The Threat From Down Under
A superstar post should get along smashingly with the point guard who can get her the ball. And reigning WNBA MVP Lauren (Loz) Jackson of the Storm certainly does get along with Fever guard Tully Bevilaqua. The duo, which won the 2004 WNBA championship with Seattle and helped lead their native country to the 2006 world championship, will be teaming up again in Beijing.
WNBA.com's Adam Hirshfield spoke with the two longtime Opals prior to the Olympic break to get their thoughts on the importance of the 2008 Games, their rivalry with the USA and their predictions for who will be wearing gold.
WNBA.com: In a nutshell, can you handicap the Aussie team heading into the 2008 Games in Beijing?
Bevilaqua: "We are going to be a pretty tough unit. Likewise, so are the U.S. and Russia. And so is China. It is just going to be an awesome Olympics because the standard of basketball is going to be raised. But obviously you got Loz and you got Penny Taylor, who is also right up there with Lauren as a world-class player. Those two players are the people we center a lot of our stuff around. Everyone else is trying to complement them as much as we can."
WNBA.com: Having won the World Championships in 2006, do you feel like you are the favorites heading into Beijing?
Bevilaqua: "No, as the previous Olympic gold medalists, I think the U.S. is still going in as the favorites, which is good for us. We have always been the underdog. That is the way we like it. We are just a great group of people that work well as a team."
WNBA.com: Are you feeling any added pressure as the reigning world champs?
Jackson: "Of course, going into anything like the Olympics, you want to win for your country and, for me, winning an Olympic gold medal is the ultimate goal. I mean, I think I could retire off that. But realistically, it is very, very tough going against the Americans and I am not going to deny that. But you never know what is going to happen on the day of the gold-medal game or the silver-medal game or the semifinals. There are so many things that can contribute to the outcome of it, so it is going to be tough. But we are definitely going in there with a particular goal in mind."
WNBA.com: What is the rivalry like between the Aussies and the Americans?
Jackson: There is definitely a rivalry there and obviously the Americans have come out on top in most of the matchups. But we are definitely getting better with world championships and some other games over the past few years where we just pulled ahead. But it's never the same with the Olympics. We know that they will be going full strength. Being Australian and a patriot to my country, we are going to give our very all."
WNBA.com: What is it like going against players like Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings, who you know very well?
Jackson: "It is going to be tough. Sue and Diana in particular are two of my closest friends in the world, so it is going to freak me out a little bit. Especially when right after the WNBA season, we are all going back to Russia together, the way we usually do. But like I said, I am Australian, and I am going out to give it my very all. That day when (a matchup between us and the U.S.) comes (in Beijing), we are going to be fighting a war."
Bevilaqua: "(Fever teammate Tamika and I) haven't actually talked about it. We had a few little casual jokes about it. But we really haven't talked seriously about it."
WNBA.com: Who do you feel closer to: your WNBA team, your winter club team or the Australian national team?
Bevilaqua: "I have a great relationship with all of my teammates. I might not see Lauren for seven months and we meet up again and it is just like old times. We don't lose that friendship at all even though we are miles away from each other. There is certainly no difference in how I respect my teammates and how I get along with my Aussie teammates. I think I just do a good job of keeping friendships wherever I go."
Jackson: "With Spartak (Moscow in Russia), it was great. We were living together. We did everything together 24/7. So that was awesome. But the girls on the Australian team, Tully, Belinda they are like my sisters and they are the people I grew up with, people I admire and respect. If anything ever happened, they are the people I would turn to. I think the closeness that we have is special. And when we won the gold at the World Championships, I think our chemistry was really obvious, given that we have been playing together so long."
WNBA.com: Does winning at one level or another mean more to you?
Bevilaqua: "A lot of people talk about world championships, a lot of people talk about the Olympics. A lot is put on the Olympics, I think, because of the whole experience of being there with the other athletes and that total experience of being around everybody else. So it would be very special for me to be a part of that and will probably be the pinnacle of my career."
WNBA.com: What is the fan support like Down Under?
Jackson: "It is all relative, I think, because of how many people we have in (the U.S.) compared to how many people we have in our country. I think on an equal scale, we probably have the same percentage of fans."
WNBA.com: Are the fans in Australia as crazy, as excited and as knowledgeable as the basketball fans in the States?
Jackson: "Our fans are very knowledgeable, for sure. I think that is their thing. The people that do follow it know the sport really well. They aren't crazy, but it is pretty much the same wherever you go."
WNBA.com: What message would you like to give to all of the WNBA fans who will be watching you in a different uniform than most of the players they will be rooting for in Beijing?
Jackson: "I expect all of you to be cheering for the Americans, and I will be doing my thing for my country. The fans are great regardless. They make the sport."
WNBA.com: What do you foresee happening in a few weeks in Beijing?
Bevilaqua: "Australia versus U.S. in the gold-medal game. Then whoever brings their 'A' game "