Mercury’s Christon cultivating confidence in her hometown’s youth

Phoenix Mercury guard Shameka Christon’s soft spot for kids drove her to self-fund her own company five years into her professional basketball career. (Photo by Chris Caraveo/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — In the midst of a playoff season in her first summer with the Phoenix Mercury, guard Shameka Christon sat courtside after practice and unlaced her shoes as she planned for the offseason.

“I definitely want to go to the Grand Canyon,” Christon said. “Never been there. I want to go and hike …”

“Sedona!” one of her teammates interjected as she ran onto the court.

“Go to Sedona,” Christon continued. “There’s a lot of things I want to see and a lot of things that I want to do. Phoenix especially, or right around the area, is so beautiful. There’s so much to see.”

After exploring the Grand Canyon State for a week or two, she will head back home to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where she owns her own company, Shameka Christon Enterprises, which she started in 2009.

Her business includes a day care and basketball camps, both of which she is a constant part of after the WNBA season ends.

“I feel like whenever you have the success that I’ve had, as well as any other player that’s played in this league, especially as long as I have been, you know we have a gift and that’s to go ahead and give back and hopefully teach others,” Christon said.

Since entering the WNBA in 2004, Christon has played on four different teams in the United States. Overseas, she has played for teams in Spain, Russia, Poland and Israel.

The camps, which serve children from third through 12th grades, allow her to share her knowledge of the game.

By her side at some of the camps is her brother, LaJuan Christon. He is a certified personal trainer at two gyms in Hot Springs. Together, their primary goal is building character in children. Basketball comes second, she said.

“We don’t always have the best talent coming in, but we try to build confidence,” LaJuan said. “We try to make them comfortable with themselves and then with their skills.”

Some of those kids end up receiving a college scholarship.

“It wasn’t necessarily a big D-I school, but they got a chance to continue to play basketball, and that means so much,” Shameka said.

Beyond the basketball aspect of her camps, Christon plans to have a “Hoops for Toys” program in three cities where children can donate a toy in lieu of their fee for the camp. They will then give those toys to patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock.

“That is probably my favorite one,” Christon said. “Just getting a chance to play basketball and then at the end of the day once it’s time for Christmas go deliver toys for the kids.”

Christon said she’s always had a soft spot for kids and that drove her to start her business six years ago. She graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2004 with a degree in social work. She also has a son, 4-year-old Logan, who lives with Christon’s brother when she is away playing basketball.

Christon’s Mercury teammate, Leilani Mitchell, knows Christon about as well as anyone on the team. The two played for the New York Liberty when Mitchell was a rookie in 2009.

“She’s always been good with the kids,” Mitchell said. “She’s a good person with a great heart. Not only with kids, I think she likes to help out everyone. She’s always giving and curious to learn and just a people person.”

But sometimes she may be too much of a people person, according to some of her teammates. On each road trip with the Mercury, Christon whips out her phone, taps Snapchat and catches her teammates on camera.

“That’s kind of a funny thing about her and we’ll all just roll our eyes every now and again like, ‘Meeks, we don’t want to be on your camera anymore,'” Mitchell said with a chuckle.

Prior to the 2014 season, Christon had averaged 25.7 minutes per game. Now 32 years old, her playing time in 2015 has decreased to 6.3 minutes per game over the 12 games she played. However, that doesn’t keep her from being a professional teammate.

“She’s really happy-go-lucky, and you really have to admire someone who comes to practice every day, works hard and maybe doesn’t get a lot of playing time,” Mitchell said. “But she’s still here with a positive attitude.”

It’s an all-in mentality, Christon said, whether it’s playing basketball or managing her business. During the season, Christon sticks to the game. She may get a call or two every now and then from Hot Springs to approve a decision for her business, but that’s it.

Part of her work ethic comes from the training she’s done with her brother. When Christon is back in Arkansas, she and her brother hit the gym for weight training and pool exercises. In the weight room, LaJuan pushes her to get in that extra repetition, more so than someone else probably would have.

“She doesn’t like to go up against me,” LaJuan said with a laugh. “But she grinds. I try to pull it out of her as much as possible.”

LaJuan said it’s crazy and fulfilling to see his sister grow and evolve into the person she is, regardless of basketball.

“She understands that at anytime she might not be on the roster. She just wants to help the youth in our community,” he said. “We’re in such a small market that they don’t get the exposure that bigger markets do.”

Before Christon wraps up her first season in Phoenix and heads home, there is one thing she wants to experience.

“They’ve told me about the haboobs,” Christon said. “That’s the only thing I’m trying to catch and they’re like, ‘You don’t want to be outside when it comes through.’ But I still want to see this because I just can’t believe it.”