USA Basketball Teleconference Transcript
After the U.S. Women's Senior National Team concluded its first training session leading up to this summer's World Championship, Seattle Storm and U.S. Head Coach Anne Donovan and Storm point guard Sue Bird held a teleconference with reporters to discuss their three exhibition games and more.
Anne Donovan: We have just concluded our third game over here and our first segment of training. I feel very fortunate that we're very 3-0 at this point. We had some very competitive games over here. We had five Olympians on this team for most of this trip, Sue being one of them, so we've relied very heavily on our Olympians to give us maturity and direction and the drive to finish these three games successfully. I can't say enough for how well Sue played over here and how great it is to have her join us. I'm thrilled with where we stand at this point. We leave tomorrow, go back to the U.S. - most of us do - and will come back to the U.S. and kind of regroup and then come back out again with a fairly new group of 12. We just keep plugging away, and hopefully we get closer and closer to a team that we will bring in September to the World Championships.
What was it like playing against Chelsea Newton and Temeka Johnson on the Lotos team?
Sue Bird: It was very good, because they were probably the only two players we actually knew what they were capable of as far as a scouting report goes. It was good for us. Those are two players who are very athletic and they're quick and they played really well both last night and tonight. They were some tough matchups for us.
With the experience of a year in Russia under your belt, how has this year been different?
Bird: Like you said, last year was my first year in Russia, so as far as this year there weren't really any adjustments. I already knew what to expect. The best thing about this year is I have more friends and more English-speakers on my team, so it's a lot more enjoyable from that standpoint.
Anne, who have been the standouts for your team? I think Katie Smith and DeLisha Milton-Jones have played pretty well?
Donovan: We lost DeLisha for the second game of these three, so we were happy to have her tonight, knowing that it was going to be a pretty tough matchup going against the same team again. But Sue and Diana (Taurasi) and Swin (Cash), you look at the experience the five of them bring to the table, having all been Olympians. I don't know what, statistically, you see, but there is such a difference when you've got those kind of players with the kind of experience that they do. Certainly, more composed and I think confident as a group, especially when they're playing together. So I have to say those guys really stepped up. This trip has been great in terms of giving younger players an opportunity to get into USA Basketball and get a look and see what they have and see what they have to work on?
Which younger players stood out?
Donovan: We started Kara Braxton tonight. This team that we played here in Poland had two huge kids in their starting lineup - not kids, I shouldn't say, but big post players, big bodies. We struggled a little bit with some of our posts that were not as big, and Kara did a good job both last night and tonight.
The last Olympics, Sue, you were able to be in the background because of all the veterans on the roster, but now those days are over. How different is it for you?
Bird: It doesn't really feel that much different. I was actually thinking about this earlier. When I first decided to Moscow, that was really the number one reason why. Obviously, the money is great and all that other stuff, but I really wanted to get the international experience because I knew from being on the World Championship team and in the Olympics that it was something that I lacked. Playing this style, getting used to the refereeing and how these players play. Now it's my second season and playing with the USA team with this training camp, it's something I've noticed definitely with myself. I'm not as fazed by the full-court pressure and the hand-checking that doesn't get called. When the refs make bad calls, at this point I just let it roll off my back. Those little things is really where I see a difference in myself. Then also, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Dawn (Staley) and Pee Wee (Johnson) were the two players that I played behind and they're not here, so I think a lot of responsibility does fall on my shoulders. It's nice to carry that load.
With Anne as your coach, is this a continuation of your time with the Storm?
Bird: Yeah, I guess you could say that. Obviously, having Anne as coach, I'm the one player that knows all the plays - well, most of the plays - inside and out. I can really help the other girls on the team just get through it. Ten days, it's tough to learn all those plays. It's tough to learn the little nuances that you figure out after running an offense for a couple of years. Yeah, I definitely think it's a continuation of how things are with the Storm. The best thing about the USA team: I don't necessarily have to score or do anything glamorous, but just run the team. These players are so talented, I have to make sure that everybody's calm and composed and we do what we have to do.
At the end of the season, you had this feeling of 'I can't believe it's over.' As you now look back on defending the championship and falling short, what are your thoughts on last season?
Bird: The one thing that I will take with me - the only thing I will take with me - is just how I felt, probably still feel, when we lost those games against Houston. That feeling is really what can motivate a team and can motivate an individual. I think, overall, did we have a successful season? Absolutely. We did some great things, and I don't think a lot of people expected to do them in terms of our record and what not. But the bottom line is we came up short, and I think that's something that everyone will be thinking of come training camp.
