Polky was more than a player

The Arizona family was dealt a huge blow on Monday morning when Wildcat basketball player Shawntinice Polk collapsed and died at McKale Center. This is not a tragedy for the athletic community, but a tragedy to the entire community as a 22-year old woman was taken from us before her time.

She wanted to be called Polky. She made everyone call her that. She was a great basketball player but that was the least of the things that make her special.

She will be missed by the Wildcat basketball program, but not nearly as much as she will be missed by her friends. Not nearly as much as her family will miss her.

She came to Arizona to play basketball. She almost didn't get to play because of her grades. What she learned is that there was more to life than the game. She loved the game, but she soon learned that she loved learning. At one point it looked like she couldn't get into school. By the end she was excelling and had decided she wanted to teach special education when her playing days were over.

After her academic woes were over she went to school president Peter Likins, who she befriended when she first arrived, and said that she could "succeed in this place".

She made an impression on Likins, and all of the administration. There were no dry eyes as various school and athletic department personnel met with the media.

Jim Livengood remained composed, but was clearly shaken. He talked of her smile and the way she seemed to befriend everyone. She was close to football and basketball players. She was friends with the baseball team and the tennis team. She was the shining example of what Livengood calls the ‘Wildcat family'.

Likins and Livengood asked that student athletes not be bothered by the media and it was plain to see why. In front of McKale were a number of saddened young men and women. According to staffers distraught athletes were almost ill with grief. Counselors were available for those who needed to talk.

Details are sketchy and anything mentioned now would be nothing but speculation. What is known is that she had not been feeling well. She had asthma but it is too early to say that was a factor. She was at McKale this morning but was not working out, nor was she scheduled to workout or practice.

She had a chance to be the Sean Elliott of Joan Bonvicini's program. She was an All-American and represented her country in international competition. That is the least of what made her special.

She liked to smile and have fun. She loved children. When interviewed she always deferred to her teammates. She'd rather talk about them, not herself.

She was merely "Polky". That is how she wanted to be known. That is what she insisted friends and even the PA announcer at McKale was to call her by her nickname.

"Those of you who didn't know her, that is your shortcoming," Likins noted.

She loved UA sports. She was at all of the basketball and football games. You could spot her at various softball and baseball games. She and Hassan Adams were like brother and sister. One football coach noted that it would be a tough week for many of the seniors and juniors who had become her friend.

It has to be very tough for Joan Bonvicini. She was on a plane to Los Angeles on a recruiting trip. She was back on a plane to Tucson almost immediately. It was not her star center that had fallen, it was "Polky".

The one thing everyone talks about was not her hook shot, or her drop step, it was her smile. She smiled all the time.

"That smile, it was infectious," Likins said. "She was infectious."

Maybe Polk herself summed it up best. On facebook, a website in which college students put personality profiles of themselves, Polk said it all.

"I'm a very cool individual," she wrote about herself. "I enjoy each day and take it how it is.

"I prefer to be called Polky."

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