08 for ’08: Checking in With Tina Thompson

"I don't want to say we're cocky," says Tina Thompson. "But we literally play to win… ALL THE TIME."
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- WNBA veteran Tina Thompson has been through a lot of basketball. A four-time WNBA champ with the Houston Comets and a 2004 Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. team in Athens, Thompson is one of the more experienced players on coach Anne Donovan's 2008 women's Olympic roster.

WNBA.com's Adam Hirshfield caught up with Thompson at Stanford University's Maples Pavilion after a USA Basketball practice to discuss her role with the latest women's "Dream Team" before she heads to Beijing later this week.

Q. As one of the players here who's been to the Olympics before, what's it like getting here to camp as one of the more experienced players in terms of the international game?

A. "I guess it's not as scary. I was really anxious in 2004 because it was my first time and I didn't really know what to expect. We had high expectations, obviously, but being new to it all, I wasn't really sure how it was all going to play out. And now I know how it's going to be and what the environment is going to be like.

"In China, the stakes are still very high. I know that going in. I also know some of our opponents and their teams a little bit better and how they might adjust to playing us. It'll be less of a guessing game.

"I feel a little more prepared, but I still have that funny feeling in my stomach… I can't really explain it, but it makes me work that much harder to be as well prepared as I can be."

Q. So for the next 10 days or so, you're getting another crash course in this whole "Olympic thing," not to mention making a quick transition from playing for your WNBA team in Houston. What do you have to do in the next 10 days to get as ready as you need to be as a team?

A. "Work hard. And we're all gonna do that. But because there's a lot to learn and re-learn, it's hugely beneficial that everybody here on this team is a quick study. All of these other players out here are real students of the game. In practice, if we run into problems or scenarios with which we're not totally comfortable, we talk about them really quickly and fix them.

"The level of talent on this team is so high that players' understanding of the game are all really tremendous. The only thing that separates us as individuals on this team is experience. But in terms of bringing it out on the court, everyone on this team is going to bring something important. That's what makes this situation awesome.

"So for most teams, 10 days would be like, 'Whoa, we only have 10 days.' But for us, it's more like, 'OK, we have 10 days, so let's get in here and get it done.' "

Q. Is there any added motivation to bring home the gold in Beijing because the USA didn't win gold at the World Championships two years ago?

A. "I don't want to say we're cocky. And we're definitely not overconfident. But we literally play to win… ALL THE TIME. So, we honestly don't ever expect to lose. When we do, it sucks really bad. I don't know any other way to describe it. It leaves a really, really bad taste in our mouths and feeling in our stomachs. And whether or not we were on that World Championship roster, we've all experienced something close to that over the past four years. We've all lost more games as a group than we had in a long time. Some of that can be attributed to a transition roster-wise, but we don't want to make excuses. Now we're a whole group… it's 12 of us together for the first time. Now it's time to bring it all together and put the USA back in its rightful place."

Q. Is there any sort of personal revenge on your mind for Russia or Australia, the teams considered to be your top rivals for the gold?

A. "Honestly, it doesn't make a difference. A loss is a loss… and there's nothing personal about it. They're all opponents, they all mean the same."

Q. So you don't, for example, have a picture of Lauren Jackson up on a dartboard in your locker?

A. "No, definitely not. Because if we play Australia, we're not going up against just Lauren Jackson. We're going up against the Australian national team. They're a terrific team because they have several terrific players. Don't get me wrong: Lauren's awesome, you know? But they have great players around her, too, so we have to focus on the entire group, not just Lauren. And that's kind of how we see everybody. Sure, we'll play certain players a certain way because of their strengths or weaknesses, but in my opinion, there's no personal vendetta against any one player or team we're going to face."

Q. Which one of your 11 teammates are you most looking forward to spending the next month with?

A. "I've played with pretty much everybody at one time or another, but Candace (Parker), Tamika (Catchings) and I are all really close friends. We obviously play on separate teams in the WNBA and don't see a whole lot of each other, so it's nice to be here with them."

Q. Given that everyone on this team is an All-Star caliber player, what do you consider your role to be when you head over to China? Are you the savvy veteran who can play both inside and out? Is that fair?

A. "Honestly, I never even think about it in those terms. I do whatever it is that needs to be done out there and whatever Coach Donovan tells me to do. If one day, that means I'm playing the three, that's fine. If it's the four another day, that's fine. If I'm asked to be the defensive stopper one day, I'll do that. I'll do whatever is asked of me. And I think that's the attitude you have to have in this situation. That's what makes this team so great.

"And the preparation is different depending on who we're playing. Yes, we're usually going to try to take advantage of the depth in our post whenever we can. We have a lot of height and probably five of the top 10 post players in the world. Coach Donovan is an inside-out kind of coach.

"But against one of the Asian countries, for example, we might have to focus on something else. They're usually a bit smaller and really quick. They'll drive and dish, so in some instances we'll have to go small for defensive reasons. We'll make adjustments based on where we are in games and what the opposing teams are doing to us.

"The beauty of this team is that we have players with enough versatility to thrive in any sorts of these scenarios. Diana (Taurasi) can play anywhere from the point to the four, depending on the matchup. Candace can play anywhere on the court. DeLisha (Milton-Jones) can play anywhere from the three to the five. Cappie (Pondexter) can play the one, two or three. Katie (Smith) can play the one, two or three… or even the four on occasion. Kara can play the one or the two very capably. That should be able to help us be ready for just about any kind of opponent.

"It sounds clichéd, but that's what makes Diana Taurasi Diana Taurasi… and on through the list. Seriously. All of those players can do pretty much anything on the basketball court and that versatility is what makes them so phenomenal. There aren't many other players around the world who can step into almost any game situation, when the stakes are really high, and play a couple of different positions at a very high level.

"That's what makes being here… oh… so so good (laughs). No, seriously, I'm not kidding. Not many people get to experience this. Each player on this team is capable of playing such a huge role. And because we're all used to playing such big roles with our WNBA teams, it's great to be able to look to your left and look to your right, in front of you and in back of you, and feel confident that the people you see and are ready to go to war with can lead you to a win. It's a great thing."

Q. What one thing do you think you most have to focus on as a team to come back to the States with gold around your necks?

A. "Everyone on this team is very capable offensively. In order for us to win -- certainly for us to win in a dominant fashion -- we're gonna have to play great defense. And we're gonna have to rebound. We're absolutely gonna have to control those two aspects of the game. It's going to be very hard, but if we can do that, we'll be very successful."