During the USA's practice sessions last week in Palo Alto, Calif., head coach Anne Donovan answered questions from the media about the squad's progess and the preparations for Olympics. Read what she had to say as the world counts down the days to the Beijing Games.
Q: What are you trying to get out of these nine days or so before you start playing?
Donovan: Just playing together. These players know our system. Every one of them has played at different times with different players, but these 12 have never played together before. If anything, its just getting chemistry, working together at both ends of the floor and getting the kinks out. Theres going to be mistakes early as they learn to play with each other and get familiar with whos good at what, and how we can parlay strengths and cover up weaknesses. Overall, Im really pleased so far.
Q: Obviously, this is a terrific group of players, but do you see the lack of cohesiveness as being the biggest obstacle at this point?
Donovan: I do. Our in-depth chemistry, as a unit, how well we perform together, is probably our biggest struggle. Our goal is to use these 10 practices before we open on (August) 9th. Then with every game from the 9th on, and every practice from the 9th on, well get better.
Q: How much are you relying on Sue Bird at point guard to help out with that cohesiveness?
Donovan: Sues big because she did her homework. She studied under Dawn (Staley) in 2004. Shes done her work and shes prepared to take the torch on this team and lead them. Im very much relying on Sue.
Q: Can you talk about the other strengths on the roster? Theres a good combination of veterans and young players.
Donovan: Its such a great mix of experience and youth, and our youth is pretty darned good. So where they might not have the experience, they certainly are good enough to go out there and get it done. Our veterans really understand how to bring players along. They talk to them and develop them. They understand were only as good as our weakest link. You can see in their determination that were not going to have a weak link.
Q: Is the loss in the World Championships the overriding motivation?
Donovan: The World Championships is a thorn in our side, for sure. But there are other losses that are thorns in our side. Just because Lisa (Leslie) wasnt at the World Championships, doesnt mean she doesnt have some experiences that were a thorn in her side. I think we havent been at full strength since 2004. Were out to prove something, that when we are full strength, were really a team that has to be reckoned with.
Q: How different are your personal feelings going into the Olympics as a player versus an assistant coach and now going in as a head coach?
Donovan: I dont know if theyre different because I have so much pride in this. As a player and as an assistant coach, its such a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime experience. For me theres nothing like it.
Q: Can you talk about how Kara Lawson fits in with this team?
Donovan: Karas a player that I love to work with. A coachs dream. Thats how I describe Kara because shell use her head on the floor, shell communicate well with you on the sideline and shell be able to relay the message to everybody else. Her energy and her enthusiasm, her passion for the game, whether shes on the floor or on the bench, are contagious. This team needs that kind of high energy from her.
Donovan: Her versatility. Shes run some point for us throughout different training camps. Weve maybe not had a backup point guard, but between her and Lawson theres completely different styles there. With Kara, its more steady, more make the next pass, more set up a play. With Cappie, if you fall asleep, shes gone. Shes just such a spark offensively no matter where she is playing. But her style running the show is as soon as you bring the ball down the floor, the defense is in trouble.
Q: What are your thoughts on the team defensively? How is it so far and what needs to be improved a little bit?
Donovan: Defense is probably what we've been working on the most, and the players know that weve got to embrace that and I think they've done a great job. Theyre going to continue to get better as we go. We have to look at different combinations as we go. Well have a defensive unit, no doubt. I have been pleased.
Q: Theres no doubt this team can score. Four of the top five scorers in the WNBA are on the U.S. roster. If its going down to one possession at the end of the game and you need that one stop
Donovan: Thats exactly right. Thats our mantra. All the way up until 2004, this team could go win a gold medal by outscoring people. Thats all we had to do. Since that time and leading up to that time it got close, but since that time theres no way you just outscore. Youve got to be able to defend. These players understand that. From my perspective and our staff's, they had to get that. They had to buy into that. Its very difficult to preach defense if theres no consequence, and theres a consequence: if we dont play it, were not winning a gold medal. The players really get that and theyre taking pride in it.
Q: You said there were a couple of veteran players that were doing a perfect job helping some of the first-timers. Who in particular do you see as leading the way?
Donovan: I think Lisa has really taken a hold of the post with her experience. Weve missed her the last couple years. Shes making the most of that opportunity to help Candace (Parker), continued from L.A., and also with Sylvia (Fowles) now. I think Sues doing a great job as well. There isnt anybody thats just being quiet. The captains of this team are Katie Smith and Lisa Leslie. Were going to rely on them to continue to bring the young ones around.
Q: Is there a lot of that required? Like you said before, even some of the younger players are stepping in and seem very confident.
Donovan: Its true, but theres a very fine line between experience at the Olympic level and every other experience. I dont know that our younger players get that. They have a lot of confidence and they understand that they can help us win. But when the game is on the line and the gold medal is at stake, our experience is going to come in very handy, and our young players are going to be willing to listen.