Jia Perkins: All-Star Mom
Jia Perkins has blended nicely with the Silver Stars since she arrived last season in a trade from Chicago. She scores (12 points a game in 2011), makes her free throws (85 percent) and brings an All-Star resume to a roster that includes six teammates with All-Star experience.
One of three starting guards, Perkins even claims a Lone Star State heritage. She grew up in Granbury, four hours north of San Antonio, and graduated from Texas Tech. Like some teammates, she comes from an athletic family. Her father, Johnny Perkins, played for the New York Giants.
There is one thing, however, that sets Perkins apart from almost every other teammate. Motherhood. Perkins has a 7-year-old daughter named Aalirah, an athletic second-grader who often accompanies her to practices, shootarounds and games.
"Over the last year or two, she's done a little more watching and a little less playing," says Perkins, a single mother. "She notices if I'm winning or losing. She knows if I'm having a good game. She's able to tell. She's says, 'My mommy won!'"
Some bosses may object to mothers bringing their children to work. Not Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes."That's another reason I like San Antonio," Perkins says. "I can take Aalirah to practice and coach won't get mad."
Hughes embraces Perkins and her daughter just as he does Tully Bevilaqua and her adopted son. "Jia Perkins is a pleasure to coach because she lets her actions on the basketball court and in her life as a mother speak for her in such a beautiful instinctual way," Hughes says. "She cares deeply about doing the right things to make others better, whether it is her teammates or her daughter, and she does it without drawing attention to herself."
Perkins earned first-team all-Big 12 honors at Texas Tech but never expected to play in the WNBA. Not after she got pregnant midway through her senior year. She worked harder in school, figuring a degree would help her get a good-paying job to support her baby. But then on draft day, when she was seven months pregnant, an unexpected call came from Charlotte. The Sting had selected her with the 35th pick in the 2004 draft.
"I was shocked," Perkins says.
She gave birth on June 4 and joined the team during the Olympic break on Aug. 16. Perkins made her WNBA debut on Sept. 11, scoring one point, making one steal and grabbing one rebound.
How did she manage to play and travel and care for a newborn? Jia's mother, Debbie Perkins, provided support. Eight years later, Jia belongs to a small but growing sorority of WNBA moms. Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks has a daughter. Tina Thompson of the Seattle Storm has a son. Kara Braxton, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Maria Ferdinand-Harris and others also have children.
In some respects, Jia says, she may face a less daunting task than many working mothers. "I practice three hours a day and then come home," she says. "I have a great circle of support. My mother helps me. I'm blessed."
The trick, she says, is balancing motherhood and basketball overseas in the off season. Debbie Perkins doesn't live in Israel or commute to Turkey. So Jia manages alone. That means dropping off Aalirah at school before practice, picking her up afterwards and taking her to ballgames -- home and away.
After eight seasons, Jia has become an accomplished shooting guard, a 5-foot-8 scorer who averaged 17 points in 2008 and made the All-Star team in 2009. She's also has become a devoted mother, enrolling Aalirah in music lessons, watching her play sports, and bonding with her at home.
"What I enjoy a lot is taking her swimming," Jia says. "But she's also taken piano lessons and plays a little basketball. She shoots pretty well and might be a natural. For now, I just want her to have fun playing basketball. But when she gets older, I might teach her."