domination on display in Brazil
U.S. Women Look To Defend at World Championships
|World Championship Index|
Imagine 12 of the best American women's basketball players on one team. They are not divided up into East and West teams in an entertaining All-Star Game, but wearing the red, white and blue and representing their country against the top teams and players in the world. Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings, Sue Bird and Seimone Augustus, just to name a few. But several nations will challenge the United States for global supremacy. Australia is loaded with WNBA talent, as is Russia. Nearly every competitor nation will have some sort of WNBA representation, past or present. On the eve of the biggest international tournament until the 2008 Olympics, we spoke with a number of players about the team, the competition and what to expect in Brazil. A roundtable, if you will...
Thompson is excited about the returning nucleus for the United States.|
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Sue Bird: "The one thing about USA Basketball is everyone is so selfless and with that you have a group of people who just want to win, so the chemistry's there automatically. There are some great teams out there, a lot of talent, and we all know it. We play overseas so we see it all the time."
Q. How comforting is it to know that you have the same nucleus for the World Championships?
Tamika Catchings: "I think it's really comforting, just because we haven't really had time to practice. I think sometimes in certain situations when you put a totally new team together, with two or three core players, it's kind of hard, but we know that we have seven or eight players that are used to playing with each other and know each others styles to an extent, the week and a half that we'll have to prepare will be used wisely I'm sure, and obviously having Anne and Dawn and Gail will also help since we know they're coaching styles."
Katie Smith: "It's great to have history with people where you have played the international scene with, but it's also a situation where you have to work the kinks out quickly, and also add some of the newcomers, but to be able to have some of that experience under our belt is really important, especially coming into the World Championships. It's going to be a battle, but the bottom line is our goal is to win a gold medal and whatever it takes we will individually do."
Diana Taurasi: "Whenever you have a team that has played together, and knows their strengths and weaknesses, their game, when you finally come together, it's easier. So for us it's a positive."
Tina Thompson: "I think our nucleus is very important in that that's one of the things that is very special about the woman's side in that we make a commitment to players being around for three or four Olympics and you don't necessarily find that very often."
Q. Is the United States still the team to beat heading into this tournament?
Katie Smith: "We're still the team to beat, I think teams are narrowing the gap in that more teams are competitive, but I also think if we had more time to be together, I still think the gap would be as wide, but with the little time that we are able to get together, that it obviously is narrowed."
Diana Taurasi: "It's kind of like us against the world, when we were in Athens we kind of experienced a little bit of that. It's the greatest country in the world, but we're hated by everyone which kind of disappointing. When you do represent your country and the United States you want to do it to the utmost respect level and basketball level."
and the younger American stars know they can learn a lot from the veterans.|
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Q. Is the rest of the world catching up? Is the gap shrinking?
Tina Thompson: "Well I think so, I think that with anything, there's upward mobility. People get better, they evolve, and I think that with the WNBA that has been brought back to the forefront, a lot of players from other countries are getting a chance to see the basketball in America and see how we play, and really become familiar with how we approach the game. With knowledge you can do anything, and I think that becoming that way with the WNBA, and with them playing at home and getting the experience to come play in the WNBA it definitely gives them a broader perspective, and with that anything is possible. So I do think the rest of the world is getting closer but it is something we are aware of and with that knowledge we take our game to another level as well.
Q. How important is it that the younger players get to play with the experienced U.S. veterans and inherit that legacy?
Katie Smith: "It's huge, because it's the pride thing, it's the importance of being there for all the training and the competition and not taking it off, because we can't take for granted that we're going to win everything, we can't take it for granted that we're the best in the world. You might be the best individually, but you have to play as a team to get it done. So it's just you have to see the work ethic and see the pride as you want it, also they have a little bit of it and they've seen it, but also to have that makes them see that this is our job and we're going to out here and we're going to work, just the professionalism of it. And obviously we are going to leave it in very capable hands."
Diana Taurasi: " I think it's important to be around them, because they're winners and you want to be around people who win. There's a real calculation of winning, it's hard work, dedication, and not being afraid. And the guys that we are following, they have all three of them."
Tina Thompson: "Some people might have an opinion that players like Dawn, Sheryl and Lisa dominate USA Basketball and maybe they should give someone another chance. But in my opinion that's not the case. We are successful because of that commitment, Lisa and Sheryl and Dawn have been committed to our country and it's set a standard, like the players before set a standard like Katrina McClain and Teresa Edwards. Because we take home that personality and embrace commitment, it's allowed us to be as successful as we have been, and we hope that tt continues to be that way and I think the younger players are embracing that attitude because it's a personality, you become a totally different person when you step into that realm and wear that uniform and represent the USA, because it means so much, so we take it seriously."
Lisa Leslie (who withdrew to attend to a family matter): "It's extremely important. I really like the new group of young players that had just come in. I think they're playing excellent basketball and are really living up to all their draft picks and all that, so I feel really good about that. I think it's important to not just pass on basketball, but there's a bigger picture of who we represent and how we represent ourselves. I think the girls have to see the big picture as far as what we do in the community, our ability to speak and motive people and children, and also appearance. I think it's essential that we're not just passing on the fact that we play basketball but the total package."