The Sparks forward is healthy and heading overseas

Visiting With Chamique Holdsclaw

With Matt Wurst, Editor

More With Chamique
Photos: Through the Years
January 9, 2007 - When putting together a short list of the most talented women's basketball players ever, Sparks forward Chamique Holdsclaw is as close to a sure thing as there is. After an extraordinary career at the University of Tennessee in which she won three national titles in a row, Holdsclaw was the 1999 WNBA Rookie of the Year, led the league in scoring and rebounding in 2002 and became a six-time WNBA All-Star. In 2006, she was named a WNBA All-Decade Honorable Mention. Now entering her third season with the Sparks in the same year she turns 30, Holdsclaw has rediscovered her love for the game. She is healthy again after her first-ever surgery and, with Lisa Leslie on the sidelines during her pregnancy, is ready for a starring role in Hollywood.

Holdsclaw is heading to Poland this spring.
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty
Q. How have you been keeping busy this offseason?
"Since the season ended, I've had the opportunity to go to South Africa and put on clinics there. I spent some time in Montana with my cousins because we have some future professional basketball players in my family, hopefully, so I was helping them get their summer plans together as far as camps. I also had my first surgery on my foot. And hopefully my last. I've been rehabbing the foot, which is now back to 100 percent and feels so much better. I also got some new shoes."

Q. What was the nature of your injury?
"It was a nerve decompression. Basically, my toes were going numb from when I hurt my plantar fascia and this relieved the nerve. They pulled it off of a tendon to alleviate the pressure."

Q. Only one operation and you already sound like a doctor. So what is the recovery time for that?
"I am at full strength already. I got cleared a few weeks ago and I am practicing right now. It just feels a lot better."

Q. With the injury and rehab, how else have you been staying in shape since you were unable to run or spend much time on a court?
"We did a lot of cardio. Thanks to advancements in technology, they have these water treadmills and I did a lot of running in the pool. There were a lot of pool workouts. That's some of the best conditioning you can get. I never realized it before. Then when I came out and got cleared to run sprints, I didn't feel like I was out of shape at all. It was very interesting."

Q. What was that trip to South Africa like? Was it your first time there?
"It was my first trip, yes, and it was very, very rewarding. We spent time in the poor areas, but pretty much touched on all different areas. It was cool to see how the younger players -- kids -- are interested in basketball. I know the NBA goes over there a lot and there is much more exposure to the game, but it was great to be able to give back. The kids' eyes were wide open and they wanted to learn everything. 'How do you this? How do you do that?' They were so excited."

Atlanta, Georgia: Chamique's new home.
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Q. And what brings you to the New York area?
"Well I actually had a death in the family and was here for the funeral. My primary residence is in D.C., but I also have a house in Atlanta but I hadn't really had the chance to spend time there until this offseason. In the last couple of months since my surgery, I actually moved to Atlanta. I'm getting adjusted to a new city."

Q. Are you getting to decorate and furnish yet?
"A little bit. I'm kind of missing D.C., but it is nice to go back and get some of that Southern hospitality. I've missed it since my Tennessee days."

Q. Have you moved your extensive sneaker collection yet? I know you have something like 200 pairs, right?
"Yes, some of it (laughs). It has grown, but I couldn't move everything there. The house in D.C. is bigger."

Q. Do you wear all of these shoes or is it just for the collection?
"Some of them are just for show. I try to collect as many Dunks as I can. Some of my friends want to trade and the Dunks are kind of exclusive. As for the others, I'll wear most of them. But no one touches my Dunks."

Q. Have you been back at Tennessee recently to see Candace Parker play or just to support the alma mater?
"I've only seen her on television this year, though I watched her last year. I haven't been able to get down to Tennessee yet this year. It was exciting watching that UConn game this past weekend and seeing her dunk at Storrs. It was really exciting. Then they came back. It was a good game. Those are always the best games, UConn-Tennessee."

Q. I know you have a street named after you in Tennessee, right? Do you sometimes get other people's mail?
"No (laughs). That doesn't happen."

Chamique will have to make do without teammate Lisa Leslie, the reigning M.V.P.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty
Q. So what were your thoughts when you heard that Lisa (Leslie) was pregnant?
"I was shocked. Really shocked, because I always joke with her in the locker room, like 'You need to tell me if you're going to get pregnant. I came here to play with you, so just let me know and give me a heads-up.' That's my joke with her, but I'm really happy for her. She's done so much for the game of basketball and she's getting to that age. Her husband, Michael, is a great guy and I'm excited for them to start their family together."

