Sparks Star Kicking It Back Into Gear With USA Basketball

Leslie Knows It Will Take Some Time

Everyone knows her story. A three-time WNBA MVP and three-time Olympic gold medalist, Lisa Leslie stepped away from the game after the 2006 season to give birth to her first child. Lauren Jolie Lockwood arrived on June 15 and Leslie has been working her way back toward basketball since then.

Leslie has finally returned to the court, having been recently named to the USA select team that will play exhibition games against the top American college sides. WNBA.com's Adam Hirshfield caught up with Leslie for a brief interview in which she discussed her physical health, her high hopes for the 2008 WNBA season and what another Olympic gold would mean to her career.

Q. You've only had three games now back out on the court. How does it feel to be back?

A. "Right now, I feel like a backup center. But it's been a year-plus since I've been out there on the court playing a full game, so I need to keep working and it will get better and better."

Q. Do you feel like you're in shape? Are you physically at your best yet?

A. "Absolutely not! (Laughs.) No, but seriously, that's the purpose of being here working hard. You have to start somewhere. The girls have been really supportive and have helped me. I'm not exactly the MVP I was when I left the WNBA, but I'm working to get back there."

Q. How would you rate where you are now physically on a scale of 1 to 10?

A. "I would say I'm about a 5 now. Coach (Anne Donovan) said I was about a 7, but I feel like I'm about a 5."

Q. What about in terms of your basketball skills? Does it take a little while to recapture that feel for the game?

A. "Yeah, it's all about getting my legs under me and getting the strength I need. I've lost a lot of baby weight because I've been running and I'm still nursing, so those two combine to be pretty draining on my body. It's gonna take some time, but I still see the game well. I might be a little late in my reaction to things, but I definitely still see what I need to do. I haven't lost that. So once my reaction time comes back and I start to move and anticipate things a little faster, I think I'll be OK."

Q. You've been off the court for over a year. Have you noticed any difference in the level of competition to this point?

A. "The game hasn't changed that much. The only thing that's changed is my body. I just need to get that whipped back into shape, and I'll be fine."

Q. How does it feel to be back in that USA jersey after a while away?

A. "It feels amazing and it means a lot. And in this situation, there's so much pride on the line. We don't want to go out there and lose to the college kids. We trusted our team in the first two games, and me not being in shape hasn't really helped us out a lot, but I'm doing the best I can. I'm pushing through it."

Q. Have you allowed yourself to think about the Olympics yet? Is everyone on this team building toward that goal?

A. "Yes, definitely. We have to go back and get gold. That's what it's all about. There are a lot of steps to take before we get to Beijing, but that was my biggest motivation to get back out on the court now."

Q. Before the Olympics, obviously, is the 2008 WNBA season. Your Los Angeles Sparks recently won the rights to the top pick in the draft. And with you, Taj, some up-and-coming youngsters like Sidney Spencer and this No. 1 pick, what are your expectations heading back to the Sparks?

A. "Our season's gonna be hot this year. God-willing, if we stay injury free, we're gonna compete. I've been talking to Coop (coach Michael Cooper), (GM) Penny Toler, the whole staff… we're all looking forward to next season."

Q. Have you had any discussions about who the Sparks are going to take with that top pick?

A. "Well, it's not like it's a big secret. Everyone's saying Tasha Humphrey is going to go No. 1…"

Q. Um, seriously? … Is that really what you've heard?

A. "OK, just kidding…"

Q. Wow, you really had me going. And no disrespect to Tasha. She's a great player.

A. "Of course. But 99 percent of the people out there think that Candace Parker is the way to go. But there's no guarantee she's declaring for the draft. And Sylvia Fowles is a pretty tough kid, so we'll be watching closely how their college seasons go, and that will help to determine who we choose."

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