Tighe is most effective in a set offense, but the tryout scrimmages were run-and-gun affairs. "I know how to play," she said at the combine, "but I can't match some girls' athleticism." She had to laugh when Aneta Kausaite, 27, a guard from Emporia (Kans.) State, looked at her as they stretched one day and said, "How old are you, anyway?"
Even before she heard from the ABL, though, Tighe was back in Los Angeles for a May 3 tryout with the Sparks. By 8:30 a.m., an hour before the daylong session began at Loyola Marymount in L.A., she was bouncing in place. During warmups she drained five, six, seven jumpers in a row. "I feel good," she said. When play started, it was clear she had benefited from her ABL experience. Her game was more assertive, more confident. The coaches noticed: Tighe made the midday cut from 40 players to 24. But at day's end her name was not on the final list taped to the gym door, and she inhaled sharply, heartbroken.
After a sleepless night, Tighe caught an 8 a.m. flight to her two-day tryout in Sacramento with the WNBA Monarchs. By the last scrimmage of the second day, she could barely hoist herself from a courtside seat. Yet once on the court she fought through picks and somehow kept her feet jitterbugging on defense. She even elicited some applause when she posted up, stole a glance over her shoulder and bounced a one-hop pass to a galloping teammate cutting behind her for an easy layup.
On another play, Curtycine Jones, a rim-scraping 6-foot guard-forward from Texas who would sign with Los Angeles, blew by Tighe for a basket. The next time down-court, Jones tried to take Tighe again, but Tighe stole the ball. When Jones went after her a third time, an irked Tighe didn't wait for her to throw a move—she karatechopped Jones hard across both forearms. Players on both sidelines tittered and laughed.
Tighe later scored, and a teammate shouted, "I see you, Sheila." A few minutes afterward, a coach's whistle blew to stop the action. Tighe, sweat-soaked and spent, walked off and said, "Well, it's almost over."
Then she blinked and said, "What am I saying? It is over."
Tighe's name won't be found in any WNBA media guide or ABL box score this season. But let the record show that her last basket—the one with which she said goodbye to her dream of playing pro ball—was a sweet jumper launched from just to the right of the key. She caught the ball and, in perfect rhythm, sent it on its way, her calloused feet touching back down just as the ball whispered through the hoop. No glass. No iron. Nothing but net.
On May 11, the day that Tighe packed her rickety black 1990 Saab and made the two-hour drive to Palm Springs, the WNBA's 10 teams were convening for training camp. Though Tighe doesn't smoke, she celebrated the end of her quest with a rebellious puff on a Marlboro. Referring to the 30 or 40 phone messages on her answering machine, she said, "How do I call everyone back and say, 'Hey, I didn't make it'?"
Wedged among the how'd-you-do calls was one inviting Tighe to play in a summer league at the Hollywood Y. Games started the following Monday. "The first thing I thought was, Aw, I don't know," Tighe says. "The last time I played there, I yelled at my teammates in a huddle, 'Whoever doesn't want to set a pick for me can just get off the court now!' and four other voices all said, 'Sub!' I thought, Maybe I need a break. Maybe I should think it over."
Who was she friggin' kidding?