New Sparks Forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin Looks to Start a Fire in L.A.

"I am looking forward to this new transition in my basketball life," says McWilliams-Franklin. "I asked for the trade looking to try something new. Change can never come about if you are comfortable."
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April 16, 2007 — WNBA veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin has had a busy offseason. Not only did she play for Shinhan Bank in the Korean league, but she was traded from Connecticut to Los Angeles after eight years with the franchise (four with the Orlando Miracle and four with the Sun). Now, she's training and playing with the U.S. National Team in Italy before heading back to the States to prepare for the WNBA season with her new Sparks teammates.

Taj took the time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions from WNBA.com.

Q. You spent much of this offseason in Korea. How did your team do?
A.
"We did well. The season was officially over on April 5, when we beat Lauren Jackson's team for the championship in five thrilling games. We also won the regular season title with a 17-3 record."

Q. Some other big-time WNBA players have been playing in Korea -- Jackson, Tamika Catchings, Michelle Snow and Yolanda Griffith, among others. How does the level of play compare to the WNBA?
A.
"The level of the Korean players is a bit lower than the WNBA, but the level that the 'foreigners' have to play at is quite a bit higher than the WNBA. In Korea, you are the only 'star,' so to speak. You touch the ball every time down the court. You must rebound, start the break, pass it away, get it back, score and then get back down the court to guard the other foreigner … before they score on you. It's quite different, but it makes you a better player. Also, there is illegal defense in Korea, so a lot of the scoring gets elevated because of that. You can only play zone in the third quarter. The rest (of the game, it's) illegal if you are standing in the paint for more than three seconds."

Q. What are the biggest differences between playing there and playing in the WNBA?
A.
"I think the biggest difference is getting used to playing the illegal defense and then switching back to normal help-side and rotation (on defense). I definitely got used to the illegal defense easily, however. But when I (rejoined) USA Basketball, I have had trouble with switching back to the help-side defense."

Q. You had been with the same franchise for your entire career, then were traded to Los Angeles this offseason. What's it like leaving Connecticut?
A.
"It's exciting for me. I am looking forward to this new transition in my basketball life. I asked for the trade looking to try something new. Change can never come about if you are comfortable. Only uncomfortable people can change and morph into something more. I think right now, I am trying to find out how I can add to my basketball talents. I feel like this new situation with the Sparks, who have been great to me, is the right step for me in this phase of my career."

Q. And what are your feelings about coming to a brand-new situation in Los Angeles? What do think the team can do this season?
A.
"My outlook for the team this season is to do what they have already done so well without me. Win games, make it to the playoffs and the Finals and win another ring/championship for the organization and for myself. I am excited and a bit anxious. I haven't felt like this in quite a few years. I need to go out and prove myself all over again. I mean, I have some leverage… but it is a great new situation and making an impact on the organization that gave up a lot of their bright future players for me is paramount on my list of things to do right away."

Q. Are you excited to play for Michael Cooper?
A.
"Yes, insofar as I am excited to be playing in L.A. I really do not know Coach Cooper, but I hope to get to know him in a few weeks. I am excited just to be able to play. I know Cooper brings a lot of great things to the organization, not to mention the fact that he led them to two titles. I am just ready to get this season started. Can we skip training camp and let the games begin? :) "

Q. Will it be difficult to play for a new coach?
A.
"Every year since I first came to play overseas, I have had to get ready to play for a new coach and a new philosophy. So I believe I have the ability to play for anyone. I do not think it will be a big deal for me to play for a new coach."

"Her accolades and records speak for themselves," says Sparks GM Penny Toler of Taj. "Not only is she an exceptional offensive player but she has a defensive game to match."
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images
Q. You're also playing for a new coach in Anne Donovan with Team USA. How
fierce are Coach Donovan's practices?
A.
"I know Coach Donovan from the ABL, so I am used to her intensity and drive in our practices. She embraces the old-school approach: practice harder and playing will be easy. She is great and she loves to teach the game that she loves. I have so much fun, it's just like competing in a game."

Q. How important are the actual results in the exhibitions in Italy?
A.
"I think more (important) than results is the chemistry of the team and the players that the committee and the coaching staff are looking at. (They're looking at) how well a certain group gets together and plays together and fights through adversity. There are a lot of young great players and USA veterans, and I think (the point of) these exhibitions is to not only watch us play together on court, but to see how we interact off the court as well."

Q. Does the entire U.S. squad feel like it has something to prove after losing at the World Championships last year?
A.
"Not something to prove. It's just that expectations were high for the USA team, and we didn't live up to them. We are the USA and we will be the number one team again. That is our goal now. One team and one goal: to win and qualify for the Olympics."

Q. With the mix of experience, young talent and college superstars, what is the thought process right now in building a team for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing?
A.
"I think the process is the same that it has always been: to organize the best team possible to take to qualify in Chile and then to the Olympics in Beijing."

Q. Who are the leaders on the team and how important is winning gold in Beijing?
A.
"The leaders are Katie Smith and Tamika Catchings right now. We are down to 10 players, so I don't think it will remain that way. But for now we are following their leads. They have the most USA Basketball experience of everyone."

Q. What kind of role do you envision playing on the team?
A.
"My role is just to bring energy on the defensive end of the court and to be stabilizing on the offense end."

Q. Youngsters Lindsey Harding, Jessica Davenport, Courtney Paris and Sylvia Fowles have been added to the national team for this tour. How have they been to play and train with? Are you taking them under your wing at all?
A.
"These young guns are great. They are funny, too. I love that Sylvia is so intense on the court. She is young and mobile and quick. And if she gets that first step under control? WOW. Jessica and Courtney are just getting into their own. I think they were a bit nervous at first, but they are coming around. And Lindsey is the master of her own destiny. She knows what she wants and she has the great attitude to get it done. I am my usual self, which seems strange at first, but everyone knows I am 'Mama Taj.' "

Follow Mama Taj with Team USA at USABasketball.com and this coming WNBA season at LASparks.com and WNBA.com.

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