Quotes from Western Conference All-Stars and coach Dan Hughes from Friday's practice media availability.
Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)
Q: So, do you want to win the All-Star Game?
Bird: Oh yeah. There are some bragging rights (at stake). The West has won, prior to the last couple of years, pretty handily. The East kind of came on there, so we really need to try and take it back. Itís really about bragging rights. We want the fans to have a good time and we will have some fun ourselves and try to win it.
Q: How does it feel for you, having played at UConn, to come back and play in an All-Star game here?
Bird: It feels great. It really does. Itís always exciting to come back here, whether itís for the regular season or for an event such as All-Star.
Q: What is it like having three of your ďFab FiveĒ UConn class playing here this weekend as WNBA All-Stars?
Bird: Itís simply gratifying in some ways. Knowing that we came in with a lot of hype and for the most part weíve lived up to it, I think. Itís pretty great that the three of us are here.
Q: Is Moscow colder than Storrs in the winter?
Bird: Moscowís pretty cold!
Swin Cash (Seattle Storm)
Q: Were there hesitations and was it scary going in for your (back) surgery?
Cash: It was very scary. Anytime you go in for a surgery like that, you have to make a decision whether youíre going to have it or not, and you could possibly have it and come back and not be yourself Ė or your career could be done. Thatís a decision youíre going to have to live with.
Q: Was it more a quality of life thing or was it a basketball thing, deciding to get the surgery?
Cash: It more became a quality of life thing. I was doing too much to just try to play. You want to be able to play and have fun, and you want your body to be healthy.
Q: How long after the surgery did it take for you to realize that you were back, that the surgery went well?
Cash: A couple of months (after), once I got a few of these workouts in, started putting muscle back on my body. Once I started playing, I started taking a couple of hits and getting back up a lot easier. I started sleeping better at night.
Q: Did you think it was just a matter of being healthy for you to get back to an All-Star level?
Cash: I think it was a combination of things. I think for a while I had put too much strain on my body, not taking care of the injuries, and then I did what I needed to do. I needed to get back into the gym. I needed to get back onto what I call ďa college grindĒ with somebody pounding you, helping to get your body right, making sure youíre fit to be able to do the skill work. I had to get fit physically (again) to be able to do the skill work.
Q: Do you find it ironic that three women (Cash, Asjha Jones, Diana Taurasi) from the same recruiting class (UConn) are in this All-Star Game?
Cash: I think people have always marked us, and it started during our freshman year, as possibly the best recruiting class ever. I think if you look at our body of work, both during college and in the pros, we sort of stapled that.
Charde Houston (Minnesota Lynx)
Q: How have you progressed since your rookie season?
Houston: I think I had a really good rookie season. I mean I went through a little stretch where I didnít score as much, but at the same time I still feel like I contributed a substantial amount to the team. This season Iíve just taken my game to new heights, adding the three ball, just striding, and I think itís just a different feel. Iíve been faced with more responsibility and itís something that Iíve grown and Iíve lived up to and Iíve enjoyed. Weíre a young team and Iím just really happy to be a part of this franchise.
Q: How much of it is something just clicking this year?
Houston: Itís just one of those things where I almost feel like Iím not a rookie any more and in order to make strides and in order to be a great player you have to put yourself into positions to do so. So Iíve just worked hard and as long as Iíve worked hard on my end, things will take care of themselves.
Q: How does the loss of Seimone [Augustus] force you to shift your role with the Lynx?
Houston: Itís not only myself but I think itís just my team as a whole. Seimoneís shoes are so big that I donít think that just one person can fill them. So I think that just playing more minutes and having to play a little bit of the three, defend different players, and defend different styles things like that. I think that sheís more than just one person, sheís about ten people for us, sheís the spirit of our team, and sheís everything. So itís more of just keeping that spirit alive and understanding that our team as a whole has to band together and obviously win games.
Q: Has the added responsibility fazed you at all?
Houston: Not at all, I think that this game is about taking on challenges and trying to reach new heights and I think that thereís no other time for me to challenge myself than now. Weíve been faced with so much, and the coaching change and losing Seimone and things like that. Thereís one thing that not only myself but the team as a whole wants to prove and thatís that we can do it no matter what happens to our team.
Q: In what ways do you feel that have you become a more mature player on the court this season?
Houston: Time management first, just taking care of my body and things like that. Once I started to do that it just carried over from working hard to learning when to rest and just learning that this is a faster paced game and you need to think quickly and you have to defend the best players in the world. So I think that just having that mindset and that focus to understand that my job is challenging and itís hard every single day but as long as I work hard I can accomplish anything.
Q: Was getting to the WNBA All-Star game always a dream for you?
