Everybody loved “Polkey.”
Football players, sign language students, even the University of Arizona president … they all bonded with Shawntinice Polk.
The budding senior had led the UA to the second round of the 2004-05 NCAA Tournament and was poised for even bigger things in her final year as a Wildcat.
She was the big name on campus.
“There’s a lot of good people and a lot of good players that have come through Arizona,” former UA women’s basketball coach Joan Bonvicini said. “But it was beyond her as a player. She was very popular.
“The U of A experience and being in McKale Center, she loved it.”
Polk’s time at Arizona was cut short.
She collapsed at McKale on a Monday morning in September 2005 and later died. A pulmonary blood clot ended the life of the towering 22-year-old who had touched so many with her humility, her prodigious athletic gifts, and her desire for greatness.
Polk’s name — better yet, her nickname — reverberate around the UA and Tucson community. For the second straight year, Polk’s former teammates will run a one-day youth basketball clinic in her honor.
Polkey’s Basketball Camp will take place Aug. 26 at 9 a.m. at Mountain View High School. Boys and girls ages 7-18 are welcomed.
The camp is free of charge, but donations are accepted at polkeysbasketballcamp.com.
“We provide the campers with lunch and a T-shirt, and hopefully it’s a cool experience to be around adults and role models,” said Danielle Adefeso, the camp’s director.
Adefeso played with Polk at the UA and decided to open a camp in celebration of her teammate’s life.
The camp had a high turnout in its inaugural running last year, and Adefeso expects a similar showing this year. The camp serves as a bit of a reunion for Polk’s former UA teammates who have since moved on to other branches of life.
“We have a really core group of people who are basketball athletes but are even better people,” Adefeso. “We’re all in different chapters of our life so to come together is really cool.”
Adefeso became close friends with Polk during their playing days at Arizona, where the two formed a good balance between one another. Polk would help Adefeso with establishing discipline and focus, while Adefeso would work with her teammate about life.
“We had a unique, dynamic relationship that really came down to basketball and fashion,” Adefeso said. “‘You help me on the court; let me help you dress,’ because she had never had anyone do that for her.
“It wasn’t always easy, but she also taught me that we’re sisters. We’re going to bicker and fight, but the next day we’re still BFFs. That was a valuable lesson.”
Bonvicini, who recruited Polk to Arizona, watched the native of hardscrabble Hanford, California, blossom in college. The challenging upbringing was one of the reasons why Polk was such a presence in McKale.
“The thing about ‘Polkey’ is that she loved being with her teammates,” Bonvincini said. “She showed how important it is to be a really good teammate. When you take the time to know each other on and off the court, it’s amazing what you’re able to do.”
Bonvicini will host a get-together Friday for her former players and current Wildcats. The night will serve as a bridge between the program’s past and present to honor Polk, whose jersey is hanging at McKale.
“I think that’s Polk’s legacy,” Bonvicini said. “How much she loved to play basketball, but she really loved the relationships.”