All-Star Duo Shining Brightly for Liberty

It is common practice that on many NBA teams, and some WNBA teams, the rookies carry the veterans’ bags.

And fetch their post-game meals.

And make sure the team plane or bus is fully stocked with the player’s favorite snack.

When Mason Plumlee was the only rookie on a Brooklyn Nets team that featured vets such as Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Brook Lopez, Plumlee often was seen hauling bags of popcorn.

This rite of passage is one the New York Liberty, led by star Tina Charles, has opted to pass on. She does not want any player feeling superior or inferior to one another.

So when she was jokingly asked if Sugar Rodgers would carry her bags at Saturday’s WNBA All-Star Game in Seattle (3:30; ABC), she said to check with rookies Lindsay Allen and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe. They confirmed the rookies have not had to play foot servant.

Rodgers, the second pick in the second round of the 2013 WNBA Draft, is not a rookie but she is making her All-Star Game debut in her fifth season. Charles, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft, is making her fifth All-Star Game appearance and is a starter for the third time.

[Robbins’ Nest: Charles’ Hard Work Pays Off With Another All-Star Nod]

It turns out that Charles, the Liberty power forward from Connecticut, and Rodgers, the three-point sharpshooter out of Georgetown, have developed a mutual admiration society.

“I’ve watched Sugar develop into one of the best shooters in the league,’’ Charles said. “I really respect how she’s worked on her game to get where she is both on and off the court.’’

Rodgers has had one of the hardest paths to success of any player in WNBA history. According to a story Rodgers wrote for the Players’ Tribune, she was homeless at the age of 14.

Her mother died from lupus on July 14, 2005, which is why Rodgers wears No. 14. Her father was a no show. Her brother and sister were in and out of prison. Her Suffolk, Virginia neighborhood wasn’t featured in Better Homes and Gardens.

Rodgers had basketball and a relentless drive to make something of herself.

Sitting on the bench her first year in Minnesota wasn’t going to deter her when the drug dealers, drive-by shootings and sleeping on friends’ couches didn’t.

Ta’Shauna “Sugar” Rodgers: From homeless to bench-warmer to Georgetown’s all-time leading scorer (men or women) with 2,518 points, to WNBA All-Star. Take heed, young players. Take heed.

“I came off playing zero minutes at Minnesota and now look at me,” said Rodgers. “It just tells the rest of the younger girls in the league, wait your turn and be patient. Your time is coming if you work hard.”

Which is what Charles has done her entire career. She doesn’t play the game of basketball; she attacks it. Heading into the break she is second in the league in scoring (20.5 points) and rebounding (9.9) and is a leading candidate for MVP honors.

“No one works harder than Tina,’’ said Rodgers. “Every game, every practice, every meeting she pushes herself and she pushes us as a team.’’

Tina Charles has always been one of the best players in the WNBA, but she's now stepping up and becoming a more vocal voice in the Liberty's locker room.

Rodgers also will participate in the three-point contest, which will take place at halftime of the All-Star Game. She said she will donate the $10,000 prize to Charles’ Hopey’s Heart Foundation if she wins.

[Robbins: Charles Educates Youngsters on a Subject Close to Her Heart]

Hopey’s Heart Foundation educates young athletes about the importance of healthy eating, being able to spot the symptoms of concussion and placing AEDs in gyms throughout the country. Charles donates almost all of the WNBA salary to the foundation.

Each player is facing unique challenges this season. In her eighth year, Charles is averaging 33.2 minutes per game. She has never averaged fewer than 31 minutes per game.

Rodgers recently was moved from the starting lineup to the sixth man. She’s among the league leaders in three-pointers made (41) and three-points per game (2.3) and can be instant offense off the bench.

With the season-ending injury to Brittany Boyd (torn Achilles), the team plays better with Bria Hartley at the point and Epiphanny Prince at the shooting spot. Rodgers has accepted the role.

“If that’s what they need me to do, that’s what I’m going to do,’’ Rodgers said. “I’m going to do my job and that’s where they need me. They thought that I could come off the bench and bring scoring and bring the energy so sometimes you have to sacrifice for the betterment of the team.”

It’s not as if she has to carry anyone’s bags.