From WNBA to hometown pharmacist
By her junior year in high school, Tiffany McCain had four life goals: get married, start a family, work in the medical field and play college basketball.
Sports became an important part of her life at a young age. In second grade, she started playing basketball and soccer at the YMCA, and was the only girl on her brother’s sports teams. That was when she first discovered she had a talent in basketball, but admits she didn’t like the game at first.
“My mom said that I would sit in the stands with her for the first couple games because I was nervous — I was scared, I guess — and I didn’t like it,” she said. “Then I finally got out there and they kept on passing me the ball and I would pass it right back to them; I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. But, from my memory, it was just one of those sports that came a little easier — I guess I had a talent in it—and I just worked on it and then I really liked it. I practiced and shot and just played basketball, watched a lot of basketball, and it’s just one of those sports that I still love to this day.”
She attended Lake Hamilton School from kindergarten through high school.
In junior high and high school basketball, McCain always “played up” — as a seventh-grader she started on the ninth-grade team, as a 10th-grader she started on the 12th-grade team, and she was named Arkansas State Basketball Player of the Year during her senior year, confirming her hopes of attending college on a basketball scholarship. It was also during her junior year of high school that she decided on a profession as a pharmacist.
She was recruited for basketball from Louisiana Tech, University of Arkansas, University of Kentucky, University of Mississippi and surrounding states. In the end, Kentucky was the best fit for her.
“It was the best decision possible for me because everything else fell into place as far as wanting to go to pharmacy school. It was on campus at Kentucky so I could play and go to pharmacy school at the same time. University of Arkansas was in Fayetteville and the pharmacy school was in Little Rock, so I couldn’t have done both of them, so it all worked out in the end,” she said.
McCain’s pharmacy training consisted of three years of pre-pharmacy immediately followed by another four years of pharmacy school. She began playing for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) during the summers in 1995 and played until 2002.
If one was to choose a single word to describe Tiffany McCain, “humble” would most likely be at the top of the list. She never kept track of her basketball stats and, until a meet-and-greet with fans after one of her games, she wasn’t even aware of the fact that her face was on a collector’s card — until a fan approached her and asked her to autograph one.
“We had signings after the games and they’d just pick certain players from each team and you were featured on the little brochure that they gave out of all the players. So, it was my night and this was my first year and I was all giddy and excited. I was signing and a guy comes up and brings me my basketball card. I had no clue I had a basketball card! It’s not like you’re told you’re going to have a card, at least in my mind it wasn’t,” she said. “So he brought it up to me and I was like ‘Where did you get this?’ That was one thing I do remember. I signed his and ended up getting more of my own.”
In addition to playing basketball for the University of Kentucky, she also played for Orlando Miracle for three summers.
When asked what basketball means to her, McCain said the one word that comes to her mind is opportunity.
“Basketball opened so many doors and gave me an opportunity to experience life besides Hot Springs. I’m a supporter of, if somebody asks me, ‘Should my kid go out of state for college?’, I say yes, have your kids move away, have them go and develop their lives — they can always come back,” she said. “Because that’s what I did and I am so thankful that basketball gave me that opportunity to go to Kentucky, Orlando, Colorado. I got to travel. I got to experience everything in the basketball world.
“And I would say basketball gave me an opportunity to do other things besides just basketball. I love that; I just love the game. I’m like a little kid when I get out there on the court because I start playing and I just love it, and I’m glad God gave me the ability to do it. Opportunity.”
I would say basketball gave me an opportunity to do other things besides just basketball. I love that; I just love the game. I’m like a little kid when I get out there on the court because I start playing and I just love it, and I’m glad God gave me the ability to do it. -Tiffany McCain
McCain played her last WNBA game in the summer of 2002.
Her professional playing days may be over now, but McCain said basketball will always be apart of her life. She coaches her kids’ basketball games at Lake Hamilton School and occasionally plays basketball with the high school girls, whenever her schedule allows. McCain has always had a soft spot for children; in fact, working with and reading to children at the library and being involved in basketball camps and clinics during her WNBA days were some of the most memorable times of her career.
Her advice to high school student athletes is this: play all the sports you can — don’t specialize in one sport.
“But, if there is one sport that you excel at, even though you’re playing other sports, take extra time to work on that one sport. I played four sports — whatever season it was, that’s what I’d play, but I always had basketball. I would go and shoot, I would go and work on things on my own during those seasons because that was my sport that I really liked. I’m glad I did the different sports, though, because it kept my body in shape and my body didn’t get used to playing one sport and only using that one muscle group,” she said.
She advises college student athletes not to get caught up in partying and to stay focused on the schooling and the sport.
“If you mess up outside of those things, you’re no longer on the team. Prove yourself. In Kentucky you had to sit on the first five rows of class every morning because they’d come around and check you. If you didn’t attend them, if you weren’t on the first five rows, you were marked absent,” she said. “And don’t lose the love for it. I had a very challenging college career — ups and downs, wins, losses, emotional roller coasters — but we had a good core team and we were able to get through that and lean on each other. There are going to be coaches you don’t like. Just keep on going.”
McCain and her husband, Kevin, and their three sons — Lucas, Eli and
Riggs — are very involved with their church, Hot Springs Baptist Church, which just recently held its first sports camp through its ministry, Mission Hot Springs, as a collaboration with other area churches. McCain also had the opportunity to travel to Kenai Peninsula in Alaska this summer to be apart of a basketball camp and mission trip.
Alaska Missions Group organized a sports camp last year at Cook Inlet Academy and taught local children about various sports including football, archery, basketball and soccer. One whole week was dedicated to basketball and McCain and a group from the church, including two other former college basketball players, traveled to Alaska to run the camp. A group of contractors and construction workers from HSBC also traveled to Kenai Peninsula on the same mission trip to build a church building.
“We went up there and we ran the camp and it was just an awesome experience because we got to talk about God and basketball,” she said.
McCain was in charge of the 9- and 10-year-old children.
“Kids’ basketball is a big thing up there, I guess because it’s inside and you don’t have to worry about the weather. They are some good kids and some of them have never picked up a basketball and they’re so far up there that they have to travel so far to go to camps, so bringing college players — because we all played college basketball — up there and having a camp of teaching them fundamentals and all that stuff, they were super excited that we came to their town,” she said.
McCain’s husband is a firefighter for the city of Hot Springs. The two have
been married since 2000 and have had no shortage of their own personal ups and downs.
“I wanted to have two kids; I grew up with a brother and I wanted to have a boy and a girl. Kevin grew up with a brother — we knew we wanted two kids,” she said.
The couple had their first son, Lucas, in 2005 while living in Colorado. Then McCain gave birth to their second child, Lily Mae McCain, in 2008.
“We had Lucas, then we had Lily. Then we didn’t have a heartbeat,” she said. “I was 33 weeks along. There was no way to predict it, it just unfortunately happened. We’ll talk about it; my kids know that they have a sister named Lily who lives in Heaven that they will see one day. We do talk about it; it’s a good, sad thing.
“During that time, though, during the worst part of your whole life, there was something positive that came out of it. The positive thing that God did with that was — He knew that was going to happen, that we were going to have two other boys — and my husband got saved through that whole thing.”
When they aren’t busy with school, work and life, the McCain family enjoys the simple things: being outdoors, camping, hiking, swimming and, of course, playing sports.
“I’d like to have a boat, and I tell my husband I would have really liked to have a boat, but we don’t have a boat,” McCain said, smiling. “We spend time with family. My kids, if they could do anything, they would go camping. We went on a hike up at Pinnacle Mountain with the kids. I want to go to every mountain that there is in Arkansas to go hike.”