Checking in from the Czech Republic
Sept. 30, 2010 • Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic
After posting a perfect 6-0 mark in the first two rounds of 2010 FIBA World Championship action in Ostrava, the USA Basketball Women’s World Championship Team today traveled to the spa town of Karlovy Vary, where the medal round will be played. The U.S. goes up against South Korea, which is 3-3 after splitting its first round of games, in the quarterfinals on Friday afternoon (live on NBA TV at 9:30 a.m. EDT) for the right to advance to Saturday’s medal semifinal contest. The winners on Saturday will then clash at 8:00 p.m. (2:00 p.m. EDT) on Sunday night for the 2010 FIBA World Championship gold medal.
Eight teams remain in the hunt for gold and in addition to the USA and South Korea, teams still standing include Australia (5-1), Belarus (3-3), host Czech Republic (4-2), France (4-2), Russia (6-0) and Spain (5-1).
The tri-captains of Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi, along with USA head coach Geno Auriemma fielded questions from members of the media on Thursday evening in Karlovy Vary, discussing the tournament so far, Australia’s 6-8 center Liz Cambage, playing with a slate of talented players, and much more.
Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever)
We're obviously excited about what we've done in the tournament thus far. But definitely for the three of us and the rest of the team we're not satisfied. Our mission and our goal being here is to win the gold medal and to come home with the gold.
So with that in mind, we've got three games ahead of us, starting with South Korea. We're going to focus on them, get ready, play them tomorrow at 3:30 (9:30 a.m. EDT) and we'll be really focused.
Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)
I definitely agree with what Tamika said. We have a focused team, a team happy about winning our first six games but know we have to continue to get better. That's what this journey is about for us, just taking it one game at a time. We didn't have as much practice as the rest of the teams, so we're just trying to get better with each day. We've seen that and that's been a very positive thing. We're all excited to get started in the medal rounds.
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
Pretty much to reiterate what Sue and Tamika said. We're taking it one game at a time. We're focused on South Korea tomorrow. A very good team that had a really good tournament.
Their style of play is really difficult, five guys moving all at the same time. They all shoot threes. So it will be a good test for us. And that's the only thing we have in our minds right now.
What are your impressions of Australia’s Liz Cambage and if she does decide to come over, where do you see her fitting in in the WNBA?
CATCHINGS: I think that she would definitely be a solid center in our league. And I think she just is one of those players you would want to draft and get on your team, just from a size standpoint and continue to work with her.
I mean, she's a young player. She's gotten better over the years. So definitely one of those players that as she continues to get better and continues to have somebody to work with, work with her on her skills, I definitely see her as a strong center in our league.
BIRD: I think that everything Tamika said is pretty much dead on. She has a huge upside. You can't teach size. And this girl is big. And there's not a lot of centers out there today. That's just kind of a fact. So I think if she were to play in the WNBA, like I said a huge upside and could be a difference‑maker for any team.
TAURASI: As Sue and Tamika mentioned earlier, you know, she's a good player. She's young. She's big. She's got great hands. She's tough. And in a tournament like this could really help playing against the best centers in the world. So if she were to come to the WNBA I'm sure she'd have a great impact on any team she's on. And it would be, I think, an upgrade for any team that would be lucky enough to get her. So if she wants to come to Phoenix, we'll take her.
Diana, who do you think your toughest competition of the tournament was, either so far or do you think they lie ahead for you guys?
TAURASI: Every game's had the challenge. But it comes to if you lose a game you're pretty much out. So we know what's at stake. We can't look ahead to any game but for the one that we have coming up. It's easy to get caught up and thinking about who you're going to play in the gold medal game. Or the next game. But South Korea is what's on our mind, a tough opponent.
Has there been anyone that's really imposed like any matchup problems that you didn't anticipate or anyone that maybe gave you a tougher run than you expected?
TAURASI: No, we've expected everything that's come at us. These teams are good. They played with each other for a long time. They're well prepared. They play in the WNBA. They played in Europe. So we know every team has a tough challenge for us.
Sue you talked a lot about how it's never just talent that makes a team good; it's how things click. Is that different when you have a team with as much talent on the national team? Also, what’s it like to play with three generations of UConn players?
BIRD:I think to answer your first question, I'm a big believer that talent can only get you so far in some regards. And this team is very talented. But we also have a very good mix of younger players, older players, position-wise. We have versatility. And we have people who, you know, when we buy into the system and we really accept our roles and play into the best of our ability, we're really good.
And that's what's great about this team. And that's really, in my USA Basketball experience, that's what's been great about pretty much every competition I've played in. You have people who are extremely talented and can do a lot of different things but everyone kind of gives up a little bit for the betterment of the team.
That's definitely what you're seeing in this year's world championships as well. To talk about the UConn stuff, you know, it's great. It's great to play with people who I haven't played with in a long time since college. It's great to play with players like Maya and Tina who I never played with in college. But we have the same roots. And the background's the same. And a lot of the things that are core in a way are the same. We play similarly. We see things the same.
It's been a real treat to be on the court with those guys.
TAURASI: It's really cool, because being able to watch Tina and Maya in their college careers and to be on the court with them, you see why they've been so successful, how hard they work.
You realize they’re not just only great players, but really good people. And it's been nice to be on the court with them and to share these moments. So it's been a special moment.
