Although they stay in contact regularly by phone and social media — regardless if one is in Australia or back here in Dayton and the other is in Nigeria, Ukraine, China or Dallas, where she now lives — this was the first time they had been in a gym together in a long, long time.
Rhonda Price was already shooting around at the Dakota Center off Fifth Street in West Dayton on Wednesday when Tamika Williams Raymond walked in, spotted her and let out a joyous shriek that echoed in the deserted, old gym.
Twenty-four years and a whole wide world later, they were back where they started, back in the town that launched their storied basketball careers and the high-profile lives that have followed.
And now they want to give back.
Tamika had just flown in from Texas on a late Tuesday night flight. Rhonda had finished her pro season in Tasmania — where she’d picked up her second straight player of the year award — and gotten back to Dayton last month.
The pair is putting on an all-female basketball all-star game at Trotwood-Madison High School on Saturday at 5 p.m. to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month. They hope not only to educate women about the need to be tested, but in the process, they — and the 24 former prep, college and pro players taking part alongside them — hope to serve as an example to young girls about the possibilities life has to offer.
As a sad side note, the game also will be dedicated to Kisha Foster, the Dayton YWCA Teen Services supervisor, who died suddenly Monday from complications following a blood clot. She was a prominent force here educating young girls on a variety of social issues while also promoting basketball and especially supporting Tamika’s career in the WNBA.
That Rhonda and Tamika are picking up that banner is fitting.
Tamika is the most celebrated female basketball player from the Miami Valley. She was the national player of the year at Chaminade Julienne, won two national titles with the University of Connecticut and played several years in the WNBA with Minnesota and Connecticut before serving as an assistant coach at the University of Kansas. She now works with the U.S. State Department, the WNBA and Proctor & Gamble doing outreach programs for girls around the world.
Rhonda, who like Tamika is 33, was considered one of the nation’s top 20 prep players while at Dunbar. Although she had a sometimes-rocky trip through college basketball and into the pros, she has now played in Europe and for the past six seasons in both mainland Australia and Tasmania, where she’s also become a youth coach of note.
“I tell folks you’d never believe two country girls from Ohio — and you don’t know you’re country ‘til you leave here — could make it as big as we have and be placed on a platform where we can do things like this to give back,” Tamika said. “We’re trying to make our community proud and help put Dayton on the map.”
A few months ago in Tasmania, Rhonda had the skyline of Dayton tattooed on the inside of her lower left arm along with the words “Never Give Up.”
“Most people get a lot of ridiculous stuff,” she said. “I wanted mine to mean something. It reminds me of where I’m from and my struggle.”
With some coaxing, she rolled her arm to show the ink work and that’s when a grinning Tamika grabbed it and pointed to the downtown scape.
“Look, Chaminade is right there,” she said impishly. “She left Dunbar out.”
The women have been friends since they were 9 and made one of the Dayton Lady HoopStars age-limit teams. When they were high school seniors, they won a national AAU title together.
On the prep scene, though, they played for rival programs.
“She used to harass me,” Tamika said with a laugh. “Before we played freshman year, she gave her whole team my pager number and they kept calling. I was so scared before that game. You remember that, Rhonda?”
While Tamika — who was featured in a seven-page spread in Sports Illustrated as a prep player — went on to find glory with the UConn Huskies, Rhonda — in part because she sometimes followed her own discordant drummer — had trouble finding a school.
She gave a verbal commitment to Kentucky, then signed a letter of intent with the University of Dayton, but finally ended up at Trinity Valley Community College. where she won a national junior college title. She then played two years at Life University, an NAIA school in Georgia, but left before graduating.
As a pro, Rhonda was the last cut of the WNBA’s Detroit Shock and bounced around teams in Lithuania, Portugal, Switzerland and at a couple of second-tier stops in the U.S. before cementing her professional future in Australia.
She’s played for teams in Sydney, Toowoomba (a town that sits atop a burned-out volcano on the edge of the Outback) and in Tasmania for Hobart and the last several years for the Smithton Saints, where this past season she averaged over 32 points and 13 rebounds a game.
No matter where the women have been in their lives they have stayed in contact.
“She is the sweetest person I know,” Rhonda said. “From day one, she was very welcoming. It was the same with her family. Tamika has always been there when things got hard for me — at home, at school, whatever. Through it all our bond never broke.”
Tamika agreed: “She didn’t have the same background I came from, the same foundation. But she had a family that loved her and a community that uplifted her and the biggest thing about her is that she never gives up. Because of it she’s gotten to travel the world and do what she loves to do, and that’s play basketball.
“What I most admire is that she loves to give back.
“Rhonda Price is a real success story.”
Time to give back
The same can be said for Tamika, who owns a Nationwide Insurance agency in Dallas and spends much of her time involved in outreach programs across the U.S. and around the world.
In January, she went to Ukraine for the State Department and the WNBA/NBA to stress women’s empowerment. A month later she made appearances through the Dallas-Fort Worth area to promote HIV and AIDS awareness.
Over the summer she hosted events nationwide that were put on by seven WNBA franchises — and sponsored by P&G — dealing with the “My Black is Beautiful” project. It deals with a variety of topics including self-acceptance, motivation and the use of social media and how that plays into people’s perception of you.
Last month she, along with retired NBA star Detlef Schrempf, was in Nigeria promoting basketball and education.
Now, thanks to a call from Rhonda, she’s back home to help.
“I figured it’s time for me to give back and at the last minute I called Tamika and said, ‘Let’s collaborate,’ ” Rhonda said. “When we were young, we weren’t told about breast cancer. Now that I’m older, I want to make sure I can share what I know with young women and girls. I want to stress the importance of getting checkups.”
Tamika was especially receptive: “I have two aunts who are breast cancer survivors. It’s something to take very seriously because all women are affected by it. Playing in the WNBA, we made breast cancer awareness one of our big concerns. When I was with Minnesota, I probably visited women at the Mayo Clinic two times a month.
“That’s why I was glad to join in now with what Rhonda was doing.”
Yet she may not have said that when the two first met. And that brings us to one last story related — much to Rhonda’s chagrin — by her mom, Tara Price.
Rhonda has a twin sister, Ronika, and Tara said that while she tried to dress the two girls alike when they were growing up, her daughters couldn’t have been more different. Rhonda was a tomboy who could be quite headstrong.
“One year I had my sister do both girls’ hair for Easter,” Tara said. “We were getting ready for church and I couldn’t find Rhonda. Finally I found her in the closet, up under a pile of clothes, wearing a baseball cap.
“I took that cap off and she had cut her bangs and hair all the way back. She had to go to church half bald-headed.”
Rhonda winced at the retelling: “Mooom! … it’s just my bangs were too far down and they got in my face playing basketball.”
Tara smiled and shook her head: “She told me the devil made her do it.”
All these years later — and especially this Saturday with Tamika — it’s clear an angel now may hold a little more sway.
Breast Cancer Awareness All-Star Game
Featuring: Rhonda Price & Tamika Williams Raymond
Saturday, Trotwood Madison High School
Doors open 4 p.m.; Tip-off 5 p.m.
Cost: 10 and up $3.00; 9 and under free
Autographs, meet and greet to follow