Five Things to Watch For During the WNBA vs. USA Basketball: The Stars at the Sun Game
The USA Basketball squad gathers at center court during Friday's practice
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1. U-S-A, U-S-A
The USA Basketball squad doesn�t have much time to practice as a group between now and the World Championship. Head coach Geno Auriemma knows time is a precious commodity, so don�t expect to see the USAB team jogging down the court, letting loose 40-foot prayers or putting on its best Harlem Globetrotters performance. This is a pool of players, which means not every one of them is a lock for the National Team.
�We�re trying to get started here on the process,� said Auriemma, courtside after USAB�s open practice Friday afternoon at Mohegan Sun Arena. �The next time I have our whole team is the day of our first game; September 23.�
Consider this game to be a test of sorts. And what better test than the WNBA All-Stars?
"As far as our team goes, for us this is training," said Storm guard Sue Bird. "We�re here to get some things done. Learn the plays, learn each other, get comfortable, hopefully put on a good show but also get something out of it for USA Basketball."
2. A Moore Interesting Twist
WNBA fans should keep their eyes on USA Basketball�s Maya Moore. Although she still has one more year to get through at UConn, fans on hand or watching Saturday�s game are privy to what will be the future of the WNBA and USA Basketball. Moore, yet another highly-touted player to come out of Coach Auriemma�s system, is the lone player in this game who does not play in the WNBA. You don�t have to be a genius to see what that says about her skill level.
�I�m definitely excited,� said Moore of her unique opportunity. �I�m not intimidated about it. I think just having some experience with the National Team last Fall and this Spring has really given me a little more confidence to know that it�s still basketball. I can play and I�m just going to go to my strengths [Saturday] and not necessarily try to do too much.�
Renee Montgomery puts up a shot during USAB practice
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LeBron James had his �decision,� and this game certainly has its �CONNection.� Several players (and one coach) have Huskie ties. Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery and Diana Taurasi all hail from Auriemma�s system, while Moore is still considered a present product of his coaching. Coincidence? Hardly.
It's no secret that the UConn program is the class of women's college basketball (with 78 straight wins and counting), and it�s certainly no secret that Auriemma knows what it takes to win. But when it comes to perhaps picking that many UConn players to join the USAB team, Auriemma�s post-practice comment said it best: �They were the best players in high school and everybody knew it. They were the best players in college and everybody knew it. And they're the best players in the WNBA and everybody knows it. They're the best players in the world, so they deserve to be on the team up to this point.�
4. Hey, I Know You�
Normally All-Star games are defined by one simple rule: the best players in the East, take on the best players in the West. But if you haven�t learned by now, this is not your typical All-Star Game. It�s the WNBA All-Stars vs. USA Basketball, and it presents a one of a kind opportunity for fans to take in a whole new look to the otherwise traditional setting.
Indiana Fever teammates Katie Douglas and Tamika Catchings will experience a bit of a cross-court rivalry on Saturday. The same can be said of Candice Dupree and Diana Taurasi, who go up against teammate Penny Taylor and Atlanta Dream teammates Angel McCoughtry and Iziane Castro Marques. A healthy Sancho Lyttle would�ve thrown another Dream player into the mix, and a healthy Lauren Jackson would�ve dragged Sue Bird and Swin Cash into a Storm vs. Storm battle as well.
5. The Future is Now
When Lisa Leslie retired following the 2009 season, she didn't just leave behind a rich WNBA legacy. For years, Leslie's place on the USA Basketball roster was one that truly defined the team. Along with current WNBA players Tina Thompson and Katie Smith, the trio posed as the backbone to USAB. Now, in 2010, the same can be said of Bird, Catchings and Taurasi; a changing of the guard, if you will. The experienced players always find a way to lead their teams, and the new trio is no exception.
"It's definitely different because for me, you know, the last couple times I played for the USA team I was younger," said Catchings. "It's kind of I'm like the oldest player out there. I didn't really want to think about it like that, but I think I might be the oldest on the team. "
"Old" is an abrasive word in the sporting world. Perhaps "experienced" is the better fit. However you choose to label leadership, it's more than evident that those "younger" players don't forget the legacy that was left behind.
"Today we were stretching and I kept looking at Lindsay Whalen and kept thinking it was Katie Smith," admitted Taurasi. "Man I keep thinking that�s Katie Smith. There�s no Lisa, we�re so used to Lisa being here and Tina and DeLisha. Those are the people that really helped us when we were younger. I feel old."
There's that o-word again, getting thrown around by someone who just turned 28 years old last month. It's not like she's going to collect social security anytime soon.
When you look at the USAB roster and analyze the new faces such as Charles and Appel, or even the college senior Maya Moore who is still one year off from cracking a WNBA roster, it becomes clear that the future of USA Basketball is now. In September, when the team flies off to the Czech Republic to compete in the World Championship, a new line of ol...ahem, "experienced" players will look to lead the USA to a gold medal. Maybe one day years from now when Tina Charles is stretching before a USAB practice, she'll look over at a baby-faced rookie and have flashbacks of Bird, Catchings and Taurasi.