2009 WNBA Season Tip-Off Conference Call - Players Highlights

Participants:


Katie Smith
Detroit Shock

Candice Wiggins
Minnesota Lynx

Becky Hammon
San Antonio Silver Stars

Tamika Catchings
Indiana Fever

Q: Katie can you talk about being the targeted team and how do you gear yourself up for that? Becky, can you talk about how good you guys were last year and how you can be even better this year?

KS: “Anybody who wins a championship, the team always wants to prove themselves and they set the championship as a measuring stick. Coming off a championship season, we (the Detroit Shock) will have a target on our backs because we are currently the defending champs. The key for us is consistency, coming ready to play every night and understanding the talent in this league. Mental preparation is going to be huge for us.”

BH: “The addition of Belinda Snell is huge for us; also Shanna Crossley coming back from a big injury will give us another outside look. They are both shooters that keep the floor spread. Hopefully we can stay healthy and do everything we can to get the home court advantage throughout the playoffs.”

Q: Every year you keep hearing that the league/competition is better. As, players do you see the league being more competitive this year?

TC: “Just going down to 11 players makes the competition not just on your team better but throughout the league. It’s very competitive to make a team right now and the level in practice has just been extraordinary, and every team across the league has gotten better.”

BH: “The young players coming in are so talented. The impact of the WNBA is the bigger picture and now you have more girls playing basketball at a younger age. You have Candace Parker, Candice Wiggins and they are young and the talent just keeps getting better and better. When you have a better product, quality goes up.”

Q: What are your thoughts on the delayed start to training camp?

CW: “It's been different than last year. Coming from college last year, you can see that it is helpful to the rookies. I was actually still in Beijing last year (with USA Basketball) when the season started. So now, the teams can start the actual season better because a lot of the players are back. You might see the chemistry of the teams develop a little earlier because of it. I think it is a good thing.”

Q: Candice, how has Renee Montgomery been adjusting to the professional level?

CW: “Renee looks great in camp; there is something special about her. She’s a leader; it’s very great to be able to play with her. She’s doing well, no one is immune to rookie mistakes, but she’s learning and adjusting.”

Q: What were your feelings when you heard the Houston team was going to disperse and what were your thoughts on the survival of the league?

BH: “I was sad when Houston was going to fold; they are a team that represented so much to the league. Overall having played in so many Houston arenas, it was very sad to see them go.”

TC: “Houston represented so much, but because of the dispersal draft so much talent has been picked up by teams, and I am definitely not worried about the state of the league. The economy has been hard, but in the long run I see the league getting stronger.”

Q; Tamika, can you give some thoughts on Tina Thompson as a player/veteran of the league?

TC: “Tina is a big sister to me; she’s been a mentor for me throughout all my ups and downs and my injuries. I always have her support; there is nothing negative to say about her. It’s always a battle going up against her on the court, and she’s a phenomenal person.”

Q: Candice, can you please address the idea of the (Minnesota) Lynx being such a young team and how you guys need to grow up fast?

CW: “The Lynx are extremely young, even younger than last year if that’s possible. It’s an advantage though, we have great leadership and we are excited and confident as a team. The growing process makes us closer, since we are all young we depend on each other. We will definitely be an exciting team to watch, and I think there is something great about being so young.”

Q: Tamika, can you talk about Chamique Holdsclaw coming back into the league?

TC: “I know Chamique is very excited about getting back into the league and playing for Atlanta. I am excited for her, it’s a great opportunity and she is eager to play and she’ll be healthy and ready to play.

Q: Becky, on Lauren Jackson’s decision to stay in Seattle, how does that affect the West?

BH: “Lauren Jackson affects our whole league; she is just force to be reckoned with. She affects that team, her conference and the whole league. She’s an impact player, I believe she made a good decision and she feels at home there. Sue (Bird) and her work extremely well together and I love watching them play as a unit. They have that naturally chemistry and experience together, they are a dynamic duo.”

Q: What does Yolanda Griffith bring to the table?

TC: “I’m really excited about having her here. The biggest concern coming in was is she going to be able to play another season? How is her body feeling? That was the concern as we started going after her. Yo’s come into camp and done great for us. She’s given us a huge presence down low that we lacked. Yo brings so much experience and veteran leadership; just having her on the court in practice…she brings so much to our team, I don’t really know how to explain it.”

Q: With the rosters being reduced from 13 to 11 roster size, was the Players Union concerned?

TC: “As far as the union and cutting down to 11 players, that’s really a decision that came from the league that we went back and forth talking about, and that the coaches talked about as afar as whether they wanted to keep 13 players or go down to 11 players. I think as we’d keep talking about the economy and trying to figure out how, from a budget standpoint, to move forward it was just something the union and the WNBA agreed on.

“That’s not to say it is what it is, but we want to stay around for a while. We don’t want to, from a money standpoint and from budget standpoint, stay at 13 and then down the road look (back) and say we wished we would have went down (to 11). So now we have that opportunity and its going to make the league stronger and each team is going to get better and better.”