Anne, you talked about the turnover that's going on. Is this really unusual if you look back on the history of U.S. women's basketball?
Donovan: Yeah, I think this is pretty unusual. I was just talking to Carol Callan, who heads up our delegation, tonight. We have the luxury of five Olympians on this trip. The next segment of training, I think we're down to two. It is trying to get continuity and basically when we meet again in five days, we're starting completely over. We can't put a lot in in a short time. It's definitely got its challenges. The positive of this is there's a lot of people who are going to get an opportunity to get a look. The drawback, obviously, is we don't have much continuity and we won't have that when we take the floor in September. But this was a great start and it is great to have Sue here. I know her inside and out and I know what I can depend on from Sue and how she brings that to the rest of the team for me. It's been great for me to start with Sue here in this camp and I really think the next couple of segments of training are going to be difficult and continue to be competitive and challenging, but we've got to stay focused on the big picture, which is September and the World Championship team that we'll take to Brazil.
The USA lost to Canada yesterday in the World Baseball Classic. There aren't many U.S. juggernauts left. Do you feel like USA Women's Basketball is one of the last really dominant teams and how much do you feel everyone is catching up as quickly as they are in every realm and every other sport?
Donovan: I don't know that I can really speak to every other sport. I know USA Basketball pretty much inside and out and I've watched through the years as everybody has closed that gap with us. Val Ackerman at my press conference in Seattle kept using the word 'dynasty.' I shuddered to hear it; I shudder to even repeat it, because people that have been inside USA Basketball and have really followed us closely and/or been there realize that the rest of the world is working hard to catch up. This particular training period can leave one pretty leery about being able to train and get this continuity together for the World Championships. But all of us who are inside, close to us know that we have to work hard to stay in front and there has to be a continued commitment from our players like Sue, Diana, people who have really given up a lot to come over here for this week. We have to have that continuity and the focus and the good memory to know that we're not just going to run away with anything. We've got to work hard and get after it.
After signing Wendy Palmer, what moves are next for the Storm in completing the 2006 roster?
Donovan: You know, I feel really good about Wendy and the addition of Wendy to our roster. I hope that you don't see much other change. We've been able to re-sign Betty Lennox, which is great. We've been working on Lauren (Jackson); I hope that's going to happen sometime soon. And once again I feel very confident in the unattached free agents that we've brought along - I don't know how many have been announced back there, to be honest. We've got some good players, I think, who can feel in some of the gaps. We didn't need to tweak a lot. I felt really confident with the roster we had last year, felt really good about the season we had. I think the addition of Wendy and another year together, it's going to help this group achieve more.
How does being the head coach change your role with USA Basketball?
Donovan: It's night and day. As I told my assistants often, you move three inches over, it's night and day. But I love it. Fortunately, I've been around most of these players quite a bit. The ones I haven't been around, I'm getting to know. It's different, but I love it.
What role do these sessions play in determining the final composition of the roster for the World Championship?
Donovan: Well, let me say that there's a committee that selects this team. So, although I'd be foolish to say I don't have input, it is not me that selects this team; we have a committee. These training segments, they have a whole lot to do with it. One, who's making the commitment to come, to put their contracts aside with their foreign clubs and show up and put in the time for it? Then, how they perform when they're here. Any time you have success in the Olympics, which we did, there's going to be some turnover. This is our time period - World Championships through '08 - to really see what kind of turnover we're going to have, who the new players are going to be, and how the young players will develop.
You talked last fall about wanting a player who was hungry for a championship. Is Wendy Palmer that player?
Donovan: Absolutely. As you guys are well aware, we were targeting that person that would do anything to win a ring. Wendy is one of those who has done a lot in her career, has been a very good player in this league, but has not won a championship and is very hungry to do it. She had a lot of options, and she picked Seattle because she feels confident we can get that done.
Can you talk about what Diana Taurasi has shown you during this session? And were there any injuries?
Donovan: What Diana brings more than anything is she's a presence. She's a constant threat. She's somebody that carries herself with a lot of confidence and the other team has to worry about her constantly. She's gained great international experience through her Olympic experience and then through playing in Russia. She has a presence about her that sets her apart, that and all the things you do know about her, which is she is a tremendous scorer and able to shoot from anywhere on the floor. She had two huge buckets for us that really put us ahead in the game - a two and then followed that up with a 3 in a game where we were really struggling, I think it was a tie game with about two minutes left.
Kara Braxton had an injured foot problem that we took an X-ray of and sat out her out as a precaution for one game. She's been fine since then. Other than that, no injuries.