Bird Set to Soar With USA Team in Chile
Sue Bird is a veteran of USA Basketball, having taken home gold medals from the 2004 Olympics and the 2002 World Championships. So who better to be on the point for this youthful USA Team headed to the FIBA Americas this week in Chile with a chance to qualify for next summer's Olympics in Beijing?
Bird is a five-time WNBA All-Star and won a WNBA title with National Team coach Anne Donovan and her Seattle Storm in 2004, so she is a proven winner. But Bird was also a member of last year's USA World Championship team that finished a disappointing third in Brazil.
Do Bird and her USA teammates have something to prove as they head down to Chile to compete against the Western Hemisphere's best? Bird discussed with WNBA.com's Adam Hirshfield the pressures she and the team are facing as they go for gold.
Q. How are you feeling after a long season with the Storm? Is it difficult coming off a 34-game regular season and two more in the playoffs to head straight to joining USA Basketball for a tournament like the FIBA Americas?
A. "Qualifying for the Olympics is something that's very important to everybody here, so it's our job to put all of that tiredness and exhaustion to the side, take it one day at a time and get comfortable with each other so that we can do some good things together down in Chile."
Q. Is it very different playing with the National Team than with your team in Seattle?
A. "Of course it's different. This is like an All-Star team. These are the best players in our country. That's not to say anything bad about Seattle, but this is totally different. You're also playing for something different, so it's a different feel all around."
Q. What's your role on this team? Is it similar to your role with the Storm?
A. "Yeah, it's similar. They probably look for me to score a little more in Seattle than they will here. But at the same time, I'm a point guard, so my job is to get the ball into the post, try to keep everyone organized and set an example… basically, to run things. Then, if I can add some scoring on top of that, it's a bonus. But this team is so good, if I can just help to set people up, I'll be doing my job."
Q. You're only 26, but there are some even younger players on this team, including several still in college. Do you find yourself mentoring them at all or taking them under your wing and showing them the ropes?
A. "Honestly, they're all so good, they don't really need me. But having international experience is definitely a different thing for them. But as we go along, like (assistant coach) Dawn (Staley) did for me when I was their age, I'll do whatever I can to help them out."
Q. How do you feel the team is coming together at this point with just a couple of days until your opener in Chile?
A. "We've only been practicing for two weeks or so, but I think we're coming together great. Even though we play on different teams in the WNBA, almost all of us have played together at some point in our careers. And when you have a group of people that just wants to win -- a group that doesn't care about points, rebounds, any of that stuff, and is just focused on winning a gold medal -- good things are going to happen and chemistry comes pretty quickly."
Q. What's it like playing for Anne Donovan on this team as opposed to with the Storm?
A. "It's been pretty similar so far. Practices are run the same and I'm familiar with her approach and game plan, so as a point guard, it's a pretty seamless transition."
Q. After the disappointment of the World Championships last fall, how important do you feel it is to go down to Chile and bounce back in a big way?
A. "It's really important. Every time we take the floor, what happened in Brazil is in the backs of our minds. It motivates us and it will hopefully help us out in Chile."
Q. Is there any added pressure to get back out there and restore the USA Basketball name and make up for the third-place finish at the Worlds?
A. "I don't think we feel pressure, but we're really excited to get back out there and put the USA Basketball name where it's supposed to be. And the first step in doing that is Chile. We really want to qualify for the Olympics… that's our short-term goal."
Q. Who do you see as the toughest competition in this FIBA Americas tournament? Who will give you guys the best game?
A. "Right off the bat, I would say Brazil. That may be because Izi(ane Castro Marques) is on my team is Seattle, so we've talked about it a little bit. I know a lot of their top players aren't going to be there, though. I also remember watching Argentina during the World Championships, and they were very good. They beat Spain and played tough against Australia. Canada is also good depending on whether or not Tammy Sutton-Brown is on the court, so I don't know. Those three will probably be the toughest."
Q. Are you excited to get back out on the court with Diana Taurasi?
A. "It will be fun. It's always cool to see her and to hang out. I always like playing with her, too, so it will be cool.
"And the best part of it is that there won't be any more need for the Buddy Blog. We can talk in person!"
Q. What was your reaction to Diana winning her first WNBA title?
A. "Oh, I'm very happy for Dee. Of course, I would have been just as happy for (fellow former UConn teammate) Swin (Cash) if she and the Shock had won. It was a really tough series! Both teams battled really hard, and I'm sure it feels really good for her, her teammates, the city, Ann Meyers and the coaching staff."
Q. What are you most looking forward to about heading down to Chile for this tournament?
A. "Winning. … Well, it's always cool to check out another country, but that comes in second. We want to win."