Playing for national team helps sooth the sting of Finals defeat

Cash Advances with Golden Dream

The herniated disks in Swin Cash’s back didn’t particularly take to all that air travel between Detroit and Phoenix for the WNBA Finals, so you can imagine how much she looked forward to the 5,200-mile trip from Connecticut to Chile. First class or coach, that’s a long time to be upright.

But after losing the decisive Game 5 less than a week ago, Cash didn't mind a little hemisphere hopping. Some new scenery with her new team – the USA Basketball FIBA Americas Championship Team – and a new goal – winning gold – have given Cash a way to move past the disheartening end to the Detroit Shock's 2007 season.

“It’s good. Obviously, any time you get disappointed and you lose a championship, it’s always good to have something that changes your mind really quick,” said Cash via phone Thursday en route to the airport. “Playing for USA Basketball has given me that opportunity.”

The FIBA Americas Championship will be held from Sept. 26-30 in Valdivia, Chile. Only the tournament champion receives an Olympic berth in the 2008 Summer Games, so the stakes are high for the U.S. team, which would have to wait until June for another chance to qualify – an impetus for Cash to put her back rehab on the back burner a little while longer.

"I’ll keep going (through) the rehabilitation stuff that I was going through during the (WNBA) season, finish up my season with USA Basketball, and then get myself some time to get my back healed and settle down," said Cash, who was undecided about joining the national team's barnstorming tour against top women's collegiate teams in November. "My body’s going to be the barometer for what I’m going to do."

Cash was the first of four players who also participated in the Finals to report to USA Basketball, playing five minutes in a scrimmage Wednesday. She will be joined in Chile by Shock teammate Katie Smith and the Mercury's Cappie Pondexter and Diana Taurasi. Cash and Taurasi enjoyed unprecedented success as college teammates at Connecticut, and Cash says nothing has changed because of the Finals, which had their share of chippy moments between the teams.

"No, not at all," she said. “Diana and myself, we're competitors and we want to win every championship we're a part of, but once you come to USA Basketball, it’s all about that ‘USA’ across your jersey, and all the other things that happened in the past, you just put them to the side. We’ve come together for one goal now and that’s to qualify for the Olympics and win gold."

Cash, a member of the gold-medal team at the 2004 Games with Smith and Taurasi, is eager to add two-time Olympic champion to her list of accolades, her appetite whetted perhaps by the loss of her WNBA crown. "It’s always been a dream of mine, it really is," she said. "To be a young, African-American girl … and to be on the stage representing your country is something I’ll never forget. Something I want another opportunity and another chance at."

Finding opportunities won't be as problematic for Cash as fulfilling them. The Beijing Games are throwing several players' plans for next summer into disarray as they try to balance commitments to their national team and the WNBA. Cash faces the same dilemma, as well as the uncertainty that goes with being an unrestricted free agent. The soon-to-be 28-year-old (her birthday is Saturday) is at a career crossroads – and it seems like she'll keep playing until everything sorts itself out, back pain and all. She wouldn't have it any other way.

“It’s kind of funny because I’m waiting for a sigh of relief at some point here, to just kind of sit back, relax and do absolutely nothing," Cash said with a weary chuckle. "I’ve got so many things going on …but I’m sure at some point the rest will come. Right now I’m just blessed to be playing."