One-on-One with Chamique Holdsclaw

Her sudden retirement from the Los Angeles Sparks just five games into the 2007 season sent shockwaves throughout the WNBA. Now two years later, Chamique Holdsclaw has returned to the league, this time as a member of the Atlanta Dream.

Her return had been anticipated since December, when the Dream traded the No. 13 pick in the 2009 WNBA Draft to the Sparks in exchange for the exclusive negotiating rights to Holdsclaw. Five months later Ė on April 20 Ė Holdsclaw officially ended her retirement and signed a three-year contract with the Dream, her third WNBA team.

The six-time WNBA All-Star and 1999 Rookie of the Year spoke with on Friday to discuss her decision to return to the WNBA and her expectations for her first season in Atlanta. First of all, welcome back to the WNBA. Obviously, I have to start by asking you why you chose to come back to the WNBA at this time.

Holdsclaw: "One of the things that really prompted me to come back was that I love it here in Atlanta. Iíve been living here now for three or four years and this is a great city. Itís a sports town; the people are just really into sports; they love it; and they come out and support. For me personally, thereís a huge following here, especially because Tennessee is not too far, itís SEC land, and the people really respect womenís basketball. So just being here and having the support, it made me want to come back." Was it frustrating when you learned there was going to be a WNBA team in your hometown a year after you retired from the Sparks?

Holdsclaw: "Not really; at that point in time when the team was announced, I had made the decision that I didnít want to play anymore. But I think the thing that got me was actually going to support some of my friends who play in the WNBA. I came to some of the games last year and I was kind of pulled into it. I was like man, gosh I guess I kind of miss it a little bit, I should be out there playing again. Itís a sports town and my friends are hip to the games and theyíre like ĎMique you need to stop consulting and you need to get back out there.í" So was it going to the games that really brought that hunger back to the point where you said to yourself "I have to do this?"

Holdsclaw: "It was really all about location, location, location with [the WNBA] getting a team here. Iím comfortable here, this is where I want to live, this is my home and just having the support. These people here in Atlanta that support womenísí basketball and any sport in general, so you just have people that appreciate your work and that even makes it more exciting. I went to games where the Dream, they won four games last year, you would have thought they lost four games (laughs). The people, the fans were just rowdy, cheering, when the moment the game started until the buzzer sounded and the game was over, they really supported the team. It just reminded me of the fans that we had in Washington D.C. for the Mystics early on for the franchise; it was just unbelievable. I think my whole career in D.C. we probably led the league in attendance." You mention the Dream only winning four games last year. You are coming to a team that is only in its second year and they have brought in so many new players this year. How difficult do think it will be to put this roster together and make it work in such a short season?

Holdsclaw: "Itís going to take a lot of hard work, but you have a lot of players from our draft pick to the some veteran players that really want to go out there and prove themselves. Itís exciting. I think you have a good mix of people, a lot of different personalities, but what team doesnít. Itís just about going out there and us from day one, having this chemistry, and from the players that Iíve spoken (four or five teammates) everybody wants this, they are excited to be here and be in this city." Have you set any goals for yourself or for this team yet?

Holdsclaw: "I think with the talent that we have, we should set our goals on just going out there, first of all, and just learning to compete and playing together. But I think we can definitely be a playoff bound team. I think we have the right pieces to the puzzle; itís just a matter of us going out there and just really playing together. We have experience; we have players that have played for some great teams, so it should be really interesting. Itís kind of like the big question mark is going to be thrown up, will Atlanta do it or not? But I think we have the potential to get it done." How about for you personally; what do you hope to bring to the team this year as you re-establish yourself in the league?

Holdsclaw: "Iíll bring a lot of experience. Iíve experienced a lot through my basketball career and just going out there and being committed and getting the team to work hard. Iíve learned how important hard work is, definitely when I played in L.A., and Iím just excited about it. Iím not putting any pressure on myself or anything like that, I just want to go out there and enjoy this experience. This may be the last contract that I sign in the U.S. and itís three years and I just want to go out there and enjoy it. My friends and my family are going to be coming out there to support me and when itís over itís over, so I just want to make this the best experience possible." I saw that you said that ďIt all comes to an end one day and that's why I came back.Ē Did you just realize that the window of opportunity to play competitively was coming to an end and it was time to give it one more run?

Holdsclaw: "Yeah, definitely. I was like, ĎOkay, I canít play basketball forever and Iím overseas in Europe playing and the people that supported me throughout my career, they donít really get to see me play.í If you ask just a typical person that followed me throughout my career but doesnít follow womenís basketball and overseas play, they would think that I retired, that I was finished. I get that a lot, ĎMique why did you retire?í Iím like, ĎIíve been playing over in Europeí and theyíre like ĎReally?í Theyíre shocked. So by me coming back, itís like let me just knock this out, let me go out there and just play, everyone can see me, my family. If this is the last go around, it will be an exciting one." I remember when you retired from the Sparks you said that the one thing that bothered you is that you won on every level, but the WNBA. Does that still drive you?

Holdsclaw: "Itís definitely something that I would love, but Iím not going to put that pressure on myself anymore. I want to go out there and compete and be with people that want to win, but I had the chance, if I wanted to, I could have went to a team that is more in a position to win than Atlanta. I came to a second year team, so I know what Iím coming into but Iím excited about it. Iím not going to put that pressure on myself like I did out of college where I felt I have to turn this around. Itís not going to just take Chamique, its going to take all 11 players on the team to make Atlanta into a contender." That could be a victory in itself, building the foundation for the franchise, where maybe they canít get a championship during your time there, but at least theyíll be on that path.

Holdsclaw: "Yeah, definitely. And along the way, that is when these young players, like a McCoughtry, weíll get it started now and theyíll build it toward the future. Itís exciting. Iím just really excited to play with my former Tennessee player, Michelle Snow, and McCoughtry and some of the other players." What about McCoughtry, will she be a player that you take under your wing and help her develop?

Holdsclaw: "I remember we were talking at our press conference, and she is so excited and so eager. I can remember when I first came in the door to the WNBA and I was the same kid. The league was rather new so I didnít have that person to kind of lead me and when I hit those hard times to tap me on the shoulder and say ĎItís going to be okay, you know, keep pressing on.í It was different for me. So from my experience, I definitely can help her, but like I told her, sheís wonít to need too much help. She just has to go out there and play hard. If she needs some advice along the way, Iím definitely going to offer it."