Alana Beard, Kara Lawson, Candace Parker and Sheryl Swoopes Discuss Launch of WNBA Season

Opening Statements:

Alana Beard - Washington Mystics: I'm excited to have Sheryl back. Obviously she's someone that I've looked up to since I first started playing basketball, and just glad to have her back. The one memory of the memories that I have of her is just her winning those championships with the Houston Comets, and watching her high level of play on the defensive and offensive end.

Kara Lawson - Connecticut Sun: Yeah, just kind of echo the sentiments from Alana. I'm excited to have one of the greatest players in WNBA history back. I was in high school when Sheryl was first starting out in the WNBA, and I guess everybody remembers the dynasty that Houston was, and that they remain the team that's won the most championships in our league. So I think every player that comes into this league aspires to win championships and aspires to win multiple championships. So I think that's what everybody looks to do, and Houston has been the team that did it the best.

Candace Parker - Los Angeles Sparks: I felt really blessed to have grown up in a generation where it was hard to remember when there wasn't a WNBA. I can remember sitting and watching the games when I was 10 or 11 years old, watching the inaugural season and aspiring to play in the WNBA from a very young age. I think it's great for little girls to have female athletes to look up to. I think that's the biggest thing. I feel like every year it's gotten bigger, stronger and more talent. So I think this year's going to be extremely exciting.

Sheryl Swoopes - Tulsa Shock: First of all, I feel very blessed and honored to have had an opportunity to be one of the first players to sign to play in the WNBA and just get an opportunity to play professional sports in this country against so many young ladies. The dream and the hope, and to see those dreams become reality and know that we have an opportunity to stay here and play and not have to go overseas if we choose not to. I've seen the WNBA grow tremendously. The talent level today is, man, it's so much better and so different today than it was 14 years ago. For me to have an opportunity to come back and end my career the way I always probably dreamed of it ending is truly an honor and a blessing for me. So I do want to say I think you put Kara and Alana on the spot when you ask that question because they knew I was on the phone. But I'm really thrilled and excited to have an opportunity to be back in the league and playing alongside and against some of the best female basketball players in this world.

Question and Answer Session

Q. Candace, first of all, welcome back. I think the league missed having you a lot last season. I wonder if you could talk about your health situation, how good you feel, how you feel about this team? Sheryl, if you could maybe talk about the fact that you guys won the first four titles and L.A. won two in a row. Nobody's been able to repeat since. How difficult it is to win back to back championships?

CANDACE PARKER: I'm really excited to be back in the WNBA. I missed playing basketball in front of my home country. I think playing overseas is a lot different. I feel great health wise. I extended my shoulder a little longer than I should have. I hurt it in '08 and didn't have surgery until two years later, so it was time. I think that while I was out, I was able to focus on other things, getting my knees stronger and improving and just things to help me stay healthy. So I took the time and I was able to do that. I'm very excited about this team this year. As long as we can stay healthy, I really feel like we can be in front. I think this year is going to be the most competitive year. I think if you look at the rosters, and I think anybody is capable of being in the hunt for the championship.

Q. The league has been going on for 15 years and I love watching it and covering it but still Minnesota looked at it as minor league sport and gave it very little coverage even with Maya Moore being selected. Have you as players talked about how can this league become more exposed or more seen as a Major League sport as opposed to a minor league sport or is that just in Minnesota?

KARA LAWSON: I think as players we are always trying to improve our game. How are we progressing as individual athletes, what type of basketball are we playing on the court. Ultimately I think whether you win someone over or not is your product, the competition, and how good the players are. I think as our skill level and the talent entering our league is steadily increasing, it's a slow build. All of these leagues that you talk about that are major leagues, they've been around a long time. They've been around 50, 75, 100 years, and we're celebrating our 15th season. So we're still kind of in our infancy in terms of what we can be. So I think as players we just focus on trying to put the best possible product on the floor, and get out in the communities that we play in and try to show the fans and communities that we care about what we're doing. And we know that that requires probably a little bit more work to get our names out there and get our teams out there than maybe the typical professional athlete. But it's something that we're willing to do because we believe in the game so much.

Q. Renee Montgomery talked a few weeks ago about the Connecticut Sun not living up to its potential last year but feeling the chemistry of the team was better this year. What are your thoughts on that and what have you seen in training camp to maybe verify what she was saying?

KARA LAWSON: This is an optimistic time of year. You talk to any of the players on the 12 teams and they're going to think that they're going to be in the playoffs at the end of the year and think that they have a chance at the title. So we're right with those 11 other teams thinking that we have a great group coming back, and that we're going to have everything that we need in order to make the playoffs. But it's such a fine line in our league between making the playoffs and not making it. There are a lot of things that have to go your way, and you have to be ready and willing to play every single night because it's that close. I feel good about where we are. I like our team, our group. This is the second year that the bulk of us will be together. So we're hopeful that we'll reap some of the benefits of the knowledge of playing with one another last year.

