MINNEAPOLIS – Like every other WNBA All-Star Game, the top 22 players in the league have come together to celebrate the game, the season and the fans. Unlike every other WNBA All-Star Game, the teams are not divided by their respective conferences.
When the players arrived at Target Center for their practice sessions on Friday, they took the court as part of Team Parker or Team Delle Donne, named in honor of the team captains that earned the right to pick their own teams from the remaining All-Stars regardless of conference as part of a new All-Star format.
Team Delle Donne took the court first with a squad comprised of nine Western Conference players and a pair of Washington Mystics. Captain Elena Delle Donne reps for DC and was adamant about having her Mystics teammate Kristi Toliver on her All-Star team as well. As for the other players, Delle Donne had a distinct strategy heading into the draft.
“I wanted to get versatile players that can kind of do it all,” she said. “Because you know, with the All-Star game it is kind of who can handle it, who can shoot it. So just trying to get players like that. Definitely wanted to get some Lynx players because we need to get the home crowd behind us. Also, players that have great relationships with friends and have a good rapport. You get like one 30-minute practice so you just kind of have to know each other’s games.”
Both Parker and Delle Donne liked the playground-style of having captains pick the teams, especially with the level of talent to choose from.
“You can’t make a bad pick, there’s All-Stars all around,” said Parker. “This isn’t like forming a real WNBA team. So I went into it like you’re not going to make a mistake. I wanted to obviously have my girls on the team; I had to have Nneka [Ogwumike, who won’t play due to illness] and Chelsea [Gray] because I don’t even know what it would feel like to play against them.
“Liz Cambage, I’ve been wanting to play with her for a while. I’ve played against her for many, many years, we’re friends off the court so that will be pretty fun to have her in the locker room and on the court.”
Cambage, who just set WNBA records for points in a single game (53) and consecutive games (88), was thrilled to be on Team Parker.
“Even before I was in the league, I loved Candace’s game,” said Cambage. “I loved her as a person. She is one of the all-around greats around this league. For her to put me on this team, it really hit my heart. I’ve always wanted to play with her and it’s going to happen tomorrow.”
While there are some unexpected pairings on the All-Star rosters, most WNBA teammates will also team up at All-Star. Phoenix’s trio of Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner is part of Team Delle Donne, as is the Vegas duo of A’ja Wilson and Kayla McBride. Parker has Gray by her side, as well as the Dallas duo of Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith.
There were some exceptions, including the host Lynx having their four All-Stars split evenly between Team Parker and Team Delle Donne. That has already led to some trash talk between Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus.
“Yeah, that’s going to be interesting. Seimone has been chirping a little bit,” said Moore of Team Parker. “We might be cross-matched a little bit at some point, and I might have to remind Seimone about my defense. We’ll see!”
But as usual, the best trash talk of the day belonged to Taurasi. When asked if she would have preferred to go against her Mercury teammates just for the day, she said: “No way. I’m happy to have my road dogs with me.”
Bonner, sitting two seats down from Taurasi in the interview space, shouted, “She don’t want any of this!” as Taurasi answered, which drew a laugh from the Mercury teammates. However, Taurasi is more than ready to take on the Mercury coaching staff, as Sandy Brondello and her assistants are leading Team Parker on Saturday.
“Oh, I’m happy to play against Todd [Mercury assistant coach Todd Troxel],” said Taurasi. “I’m going to throw a ball right in his face. Todd, you’re getting a turnover right in you nose, a pimple in the middle of your forehead. I’m happy to be playing against them; I’m tired of seeing those coaches.”
“I like this whole situation with the draft and captains,” added rookie All-Star Wilson. “I think this is a lot of fun. … Takes us back to childhood days when we’re picking dodgeball teams.”
Troxel may need to practice the Five D’s of Dodgeball – Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive and Dodge – in order to stay safe on the sidelines.