Renee Montgomery's basketball skills have taken her all over the world, but there's only one place she calls home.
"I'm proud to be from West Virginia,'' said Montgomery, a St. Albans native who starred at Capital and South Charleston High Schools. "I love home.''
Montgomery represented the Mountain State well in 2009.
She led Connecticut to an undefeated season capped with an NCAA women's college basketball national championship in April.
Montgomery was the fourth overall pick in the WNBA Draft a few days later and concluded her first season in women's professional basketball by earning all-rookie team honors. She then was selected in October to travel with the USA national team, which competed in and won an international tournament in Russia.
Those are but a few of the reasons Montgomery was named the 10th winner of the Gazette's Sportsperson of the Year, which goes annually to the home-grown West Virginia product who made a positive impact on the national sports scene and who embodies the word "sportsman.''
Montgomery is only the second female to win the award since its inception in 2000. Alexis Hornbuckle, Montgomery's teammate in high school, was the first female recipient of the award last year after winning a WNBA title and a college national title at Tennessee in the same calendar year.
"It means a lot,'' said Montgomery upon learning she won the Gazette award recently during a phone interview from Lithuania where she is playing professionally during the WNBA's winter offseason. "Any awards that also represent me being from home, I just love it.
"Everything post-high school has been away from West Virginia. Any time I go home it's just a different type feeling than anywhere else. When you've been all around the world, it gives it a whole new meaning. I love to travel, but there's no place like home. There's still no place like West Virginia.''
Montgomery is most proud of her work as a national spokesperson and "GUARDian of Dreams'' for the New York-based Pajama Program, a nonprofit organization that provides new pajamas and books to children in need in the United States and around the world.
She will be featured in an upcoming children's story as both the narrator and feature character. The story will reflect the philosophy and mission of the Pajama Program.
"I love kids and this couldn't have been a better fit,'' Montgomery said. "Just for them to have a new pair of pajamas and a book to read is comforting. In Minnesota, I went to read stories [to children], I've donated and helped them raise money. I try to do anything I can to help them.''
Montgomery also returned to the Kanawha Valley this past summer to put on her first youth basketball camp. She said she plans to make the camp a yearly event.
"It's just an exciting journey I'm on,'' she said. "Things just keep happening. Basketball can take me places, which allows me to help others. It's nice that I can be influential to young kids.''
Montgomery helped guide Connecticut to a 39-0 record during the 2008-09 season, only the fifth undefeated team in NCAA women's college basketball history and the first in either men's or women's history to win every game by double digits.
She scored 18 points and handed out four assists as the Huskies beat Louisville 76-54 in the national title game April 7 in St. Louis, Mo. Montgomery averaged 20.5 points during the six-game NCAA tournament run and earned a selection to the Final Four all-tournament team.
Montgomery was named Associated Press first team All-America, the first Kanawha Valley athlete to receive the honor in basketball since West Virginia University's Jerry West in 1960. She averaged 16.5 points during the season, leading the Huskies in assists (199) and was second in steals (61).
She also received the Honda Sports Award, which recognizes the nation's top college women's basketball player, the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the country's top college point guard, and the Big East Sportsmanship Award.
Montgomery won three straight Class AAA state championships - one at Capital and two at SC - as Hornbuckle's sidekick.