Houston: Itís something that was always on my agenda but I wanted to become an all around player first. I didnít want to be the inconsistent Charde that everybody thinks of me as. So upon coming into the WNBA that was my main goal. I just wanted to play good, produce every night and give something to the team. Granted you donít have to score twenty points a game, but my thing is I want to grab rebounds and I want to be that energetic player thatís full of energy that knows that when I step on the floor Iím going to help the team.
Lauren Jackson (Seattle Storm)
Q: What is like to be selected to your seventh All-Star game?
Jackson: It feels amazing to be here actually. To be voted in and everything, itís very special. Just to be able to be here and be a part of it all, itís so fun.
Q: What does the Storm need to work on in the second half of the season?
Jackson: I would say our team defense definitely. We just need to keep improving on that and then also basically we need to try and get into early flow on offense because when our offense stops everything kind of stops, so we need to work on all that stuff too.
Q: Which teams in the West will be your toughest competition down the stretch?
Jackson: Well Iíd say Phoenix obviously, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Minnesota, I mean itís actually quite competitive overall. Weíve got a really tough conference because every game that we play itís almost like a must-win. We donít play Sacramento anymore this season so every team that comes up on our schedule is essentially a must-win game. In order for us to get better weíve got to beat these teams.
Q: Do you think that playing against stiff competition will help prepare you for a playoff run?
Jackson: Well I think that recently we started winning games when they were close whereas we were sort of pulling them off earlier in the season. But I think that the more adversity a team handles the better off theyíre going to be in the end and I think that weíve had a good bit of adversity already with injuries and some tough losses. I donít know if we couldíve played any worse in the games that weíve lost, so itís we can just get better from here.
Q: How do you view your role as a pioneer for the spread of the WNBA internationally?
Jackson: The WNBA is the best league in the world, hands down, and I think that to be good over here it basically sets you up for the rest of your life which is great. But yes itís a great stage to be on, itís competitive, the fans are great, itís professional, you get to do stuff like [the All-Star game], so itís great.
Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix Mercury)
Q: What is it like to be at the All-Star game?
Pondexter: Itís a great experience. This is my third All-Star and so I am kind of used to everything. The first time you are here you are kind of quiet and unsure of what happens. Itís a fun time, though, and we get to enjoy each other and see each other in a different light.
Q: Who are you looking forward to playing with the most?
Pondexter: Iíd have to say Nicky Anosikeówe used to play against each other in college, and of course Minnesota and Phoenix are pretty competitive teams.
Q: You are having a great year- to what do you attribute your improvements?
Pondexter: I think that the fact that I am contributing more and building my stats, not only in scoring but also in rebounds and assists.
Q: Youíve been named Player of the Week three weeks in a rowóare you going to win the MVP tomorrow?
Pondexter: We are going to throw that one up in the airóyou never know, you never know.
Q: Are you participating in the Skills Competition?
Pondexter: Yes, I am going to compete for that this year. I definitely want to win one this year.
Q: Do you have anything special planned for the game tomorrow?
Pondexter: Yeah, I am going to try to make it fun and exciting for the crowd.
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
Q: What is it like to play an All-Star game in your ďhome stateĒ?
Taurasi: Itís always fun to come back and to see all of the fans who supported us throughout our championship run.
Q: Who are you looking forward to playing with the most?
Taurasi: I havenít played with Swin Cash in a long time, so I am excited about playing with her.
Q: I heard that Tamika Williams is in townóare all five are you going to get together again?
Taurasi: Yeah, Tamikaís back. We are going to get together and start running the triangle againótry to get back to that 2002 form.
Q: Is Coach Geno here?
Taurasi: Yes, Coach will be here tomorrow for the game.
Q: Do you have anything special planned for the game tomorrow?
Taurasi: No, just come out here and try to put on a good show for the fans and head out to New York after the game.
Q: Obviously this season is a lot different than last yearócan you talk a little bit about that?
Taurasi: Well, we still have a lot of games left in the season. We just have take each game as it comes and go from there.
Tina Thompson (Los Angeles Sparks)
Q: What is special about being an All-Star?
Thompson: I think that in general it is special because this is a select group of players. We have so many talented players here in the WNBA and the fact that youíre picked out of a select group of players in the WNBA, it is meaningful. I mean it just sets you apart from everyone else.
Q: You play on a team in Los Angeles full of great players. What has that been like for you this season?
Thompson: We actually havenít all been able to play together yet. I think that once we get to the point where we can do that, it will definitely be something to watch. I have played with them all in different situations with USA Basketball and things like that and it is great. It is just awesome to be a part of a team where you can anticipate one another. Our basketball IQs are really high and that makes things a lot easier.
Q: How hard is it for Lisa Leslie to miss this game in her last season?