Q. How do you think your role on the team will change without her being there on the court?
"We definitely have to step it up. Everyone will be looking at me, but the thing about our team is that everyone is mature and gets along. Other players know they have to step up and give a little more. What we realize is that one player cannot get it done alone. Lisa always talks about how important it is to have good players around her to make people better, so that is our challenge. We have to put a lot of work into it and I know our coaches are getting prepared as well."

Q. Do you like the responsibility of leadership out there? Aside from you and Lisa and Mwadi, the Sparks are a relatively young team.
"I think so, but the thing about it is that our team last year had a lot of young players, but we had great leaders. Murriel (Page) is a leader, our point guard, Temeka Johnson, is a great leader so I think the responsiblity goes around. It's important that everyone goes out and feels like they are an important part of the team. That is what Coach Jelly has stressed in L.A. It is not Lisa's team and it's not my team. In order for us to be successful, everyone has to chip in."

Holdsclaw likes what she sees in Candace Parker at Tennessee.

Q. Having played with a number of different coaches in your WNBA career, what makes Coach Bryant different?
"He's a player's coach. Jelly played this game and he's a lot of fun. He tries to make basketball less technical and makes it fun, something we enjoy and do not stress about too much. He'll give us a play and then tell us to go out there and do what we do. Enjoy the game. That allows us to work even harder. We knew he was not going to be banging on the chairs or yelling at us. He knows we have been there before and wants us to elevate our game. Now don't get me wrong. He got on us at times, but he didn't have to do a lot of that because we responded."

Q. As one of the real veterans and longtime stars of the league, who of the younger generation of newcomers do you really like to play against or even just watch?
"I really do like watching Candace Parker, though she is not in the WNBA yet. Soon enough. Let's see ... who else? ... I like watching Seimone (Augustus) and Cappie Pondexter."

Q. I know you're also a big Kobe Bryant fan. What do you love most about his game?
"Oh man, he's just so smooth and agile. Being around the Lakers organization, I just respect how hard he works. When I tell people I'm a Kobe fan, people think he's so arrogant. But we see him at the gym working out at seven every day until he has to be on the court. He doesn't have to do that, traveling more than an hour from his home to be there every day. He's working out hard four out of every five days. You have to have a lot of respect for that."

Chamique respects Kobe's work ethic and loves playing for his dad.
Marc Serota/NBAE/Getty
Q. As someone who knows him, do you think he is misunderstood?
"Oh, definitely. He puts the work in and his teammates do respect him. You talk to the guys on his team, like Laron Profit, he says 'Kobe is just phenomenal. He works hard.' That's the same thing Lamar Odom told me, 'He's committed,' and you have to respect that."

Q. The other big story with the Sparks this offseason has been the new owners. Have you met them yet?
"I have not yet had the chance."

Q. So let me ask you, what is with the bottled water obsession? Why won't you drink tap water?
"(Laughs) I don't know. I was actually talking to my family about this the other day because there was a special on television that said that tap water is actually, in some cases, healthier than bottled water because there are regulations and standards that the state has to follow whereas bottled water companies do not have the same regulations. I went to a restaurant recently in Atlanta and drank the tap water for the first time in a long time and my friends were like 'Oh my goodness.' I told them I am open to trying new things. But I don't know. I always felt a little bit safer with bottled water. Growing up in New York, my grandmother always bought bottled water because there's so much stuff in the water here, chemicals and whatever. Plus, in restaurants, you never know if people are spitting in your water (laughs). Just bring me the bottled water, please. I know it's crazy, but you never know what's in the pipes."

Chamique only drinks water that comes in a bottle. Tap water is not an option.

Q. Last question...the retirement rumors are out there floating around, as you may or may not know. Do you definitely want to keep playing?
"We'll see. I'm just trying to see how my body feels right now. This surgery I had was long overdue. For the past two or three years, my feet have really been hurting. Last season, it really caught up with me. Like I told our G.M., my overseas trip will definitely be a test to see how I feel. My feet feel fine now and that's a blessing. She was with me at the surgery when the doctor told us that everything would be just fine. It went perfect. So my feet feel good and I've been practicing without any problems. Sometimes injuries can take away the love a little bit. I've been up and down with stress fractures, so we'll see what happens when I step back out on the court. I am definitely missing it right now and can't wait to get back out there and play. So ask me that question again in a month or so."

Q. Where are you headed overseas?
"This year I will be headed to Poland."

Q. That's new for you.
"Yeah, definitely a new experience. I'm going to the No. 1 team, so it should be exciting to play with Anna DeForge and Dominique Canty in Krakow."

Q. Well, best of luck to you and safe travels and thanks for taking the time to talk.
"Oh no problem, and Happy New Year!"