Q: The progression the Silver Stars have made in the last few years, getting to the Conference Finals and then the Finals last year…is it a mental thing more than a physical or emotional thing, trying to take that next step?

BH: “Katie alluded to it before – you do have a target on your back. We won the West last year and the West is tough every year. Minnesota, I think, is going to surprise some people. Its going to be competitive but we’ve added some pieces so hopefully we’ll be able to get over that edge. I think the big thing is, mentally it can be a bit of a grind but for every team, you’ve got to stay healthy. But I definitely think we put some pieces of the puzzle in place that will help us get back and take that next step and finish off the season with a championship. It’s super competitive but this is a whole new year. (Last year) doesn’t mean anything except for that people are really gunning for you this year.”

Q: Did you see people work out, get stronger and work on their games in an effort to take the next step (in 2009)?

BH: “Obviously we didn’t have a very good taste in our mouth after the way we went out last year so, when you have an opportunity to do something better you should take advantage of that opportunity. So, as individuals, we went and did what we need to do to come back and be a better team. Some of that was getting people rest; some people had some off-season surgery; just taking care of your body and getting ready for the next season.”

Q: How do you see the Monarchs doing in 2009?

BH: “I think they’re going to play typical Monarch basketball – very hard-nosed, very defensive-oriented. I think them getting Courtney Paris, she brings a lot of intangible things; she has tools that you can’t really teach so I think they got a great pick with her slipping to where she did.

“Overall, in the long run, that’s going to be a very great pick for them. I think they’ll be a similar team, improved in some areas and maybe they’ll do some things different offensively…but Sacramento is a grind to play against.”

Q: How much does this league matter to you financially and in the big picture?

KS: “I’ve actually been a part of a league that went defunct with the ABL and its definitely frustrating and disheartening. The WNBA is being proactive in the sense of dropping the roster to 11 and just looking at other ways to cut back to make sure it will stick around…and that’s a definitely a positive sign. This league is special. It’s the longest running women’s professional sports league. For me, (comparing) overseas to here, this is way more important than overseas. To be able to play in front of your family and friends and the fans who come out and support you, who work hard and spend their hard-earned money to enjoy what we do…its very important that we go out there and play hard.”

Q: Having played with and against both Lisa Leslie and Yolanda Griffith, what can you say about what they’ve meant to women’s basketball?

KS: “Huge. Lisa started out being the face of the WNBA not only as a marketing type thing but also, the ’96 Olympic team and how much they did to push the professional league out there. Lisa just handles herself so well. She’s competitive on the court. She doesn’t shy away from representing the WNBA and who she is and what she does. She’s always done that well. She has a face that people recognize and associate (the WNBA) with.

“Yo is a bit more of an in-the-background person, not as out there. Personality wise she’s a bit more low-key. But she’s personable; she’s friendly with the fans. She does great work for USA Basketball and the league. She’s done it all. She’s been in all kinds of leagues; done the overseas, done here…she’s just someone you have a lot of respect for they way she’s gone about her business and the way she’s been able to play for so many years.

“I’d say that about Lisa, too…the consistency of how many years they’ve been playing and how well they’ve been playing. They’ve been consistently putting in good work since they’ve been lacing them up.”

Q: The above the rim game, what’s holding back the WNBA from playing above the rim?

BH: “We get more and more players that have the ability to jump up there and dunk but we have to stay true to the purity of our game. Dunking is great; its very exciting, but its just not who we are. Our game is evolving towards that. You see Sylvia Fowles, Candace (Parker). There’s a lot more that can get up and dunk but it has to be the right situation.

“In the NBA, and guys in general…they’re just bigger. LeBron’s 6’8”, Shaq, Yao...even their guards, they’re just big and athletic. We have some great athletes but I think it should be celebrated, our game, how we play. We play a very heady game, a very team-oriented game. But I think sometimes, and I can’t speak for everybody, but it gets a little bit old for us to be compared to the NBA because its apples and oranges. Its different. It’s basketball, yes. But it’s a completely different game. The NBA is designed for a lot of one-on-one competition. They have defensive three seconds. So I think you see a very pure form of the game from the women’s side we really have some hard core fans that appreciate the kind of style and kind of teamwork the women’s game provides.

“But so far as our game, its never going to be – purely because we’re not built like that – about jumping over people and dunking the basketball.”

KS: “Dunking is one aspect of (playing) above the rim but I’ve seen some outstanding blocks…Sylvia Fowles chasing somebody down. You have Deanna Nolan, who’s about 5’10, blocking people from behind. You have some phenomenal athletes doing some great things and showing off their athletic ability in different ways. The dunking, it’s a situation where people are very talented, but we showcase our athletic ability in a lot of different ways and it seems that every year they’re getting better…bigger, faster, stronger.”

BH: “Just about the skill level of our game, we have some people that can really shoot the ball. Dunking is one aspect of the game, but its not the game. We have very skilled athletes who can shoot, handle the ball, pass. We have a lot of really skilled players. We might not be able to dunk but we can compete with any of them on the free throw line or the three-point line.”

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