Thompson: She hasnít played in a while and she is still having some issues with her knee. I am sure there was some disappointment being that this is her last year and since she got voted into the All-Star Game as well. She has been here so many times and she has had success in All-Star Games. I am sure she definitely wanted to be here so it is unfortunate that she couldnít be here in her last one and get the send-off that she deserves.
Q: What is it like for you as a player to play in front of these fans in Connecticut?
Thompson: It is awesome. Every time I come here, the crowd is great. They are true basketball fans. They cheer and they enjoy good basketball in general, so it is always great to play in front of a group that appreciates good basketball in general and understands the game and has a rich idea of basketball, and it is always fun to be a part of that.
Q: The Western Conference has lost the last two All-Star Games. What is your prediction for tomorrow?
Thompson: I donít make predictions, but just playing with the players that I have played with a lot of times, we always want to win. That is our focus going into the game so weíre going to do our best to get a win.
Head Coach Dan Hughes (San Antonio Silver Stars)
Q: How has Charde Houston improved her game since her rookie season?
Hughes: Her perimeter skill is more defined. You canít just play her as athlete. If you give her space, she will catch and shoot it. She really hurt us the last time we played (the Minnesota Lynx Ė 83-76 loss at San Antonio, July 12). We didnít do a good job of getting into her on the perimeter the second time we played them. Her skill development as a face-up finisher on the catch has improved. She is a player that you have to guard. The other thing is, I just think there is more maturity to her game. She is going to realize that she is playing against good players and what they are doing to her. She has just evolved in the way she uses her talent to battle what teams and players do to defend her.
Q: Houstonís development has been compared to Asjha Jonesí rise as a WNBA star. Is that a fair comparison?
Hughes: I think they are two different players. I think Asjha has more of an interior, back to the basket presence than I think Houston has right now. I think Houston is extremely explosive when she faces up to the basket. Asjha has defined a complexity to her game, but I find that they are two different players. I think Asjha has really, really improved her ability to make her hard to guard. She has more interior presence on the catch with her back to basket. Houston is probably a harder guard deeper away from the basket with more mobility. Asjha has played more basketball and has had more experiences. There is no doubt that Houston has the ability to get to there, but I think Asjha, to me, is playing extremely well right now. She is very veteran.
Q: This is the first All-Star Game since 2007. What is special about the experience from your perspective?
Hughes: What makes it special for me, this is my 10th year in the league, and looking back and understanding where this game has gone, where it is, what the players are now like, and it is an honor for me to be a part of the accumulation of players that I have often played against but never coached. Iím kind of excited to actually look down the bench and think that I can put in some of these players who I am usually thinking about how in the world are we going to keep them from dominating us. I just think it is an honor in that regard to do that. It is a celebration of our league. It is a celebration for womenís basketball. But it is also a celebration for Mohegan Sun and how all those things fit together.
Q: What makes this a good event for the fans?
Hughes: Because of womenís basketball nowadays and with them going overseas, some of these players do play together in certain situations, but the fans here in America donít always see that. They get to see it now. They get to see, and I am looking at my roster, and they get Becky Hammon play with Lauren Jackson. Youíll get to see Sophia Young play with Tina Thompson. But you will also maybe get a situation where maybe the Connecticut fans will get to see Sue (Bird) on the floor, Diana (Taurasi) on the floor, Charde (Houston) on the floor, Swin (Cash) on the floor, and if things work out, they might all be on the floor at the same time. It is just fun to watch players of this quality play together.
Q: If the game feels right at the time, will you think about playing the UConn alums together at the same time for these Connecticut fans?
Hughes: I have thought about it. I made a list of the things that I would like to do. Sometimes you canít always do them. But if I get a chance, I think that would be a great experience for them to do that. I want this game to be a memory for the players that we have and I also want it to be a memory for the people who come here to watch.
Q: Even though it is an exhibition, do you still come in to try to win this game?
Hughes: Absolutely. We have lost two in a row (to the Eastern Conference). I will definitely remind them of that. And the other thing is, I am an older coach, so I would like my memory of this to culminate in the win. I think the players do too. It is an experience that we will share together and every athlete will tell you that it is much better when we win.
Q: You played last night. How tough has the schedule been for you and your players?
Hughes: I kid about it but I am a coach, so the physical ability on me is not going to matter. A lot of those players, Sophia Young and Becky Hammon, came in with me and we probably got to bed at 3:30 in the morning. Some of them were involved in things at 7:30 in the morning today. The math doesnít work for great rest there, but I think we all realize that this is a unique opportunity and in athletics, you find a way to make it work. Regardless of what the travel was, youíre here, so you make the best of it and I have never seen our players not respond to that opportunity.