Q. To follow up on that, how do you feel about the fact that Sandrine Gruda won't be with the team, I don't know for the whole summer or half the summer and how that works for your performance?

KARA LAWSON: Yeah, Gruda's a big part of our team. She was last year. She's a great presence, she's really versatile, she's tall, and can do a lot of things at both ends of the floor. But you have to approach each season with the players that are there at the time. Whether it's injuries or players overseas not coming, you can't worry about what you don't have, you have to focus on what you do have. At some point if she joins us, great. If she doesn't, then we're confident that we have enough in the locker room to get things done?

Q. I wanted to ask the players. A question was put to the analysts earlier about the 11 person roster and how that's affected the game and the consensus being to sum it up, that it's kept some good players being held captive on a roster where they wouldn't get as much playing time and they felt the talent level (indiscernible). But given the year round play that many of the best players in the league take on, do you feel this is a rule that should be kept in the league and even one or two injuries can have such a profound effect on the team and you've got the wear and tear on the bodies year round?

CANDACE PARKER: I feel like it's obviously tough, because I remember my rookie year. The roster was 13 and we had two IR players. Last year I think the rule hurt us a lot because I was injured last year myself and Betty Lennox were out. So you put the roster down to nine and we barely had enough to practice. So I think it is in place for a reason. I think it does keep the league extremely competitive, and a lot of well deserving players that are very talented and would ordinarily make a WNBA team aren't able to because of the 11 man roster. But we've kind of gotten around it. When I was hurt last year, I know we brought in guys to practice and stuff like that. So it's a rule that it's kind of both ways?

Q. If I could follow up on that to Sheryl Swoopes, and congratulations on your return to the league. You're coming back, and I haven't seen you in a couple of years, but I've never known you not to be in great condition, but how do you feel about playing in Coach Richardson's system, and how's that training camp been for you with that experience?

SHERYL SWOOPES: First of all, I didn't pick the team, the team picked me. And I mean that in the sense of I was just kind of at a place or in a place in my life where I really wasn't looking to come back to the WNBA. I really just kind of took the time to think about if it was something that I really wanted to do. Because I've always been the type of person and player that if I can't give 100%, then I don't want to be there and I don't want to be a part of it. When I came out and worked out for Coach Richardson and the staff and I talked with him, I really felt like if this was going to happen, and if I really wanted to do it, this was honestly the best place for me to be in the sense of being able to do a lot of other things besides what I could help the young ladies with on the basketball court. I tell a lot of people that I wish not that I have any regrets on the team that I played on before but I wish I would have had an opportunity when I was 10, 11, 12 years younger to have played in a style like Coach Richardson's. I think that's probably what a lot of people were thinking and still are thinking is the style of play that he plays and his system is how in the world am I going to be able to run up and down the court in his style of play? The first week of training camp we had a few two a days, and I've pretty much been out of the training and everything like this for three years so obviously I'm not going to lie and say it was easy. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but it was one that I was ready for, one that I wanted to accept. And I made it through the two a days, and my body feels very good right now, health wise I feel good. To me it's not so much about his run and gun style and what he wants to do, but it's more about me just being mentally prepared and mentally tough for what is to come day in and day out. I know it's going to be a challenge, but even when I was 10, 15 years younger, it was still a challenge. I don't approach this or look at this any differently.

Q. Could you tell us your that you goes on what you saw from the Atlanta Dream?

ALANA BEARD: The Atlanta Dream have a lot of young talent and players and most importantly they've kept their core together. I always thought Lindsay Harding could be one of the best point guards in the league. I almost had a chance to play with her at Duke and then with the Mystics. I think she knows the game really well, just adding her to that Atlanta Dream will make them an even stronger team, but I am looking forward to playing them.

Q. Alana, you were talking about the future of the league. You have your AAU organization called the AB Futures. Where do you see the WNBA 15 years from now?

ALANA BEARD: I think the league has nowhere but to go up. The only way we can go is up. I think we have a lot of people in the organization that are at the top of their game right now. We have players putting great product on the floor just as Kara said before.We have a lot of talent coming in. I know being around the young girls that I have working with some of the AAU teams and just going in every week and seeing these girls put in that work, as long as they work hard and have the passion and determination to want to be the best player, I think the WNBA is going to be in great shape to be honest with you.

Q. How important is that for you to pay it forward, in a sense, to these young women?

ALANA BEARD: It's very important. We have Sheryl Swoopes on the phone now, and I've always said as I've been in a position to give back, that this is my way of giving back the next generation.

