handed you the keys to the team right away. Doesn’t matter if the team is good or bad, getting to be the starting point guard as a freshman, in game one, is not too bad. You obviously impressed people that year. Then there was a coaching change and you impressed the new staff as well. You managed to grow the team from five wins the first year to 26 wins and the team’s first ever NCAA appearance. Not too bad.
Tamika: The four years that I spent there were the best years of my life. Having the opportunity to have that experience. To come into a program that didn’t have the attendance base, didn’t really have the support of the community. It was a different culture under Maureen. Because most of us were not actually from Albuquerque, we did not realize what an icon Coach Flanagan was at the HS level. I remember that we just wanted to win. We didn’t want to have another year like our freshman year. The class that I came in with–Abby Garchek and some of those other girls–we had to figure something out. Whatever change they made, we had to figure out what we had to do to not have that experience again.
When he came in, the Don Flanagan era, he came in with the confidence about how he went about his business, his expectations. You didn’t really have a choice about whether you were going to buy into it or not. He asserted himself in a way that commanded the respect of the players and vice versa. He was going to respect you as a player based on what you brought to the table. I think for those of us who bought into everything he presented to us from day one, he said he might be a little tough on us, he might be a little stricter, he might be a little more picky about our skills. We thought we were really good at this and now we hear we are not as good as we thought we were. He wasn’t afraid to tell you that.
If you were willing to be coached, we found out pretty quick, “Wow, this man really knows what he’s talking about.” I was struggling finishing a lay-up and now all of a sudden, I find that I can really do that. Or, maybe I wasn’t as strong going to my left, but I listen to this man and now all of a sudden, I can see myself improving. I think he did that across the board. He coached every single kid on the team, one to fifteen, from the scholarship kids to the walk-ons. He was invested in the team. I think we all bought into that and every year, you could see that we progressively got better. That first year that he was there, to get to the conference championship final game after being 5 and 22 our freshman year. To have that big of an improvement in just one year was special. I think that from that moment, we knew that we could get it done and that was our goal every year after.
As a senior, you feel the pressure, you feel the sense of urgency. You know that this is my last chance to get it done. We are now a top 25 team, but there is no guarantee that we are going to get an NCAA bid. We need to take fate into our own hands and control our own destiny. We knew we had to win the tournament. It was like the key to the dance; we wanted to be there. [The team went 26-7, defeating Rice for the Western Athletic Conference tournament title, 69-48.]
Joe: That year, you started a legacy that’s what 20 something years old now. The attendance is somewhere in the top 10 in the country. A lot of that goes back to what you folks started. It certainly wasn’t there before you came in.
Tamika: No, I know that. We would joke about it how you could literally recognize everybody’s face in the building. We’d say, “Yeah, that’s so and so. We knew everybody by name.” You remembered all the fans. Then in one year, we came down on Pack the Pit night and there were 17,000 people screaming for you. I can’t even put into words the experience. The feeling you get of being able to have that experience. It’s amazing that you could get that much support at a women’s basketball game. It was just amazing. It was definitely a good year. There was no better place to play for sure.
Joe: Where has life taken you since UNM?
Tamika: I was married but several years later we divorced. We’re great friends and co-parenting our two kids–a girl and a boy, 11 and 12, sixth and seventh grades. My daughter plays basketball. My son is a basketball and football player. Now I’m actually coaching. I had a few WNBA workouts right after college–that was the first year of the WNBA. There was a lot of politics and everything involved at that time. I was trying to get a good workout, but once I saw the writing on the wall with a lot of overseas players coming back and forming that league where they were filling out the rosters, there just wasn’t enough room for a kid coming out of college to try to get their foot in the door. Not with that many people who had been playing professionally overseas already. It was tough emotionally.
I was working with Wells Fargo Bank at the time. During school I would come home and intern in the summers. So right out of college they offered me a fill-time position. At the time for a college graduate they were paying you a pretty good amount compared to what they were paying you as a scholarship athlete. It was kind of hard to turn that down. So, I would work and try to get to the tryouts. When I knew that wasn’t going to work out, I focused on my career with the bank and started getting into coaching.
I starting coaching a club team. I did that for about eight years. It was a travel team where we played in all the AAU tournaments. I had several kids go on to play college ball. I enjoyed doing that. On the club team I had three seniors who had had four high school coaches in four years, so they begged and begged me to apply for their high school’s head coaching job just so they could have a good senior year. So, I went to the interview and let them know my situation. I told them that I really wanted to get involved with the program. I said, “I think these girls have something special this year. Is there any way I can help; I would love to coach?” I didn’t realize that in Arizona you have to teach in order to be a head coach at 90% of the schools out here. They said that they loved my resume and that usually they let the head coach pick their assistant, but in this case, if I was willing to take the assistant coach job, they could hire me as an assistant so I didn’t have to also teach, and could keep my Wells Fargo job. “We would love to have you.” So, I did that, thinking that I would be there for a year. But then you start to get attached to the other kids that are coming up–all these sophomores and juniors that are saying, “Don’t leave, don’t leave!” So, I’ve been there eleven years now. This past year, we won our 5A State Championship. It was the first State Championship in the school history.
Joe: Congratulations on that. Well done.
Tamika: That was pretty awesome to see those kids have the same experience I had in college. There can only be one first, and they got it done.
Joe: Any idea what’s eleven more years down the road?
Tamika: I do a lot of other things, but as far as coaching, I know my daughter would love to play for Mom at some point. I think at the very least, I’ll probably still be on the high school league until she graduates. She is coming along as a pretty good basketball player. I’m sure I will coach her for a little bit. Once the kids are off to college, it will be Mom’s time. I love to travel, but with two kids, it’s tough to get the free time, the Mom time.
Joe: Yes, we went through that until the youngest one left. Yes, your world changes at that point.
Tamika: Yeah, a lot of people say, “Oh, you’re going to be so sad when they go off to college. Really, it hasn’t set in yet. I’m counting down. I’m ready to see the world. I tease them all the time and they say, “We’re never going to know where you are”, and “You’re going to be in another country.”
Joe: You can send them an email and a photo each day. You can keep in touch.
Tamika: Yeah, there’s all kinds of stuff now. I love it.
Joe: Anything else you would like to say while you have the microphone?
Tamika: No, I’m really glad you reached out. It stirred up a lot of old memories. We actually have a Lobo reunion in Phoenix. A few of my college teammates are coming into town on Thursday and staying through the weekend. There’s Lobo stuff happening at the same time. I thought maybe that’s a sign. I’m glad we are all getting together. I’m sure we will all tell stories and reminisce about the good old days. I got a nice text from Coach Flanagan after our win in the State Championship. I still have that relationship with him. It was a special time and having folks like you giving us the opportunity to relive it a little bit even if it’s just an article or a phone conversation. It was great. I really, really enjoyed it. I’m glad you reached out.