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Entering her ninth season, Taj has never looked stronger. She averaged 12.8 points and a career high 9.6 rebounds last season in Connecticut and performed well for Shinhan Bank in Korea this offseason. She also spent time with the U.S. National Team during the squad's tour of Italy. She spoke recently with WNBA.com about her move to L.A. and about still being a star at age 36.
Q. Seeing you in a Sparks uniform is going to take some getting used to. How
are you adjusting to this change?
A. "I wanted something new, a new challenge. A lot of players are comfortable with the positions they are in and the teams they are on. When you change situations or teams and put yourself in new positions and possibly even uncomfortable situations, it forces you to change as a player. I was in Connecticut, it was great and we were almost there a couple of times. I don't know, maybe my leaving will help them as much as it will help me. Teams can benefit from switching it up a bit, bringing in new blood. For me, to see new scenery and light a new fire, maybe it will take me to the next level and I can win a championship."
Q. The Sparks will be back in Connecticut in the first week of the season.
What are you expecting coming back?
A. "I think I might get a mixed reaction from the fans. I gave a lot to the people in Connecticut and I think they appreciate that. But I also know that Coach Thibault doesn't like the fans to cheer for the opposing players no matter who they are. I hope I get a few cheers. I loved Connecticut, I played as hard as I could while I was there and I know the fans there are smart and will appreciate that. I hope they appreciate what I brought to their team even though I'm now playing for the L.A. Sparks, which they might not appreciate as much. They don't hate L.A. as much as Detroit, so I think I'm OK."
Q. Are you going to miss playing in Connecticut?
A. "Yes, I appreciated my time there and loved playing there, so I hope the fans will give me a good reception. We only play them twice, once there, so I won't be back as much as I would like. That game being their opening home game will be really emotional for me, but I hope the fans will consider that it was an amicable parting."
Q. How have you been fitting in with the younger Sparks?
A. "L.A. has the young guns, that's for sure. I like that. I've never played with Chamique Holdsclaw, though we've talked about it. I have known her since she was in college and it will be great to play off of her. The team has great players and I'm just coming there to help just a little bit. Whatever I can do. They have Jessica Moore and Christi Thomas, two great, young, athletic post players. I told our GM that I don't know how I'm going to fit in, but I signed a two-year deal so next year Lisa will be back and I'll be playing with her as well."
Q. Do you think the Sparks bringing you in keeps the team as contenders
despite losing Lisa?
A. "With the squad that they have, adding me was just a second thought. That's how I feel. It won't change who they are as a team. I want to fit in with their team and do whatever I can for them to help. They finished just a game behind Connecticut last year, so it's not like they're rebuilding. Last year was a great year for them. So I want to improve this team so we don't have a misstep in the playoffs and we can get back to the Finals under Michael Cooper."
Q. At 36 years old and as one of the elder statesmen of the WNBA, do you
ever look back over the course of your career and marvel at how far you've come?
A. "For me, in the beginning, basketball was a way to go to college. I grew up without money, so when I was approached about playing my sophomore year in high school, I was open to it as long as it got me to college. Along the way, you find a piece of yourself in the things that you do."
Q. Do you still love what you do?
A. "You come to love it and realize that every day when you wake up, you want to compete, be there on the court at that moment that everyone dreams about taking that last shot. It engrains itself in everything that you do. It affects your life, your family and everything around you. That's how basketball has been for me. The more I learned about the game, the more I loved it and realized that a part of me will always be basketball no matter what I'm doing or where I am."
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Q. Did you ever imagine then that you'd be where you are now?
A. "I never thought I'd still be playing at 36, let alone playing well enough to be on a USA Basketball team or on a WNBA team. I really had no clue about basketball until I was 15. My father was quite tall, but for us it was always about school. A coach, who was a teacher in my school, said something to me. I came out and tried it. I had to learn everything from scratch. Coaches will say things like 'Remember back in those camps when they taught you how to dribble?' and I'm always like 'No, I don't remember.' I never went to the camps, I never had those skills or clinics that kids have at such a young age. I went to one AAU Tournament my senior year of high school and that was it. I had no real experience when I got to college. I had to teach myself so much about the game."
And now, it's time for some "3-point shots" with Taj... her opportunity to pick her favorite of three options:
Q. Favorite non-WNBA team in L.A.: Lakers, Clippers or Dodgers?
A. "I love the Clippers, I have to admit. When I went to Russia this past year, they came for Europe Live and I got to spend time with them. Shawn Livingston is a great kid, Elton Brand, Cuttino Mobley… I got to know them. I don't really know a lot of the Lakers nor have I enjoyed watching them in the past. I do love Phil Jackson as a coach."
Q. Best basketball movie: White Men Can't Jump, Hoosiers or
Love and Basketball?
A. "A tie between White Men and Hoosiers. I've probably seen White Men Can't Jump like 20 more times than Hoosiers, so I'd have to say that, but as a comedy, not as a great film. I thought you were going to add in Juwanna Mann."
Q. Favorite type of movie: comedy, drama or horror?
A. "I love horror. There's something about trying to figure out who killed who and what's coming next. I'm rarely scared, so I like to watch horror movies in the dark at night with the windows drawn and lights off."
Q. Which game show would you most like to appear on: Jeopardy, Deal
or No Deal or The Price Is Right?
A. "For me, Jeopardy. But I love Deal Or No Deal. I'm thinking about putting a videotape together to send them. I'm good with numbers. But I am also good with useless information, so I think I would also do well on Jeopardy. I just probably wouldn't win as much money. That little buzzer would probably drive me crazy."