U.S. National Team is practicing with determined intensity.

A Team In Transition

NEW YORK, Sept. 10 -- Say what you will about the fans in the bleachers or the notable guests in attendance, whether it be Sparks center Lisa Leslie or the college coaching greats like Kay Yow and Pat Summit, but the U.S. Women's National Team is here in New York with one mission: to prepare for the next year of international competiton.

The mission is one that has been embraced by all, young and old, as the team is practicing and playing as hard as they ever have to forge a new identity.

The first thing I wondered aloud to myself when walking into practice this morning was if I was actually in the right place. I was looking for the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team, but initially thought that I had accidentally shown up at a World University Games team practice. With current student-athletes like All-Americans Candice Wiggins, Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles and Courtney Paris, not to mention Coach Summit, could you blame me?

But it turns out that I was in the right place and the youth movement is just a sign of the times for USA Basketball as many veteran players (Tamika Catchings, Lindsay Whalen, Katie Douglas, Cheryl Ford, Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, Sheryl Swoopes, Deanna Nolan, etc.) were missing from camp due to injuries, the WNBA Finals and even weddings.

However, the fact that four out of the ten players in attendance for practice were still college students did not dampen the intensity.

"All training camps with USA Basketball are intense," veteran guard Sue Bird said. "The younger players may not have the same experience, but they are so talented and versatile. It's really a sign of things to come and, of course, with youth comes a lot of energy and all of the young players are giving us that."

Perhaps not since Michael Westbrook and Stephen Davis shared a practice field have we seen this much intensity in a training camp. From the minute I walked in the gym, I heard teammates shouting out screens, yelling defensive assignments, applauding great plays and encouraging others to box out. Time after time, players take offensive fouls and dive for loose balls.

Even the collegiate players are giving their all both to impress the coaches either for this upcoming FIBA Americas tournament or even beyond. Candace Parker's two-handed block of a male practice player on a fast break dunk attempt got everyone's attention and had everyone buzzing.

"She is absolutely amazing," said Mike Klatsky, a practice player working out with the team this week. "I don't think there are many guys playing this game who could have made that play. Of course, my first thought was, 'Wow, I have a lot of these women on my fantasy team!' I just have a lot of respect for these women and the effort they are putting in."

So what gives this team its drive? The veteran Bird sums it up.

"The difference this year is that we all have the bronze medal from World's in the back of our minds and are extremely motived to get back to the top," she said. "First stop is a gold medal in Chile."

Additional Notes from Practice:

Monarchs forward Kara Lawson's wedding planning is coming along nicely. Dress shopping is about the only piece of the puzzle that she has not completed.

"I want something simple, I am thinking strapless and simple."

With less then seven months until the big day she has secured a location for the ceremony and reception as well as hotels and transportation for out-of-town guests. She has also finalized the guest list, picked out her Save-the-Date cards and invitations, selected a D.J., made a web site and contracted a security company. Not bad for this busy bride-to-be.

Sun forward Asjha Jones made an appearance at practice after recently being named to the expanded roster, but unfortunately is still suffering from a high ankle sprain as is unable to participate in drills.

Mystics forward Alana Beard sat out the second half of practice with a sore shoulder.

Additional faces in the crowd included Val Ackerman, Michael Cooper and Liberty coach Pat Coyle.

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