Q. I wanted to ask again, Sheryl Swoopes and, Candace, you might jump in on this too. Sheryl, you won four titles in a row in L.A., and won two in a row. Nobody's been able to repeat since. If you could tell us how difficult it is to win. I mean, Seattle's trying to do this again. How difficult is that? And, Candace, you won two in a row in college. How difficult is it even when you have the same people back, how hard it can be to recapture the same chemistry?

SHERYL SWOOPES: Obviously, it's very tough. It's very difficult. I think one thing that probably frustrates me or upsets me more than anything is when people talk about it and say, oh, yeah, but that was women's basketball. As if it's really easy to do because it's women's basketball. I don't know a lot of professional teams, period, male or female, that have done or are able to do what we did with the Houston Comets. When you win a championship, you go into the next knowing and understanding that you have the target on your back, and obviously everybody's going to bring their A game, and everybody's going to want to knock it down. And that is to be expected going into the season. It's what made our championship run so special and it wasn't easy. But I think every single player that we had on our team accepted that challenge every single day, not just in a game but in practice. Everybody accepted what their role was. We didn't necessarily like what our role was, but we accepted it and we went out there and we performed every day in practice. We held everybody accountable. You know, if you came one day and weren't prepared or just loafing, you heard it from the veterans, and vice versa, even some of the younger players were pushing the veteran players. But it's very difficult to win one championship, let alone to be able to come back and do it three more times. But I think when you have an understanding of what your goals are and everybody respects each other and understands what it is and that one common goal and what you want to accomplish for the season along with the hard work, it's possible. It's not easy, but it is possible.

CANDACE PARKER: I know in college the first year when we won the championship, we were eager, we were hungry, we were excited about it. And everything we thought about, everything we did was for that championship. You're hunting for a championship. You're hunting the last person that won the championship. Then the next year, you're the hunted. Everybody's bringing their A game against you. Everybody is, the fans and everything, everybody comes out to that big game because you guys won the National Championship the year before. But I think once you won it, you realize how great it feels and you want to do it again, so I think that gives you the motivation to come back and win it again. It's difficult. You need luck. You need to be good. You need to have a little bit of luck. It's hard to do that in back to back years.

Q. Sheryl, have you found that you enjoy being almost the sort of legendary mentor type figure to the younger players? I mean, some of the kids like a Kayla Pederson was just a little kid when you started your career. Is it fun for you to be in that role?

SHERYL SWOOPES: If it wasn't fun, I wouldn't be doing it. I knew when I made the decision to come back and play I knew my role, especially on this team in particular, I knew it was going to be a lot different than it's been with any other team I've played on. Yeah, it's fun. It's also a challenge in that I find every day when I go to practice there is somebody, not just the rookies. But even some of the players that were here last year, I find that they're all looking at me to see how is Sheryl today? What kind of mood is she in? So I always know that all eyes are going to be on me, and I just got to do I just got to be who I am. Me being here doesn't change who I am as a person, doesn't change who I am as a player. Obviously my role is going to be different, but at the same time at the end of the day, it's about getting wins. I really feel like the team has a symbol this year. Obviously there is nowhere for us to go but up after the type of season we had last year. But everybody in camp has been working extremely hard, looking forward to getting the season started. Just seeing what we can do. But, yeah, it's fun to me. I said to someone the other day, they keep me up. There are some days when I feel like I'm dealing with my son he'll be 14 years old next month. But it's an exciting time for me. It's a great time in my life, and I'm so blessed to be able to have this opportunity again.

Q. Candace, Maya Moore is considered to be the greatest player to come into the league since yourself, I was just wondering if you two have talked personally or if you've offered her any advice?

CANDACE PARKER: We haven't spoken personally about basketball. I mean, I saw her at USA Basketball trials in Vegas. We just said hello and talked about family and things like that. But we didn't really talk about basketball. She's gotten to this level so she knows about it. She's played on the Senior National Team at the World Games and things like that, so she knows about the WNBA, and I think she's going to have a very, very successful career. It's always exciting to play your rookie year. Everything's so new and things like that. So I think it's going to be a very fun season and very exciting for the fans, especially.

Q. What advice would you offer her?

CANDACE PARKER: I think the best advice I was offered was from Lisa when she told me everybody wants to come into the league and play extremely fast. But sometimes the best thing to do is just to slow down. The game is so fast, everything happens, everybody's faster, quicker, stronger. Sometimes you have to slow down and that allows you to play your game. Slow down and mentally think about it. Also the biggest difference between college and the WNBA I feel is scouting. In college you could get away with not necessarily watching the scouting paper and things like that. In the WNBA, it truly, truly helps you. If you sit down and know your opponent and who you're going to guard and things like that.