Not In Uniform But Part of the Team
"My goal is to join them for the college tour (begins October 31st)," Leslie said.
Already a legend in women's basketball, the 2006 WNBA Most Valuable Player is not yet ready to call in a career and still has plenty left in the tank. Her experiences and accomplishments are a priceless component of the U.S. team.
"She hasn't passed the torch on yet," USA's coach Anne Donovan said after Friday's practice. "We look forward to her rejoining the program and being back because she is one of our players. Sheryl (Swoopes), Dawn (Staley) and Lisa (Leslie) have all been three-time Olympians that understand what it takes. We don't have Sheryl here because of her health and Dawn being on the sidelines can only impart so much information. Having a player on the floor that has done what she has done is really important."
Leslie missed the entire WNBA season with the Los Angeles Sparks after giving birth to her baby girl, Lauren Jolie Lockwood, and understands that her role on the team might be different than in years past. Yet she also knows that she is crucial to the team's success.
"It feels good to be in this position as a veteran and to be able to pass down knowledge and information and just make us better," Leslie said. "It may not necessarily be in points and what I do on the boards, but just my presence, being out there and leading us will make an impact."
And though she was not yet in uniform, Leslie has already embraced her role as a team leader and opened up the training camp in New York with a motivational speech on Friday night.
"That was like a before-game pep talk when the coach comes out and gives you that speech and you are just ready and hyped to go out there and play," LSU center Sylvia Fowles said. "After I heard her speak, I was ready to go out there and practice."
So what did the two-time WNBA champ say?
"Lisa told us about what it means to play for USA basketball, understanding that you are on the best team in the world and you have to represent that everyday that you practice," Monarchs guard Kara Lawson recalled.
"She talked about team and that nothing will be remembered in terms of points and rebounds and who did what. The only thing that you remember is a gold medal," Donovan added.
And while one of the coaches or even an active player could have given the motivational speech to the team, Donovan's decision to choose Leslie to inspire and lead was obvious.
"Because she has won so much and done so well with USA basketball and international competition, when advice comes from her you definitely take it a little more seriously," Storm guard Sue Bird said.
And for the younger players who may have been meeting Leslie for the first time, listening to Leslie's words of wisdom was an almost surreal experience.
"I really looked up to her. She has been a role model of mine ever since I was younger," Tennessee's Candace Parker said glowingly. "To have her come in and talk to us is huge."
Emphasizing a good work ethic and a team-above-self mentality, Leslie's leadership also extends beyond her abilities on the court.
"I am just looking forward to coming back and playing with them," the two-time WNBA champion and founding WNBA star said. "And also helping them to understand that coming back I may not be playing, and being the leading scorer but my job to come back early is to help them to be better."
Lynx guard Seimone Augustus believes the team is already benefiting from Leslie's leadership.
"Just here being here is a motivation to us," the second year star said. "Any kind of knowledge that we can pick up from here is only going to help us progress as a team."
Excited and eager to come back and play, Leslie is already a making a difference for the U.S. Team. And she hasn't even stepped out onto the court yet..