Lawson a Leader for USA National Team
Kara Lawson understands the game of basketball. A four-year starter for Pat Summitt at Tennessee and a WNBA champ in 2005 with the Sacramento Monarchs, Lawson is a college hoops analyst for ESPN during the offseason and has worked on the broadcasting team for the Sacramento Kings for several seasons.
The sharp-shooting, veteran guard, who just completed her fifth season in the WNBA, will play a vital role for the U.S. National Team as it travels to Chile to compete in the FIBA Americas tournament. WNBA.com's Adam Hirshfield caught up with Lawson after practice last week in Connecticut, where she discussed her duties on this talent-packed team and her future goals with the USA.
Q. How are you feeling after playing a long season in the WNBA -- one that included a run to the playoffs -- then coming almost directly here to join the USA National Team?
A. "It was definitely a long season, especially heading into the playoffs, but this is a great opportunity a once-in-a-lifetime chance to try to make this team and go to Chile. For me, there was no hesitation at all. I get excited every day I come to the gym and get a chance to practice with these great players and get coached by these great coaches.
"I have a lot of fun, believe me. It's 'work,' but it's really not work. It's like playing on the All-Star Team that's how fun it is."
Q. You've gone through three coaches now in just a little over a year, from John Whisenant then Jenny Boucek in Sacramento to Anne Donovan now with the national team. Is the transition from coach to coach and from system to system difficult for you?
A. "It's an adjustment to get each new system, sure. But I already trained with this group last spring, so I have some familiarity with Coach Donovan's system. That helps a lot with the transition and I know generally what to expect.
"But not only are the schemes and systems different, but the players in those systems are also different, so there's just as much to adjust to based on who's on the court with you. Every player on this team is the No. 1, 2 or 3 option on her team in the WNBA. But here, you have to try to fit in and blend and do what you can to make these great players even greater. That's the fun part for me as a guard in this system: getting the ball to any of these players and try to help make them successful."
Q. What do you see as your specific role on this team? Being one of the relative veterans on the roster, have you taken over any sort of leadership role?
A. "I look at things pretty simply. I try to set a standard for the young players in terms of how hard you need to work as a player. Every day, I try to come in here thinking that by the end of practice, I'll have given the best effort I can. If you're working hard, it often helps to inspire other people to work hard too. That's the mindset I have.
"Our coaches have also stressed working hard defensively. Offensively, we're confident that we'll score enough points to win games, so the issue with us is whether or not we can stop good teams from scoring.
"Aside from that, I try to bring stability to any team I'm on. I consider myself a smart player who can read the game and who understands what the coaches want. If I can limit my mistakes and be a smart player, I'm doing my job."
Q. How has the pre-tournament training gone to this point? Are you guys ready to get out on the court against some real, intense competition?
A. "We're really excited, yes. I feel like we've come a long way in the two weeks or so we've been together and we continue to build that chemistry and we're trying to work with one another. We've had some new faces out here and some old faces filtering in, so it's important to work all of them into the mix because we need them to win this tournament.
"And I think we have our heads on straight. Even though I wasn't with the team (at last fall's World Championships) in Brazil, as a whole, it's clear that everyone was humbled by the third-place finish. Now, we're all focused on eventually becoming No. 1 in the world again."
Q. Is there any added pressure or responsibility heading to Chile for the FIBA Americas after the loss to Russia at the Worlds? Do you feel a need to win by 50 to reclaim your status as the top team out there?
A. "There's pressure any time you put on a USA Basketball uniform because it's your job to uphold the standards that have been set by previous teams and previous players. USA Basketball has been the best in the world. You're constantly reminding yourself of the history and tradition, and that's the standard we have to hold ourselves to. There's always pressure, but we're putting even a little more pressure on ourselves now to try to get back to the top."
Q. Who do you see as the toughest test for the USA in Chile?
A. "Brazil is probably the best. Cuba is really good as well. All of the teams in our pool are really solid. We're going down to Brazil's part of the world, so that will make things tougher on us as well.
"It's going to be fun, though. We're getting to go to a country to which most of us have never been, so getting a chance to experience that new cultural side of things is always cool."
Q. Aside from playing for the National Team, what are your plans for the offseason?
A. "I'll be doing the TV gig with ESPN again, but I'll be focusing on training. I'll be with the USA as long as I can be, I'll be playing on the college tour and I'll be working on whatever the coaches need me to work on before we meet up again in the spring. I'll be doing my TV, but I'm focused on basketball and on trying to get better as a player. Because with the Olympics coming next fall, I want to be able to do whatever I can to help this USA team."
Q. What would it mean to make it back to the Olympics and to win gold in Beijing?
A. "We want USA Basketball to be back on top. As an individual, I want to do everything I can to win this tournament in Chile and to help the U.S. qualify for the Olympics. Beijing is still a long way away, so our first goal is to get there. Once we do that, we'll see what happens, because there are a lot of things that can happen along the way. We don't think about Beijing too much at this point it's more about qualifying right now. After that, we'll have about eight months to prepare and get ready to compete there. Then we'll talk about a gold medal."