Diana Taurasi, left with Head Coach Geno Auriemma, is one of the WNBA rivals who will experience the support Sue Bird always gets at KeyArena. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)
Rivals Become Home Team in USA Showcase
Candace Parker jokes that she way as well get an apartment. Over the next seven days, the 2008 WNBA MVP is scheduled to play three games at KeyArena, all of them under wildly different circumstances. On Sunday, Parker and the Los Angeles Sparks will conclude the preseason schedule against the Seattle Storm. Five days later, they'll return Friday for Opening Night and the beginning of the WNBA's regular season (). But first, Parker will be part of the home team tonight, when she and the USA Basketball Women's National Team face the China National Team in an exhibition (7:30 p.m., ).
For Parker and other WNBA stars used to getting a hostile reception at KeyArena, this figures to be a better experience - or perhaps not.
"I'll probably still get booed, which is the best feeling in the world," joked Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, who was last cheered off the KeyArena hardwood when she fouled out of Game 3 of the playoff series between the Storm and the Mercury.
Parker is slightly more confident of the reception she'll receive from Seattle fans tonight.
"KeyArena's always a fun place to play," she said. "I always enjoy playing there. It's one of my most favorite arenas besides maybe Atlanta to play in. It's exciting. I think the reception will definitely be different wearing red, white and blue compared to yellow and purple."
The general consensus among the players who gathered at Seattle University for the first of three days of training that is highlighted by the exhibition game is that KeyArena is one of their favorite places to play, but it might be nice to have the Storm Crazies on their side.
"I've had quite a few fans on Twitter hit me excited that they can actually root for me and not against me," said Tamika Catchings, who enjoys a friendlier reception in Seattle playing in the Eastern Conference with the Indiana Fever. "I think it's going to be fun for all of us who aren't Storm players to come out here and be a representative of the United States.
"I really like this city. Something about it, being here - especially when the sun's out. I don't too much like it when it's raining, but that's OK, we don't have to talk about that. The fans are always great. Even though I know when the game gets started they're going against us, before the game they're always really nice - and after the game sometimes, too."
Western Conference rivals like Parker and Taurasi, who have dealt with frenzied Storm crowds at KeyArena during intense playoff series, actually enjoy the experience in a sense.
"Those are the people you respect the most," Taurasi said. "There's nothing like a die-hard fan. I'm one. I've got my teams that when I go watch them play, I'm on them. Don't come into Staples. I'm on them. The Key really is a special place to play at. No matter college, men's, women's, it's a special place to play. You feel that energy and that momentum and it's really cool."
"I always feed off of energy," added Parker. "My dad used to always tell me when I was growing up and playing for him, 'If you can find something to get mad at, you'll play a lot better, because I always play better when I'm angry at something or have some motivation. I know that the Seattle crowd always hypes me up."
There are two players on the USA roster who are used to hearing cheers at KeyArena. Former Storm forward Swin Cash, now with the Chicago Sky, will make her return tonight. And Storm star Sue Bird, the starting point guard for the USA, feels like she can finally share the love she gets from the home crowd with her friends and national teammates.
"I'm excited to have the Storm fans see the National Team first-hand," she said, "and I know the National Team will finally get the chance to experience what it's like being cheered for by Storm fans."
"The Key really is a special place to play at. You feel that energy and that momentum and it's really cool."
While the exhibition game will be a fun opportunity for Seattle fans to see the USA National Team for the first time since 1995, when a team led by Teresa Edwards, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and Dawn Staley faced the University of Washington women as part of a tour prior to the 1996 Olympics, there is business to attend to for players and coaches this weekend. These two practices, the game and a scrimmage Sunday against the Japan National Team are all the time Head Coach Geno Auriemma will get to mold his team before players and coaches reunite in mid-July to prepare for the London Olympics.
"It's not like we need these three days to find out who's good - they're all good," said Auriemma. "We need these three days to find out who works well together. What things work with this group. And to kind of establish the philosophy - this is how we're going to play, this is how we're going to do things. It's kind of like a springboard. Now when they leave and go play in the WNBA season, when I get them back July 13, at least we'll have some frame of reference that's fresher than the World Championships."
Because the USA's players are busy year-round, playing overseas and then spending the months leading up to the Olympics with their WNBA teams, veteran members of the squad are used to having limited opportunities to prepare.
"That's been the case the last two Olympics, the ones that I've been in," said Bird. "You just kind of go with the flow. You don't think about what time you don't have; you just think about the time you do have and you want to make the most of it."
It helps that 10 of the 12 players on the roster were part of the team Auriemma coached to the FIBA World Championship in 2010 in the Czech Republic. Parker, who missed the World Championships due to shoulder surgery, and Seimone Augustus are the lone additions. Both of them have extensive experience with the National Team, and Parker was a member of the USA Olympic squad in 2008. Beyond that, six players - including Bird - played for Auriemma at the University of Connecticut, making a lot of the instruction familiar.
"It's kind of a refresher course," Bird said. "We're reminded now. I'm sure we'll put more offense in as the week goes in. We pick it up pretty quickly."
Tonight's exhibition will be played under FIBA rules, instead of the more familiar WNBA rules. Here are a few key differences to watch during the game.
- Three-point line: The FIBA distance is 6.75 meters (22 feet, 1.74 inches), which is longer than the WNBA distance (20 feet, 6.25 inches).
- Player fouls: Each player is perimitted five fouls, rather than the WNBA's six.
- Possession: Tie-ups are decided by alternating possession, while the WNBA uses jump balls.
- Timeouts: There are no mandatory, or "media" timeouts during FIBA games. Each team has two 60-second timeouts to use in the first half and three for the second half. Timeouts must be called by coaches and will be granted only at dead balls.