Sue, what has impressed you the most about Lindsay Whalen on this team and how is playing with her at the same time on the floor been for you?
BIRD: It's funny you say that, because just the other day I was talking to Lindsay about how much I've enjoyed being on the floor at the same time with her. For me, honestly, it's fun to play with other point guards. Especially somebody like Lindsay.
Her ability to -- I mean, from playing against her I know just her physical abilities, to get in the lane, to find her teammates, to get people involved, the way she works the baseline. It's something that I see. It's something I've played against.
But to finally play with her in this way is really nice. She just has -- she just has a really great ability of getting things going offensively, creating things defensively. For a guard, she's a great rebounder. So I think the times where we have been on the court together, it's worked out really well.
Regarding Maya Moore, is it a mental adjustment for someone who has excelled and been above the competition so much to have to take a big role, lesser role, and how will that help her grow as a player?
TAURASI: It's always a learning experience. You always get to a point in your career where all three of us, Sue and Tamika and I, have done with basketball where we're not necessarily at the forefront but learning from the bench and gaining experiences.
She's been great. So far in this World Championship she's been a big part of what we've done coming off the bench with great play and energy. And a game like Australia is a great learning experience for us, a very difficult opponent in a different atmosphere than you're used to.
It's all going to help her get a lot better. And she's already one of the best players in the world. So it's only going to help her.
BIRD: I agree with what Dee said. Sometimes you can learn more by having a different role. I think you learn to see things differently, to appreciate things differently. And for Maya, just because she's coming off the bench doesn't mean she's not important to this team. And the one thing I can say that I see from her is she's really like a sponge. She's soaking it all up, both on and off the court. Whatever's thrown her way, she's accepting the challenge and running with it. And for a player that young on a team that has some older players who are more experienced, I think that's how you have to be. And she's done just a great job.
How is Coach Auriemma different than he was eight years ago?
BIRD: It's pretty similar. You know, I think his mindset and his intensity, what he expects of his teams, how he wants things done is very similar.
Obviously, the few differences are just that we're older. So he treats us, I think, a little bit differently. Not bad or good, but just he understands. And the same respect he gives us, we give back. And it's a little bit of a different relationship. But in terms of the on the court stuff it's the same, which is great. I wouldn't have expected anything else.
TAURASI: Like Sue said, things are pretty much the same as far as his mindset on getting us prepared for games and what he expects for us. That's what makes us play so well is you want to play at the highest level because that's what he expects from you.
So from that standpoint I'm glad that we get to play for him again.
Have you long since gotten used to the fact that it's expected you win; that's a different type of pressure?
CATCHINGS: Definitely, (it’s) one of those things that when you put the USA uniform on the expectations become a lot higher, and you are expected to go in and win gold. Whatever area, junior team, the senior team, whichever one you're on.
I think for the three of us being on the senior team and being able to learn from the vets that used to be there, now fast forward, we're the vets kind of leading the way for the younger generation.
I'm the only one that hasn't won a WNBA championship yet. I will get one one of these days. But I think when you look at getting in from every stage, and every stage we've been on, high school, college, even at the pro level and USA basketball, you're right, the expectation to win, not necessarily that you get used to winning, but you work so hard to put yourself and your teammates in that situation to win, that you always strive for excellence.
TAURASI: Yeah, you have to prepare like you're the underdog. The minute you think you can't be beat, that's when they come up from behind and get you. So, I never feel like the overdog. Just gotta keep barking.
BIRD: Yeah, I think that for all three of us, I think our upbringing, in a way, has really helped prepare us for when we do play for USA basketball. Probably all of our careers, all of our lives, a lot has been expected of us in terms of winning.
And it is hard to have that bull's eye on your back, but we have that experience. And we know that ‑‑ well I hope we know ‑‑ that it just makes you raise the level of your play that much higher. It causes you to stay on your toes and constantly be ready. Like I said, hopefully the experience we've had throughout our careers has helped prepare us for these moments that we're faced with right now.
USA head coach Geno Auriemma (University of Connecticut)
The tournament so far has -- obviously it's evolved the way we had hoped it would evolve when we started. We're learning as we go along, and we don't have the luxury of using past practices to get better. So, we have to take every game and use that to get better and use that and come out and play another game, and we've done that. We've improved almost in every area from game one to game six. We're certainly a different team than we were when we were in Spain and a different team than we were when we were in Hartford. And we're going to be a different team, I hope, on Sunday than we are on Friday.
So from that perspective, it's been what I expected it to be. I'm thoroughly enjoying coaching these players and the way they've responded to what I want them to respond to, and I couldn't be happier. And I couldn't be happier for them, because the teams that they're beating are very, very good teams, and the teams that they're going to have to beat, these next three games, are the best teams in the world.
And if we're fortunate enough to get that done, it will be a pretty incredible accomplishment, for sure.
Could talk about your decision behind putting Candace Dupree into the starting lineup?
AURIEMMA: Well, I thought that it gave us another post player who was a true post player, and I think Candace has responded by playing some of the best basketball I've seen her play. I know she struggled a little bit last night because she got some early foul problems, but going into last night's game she was probably the most productive player in the tournament per minutes played. So, I'm thrilled for her, and she's going to be really important going forward the next three games. And I've been really impressed. I had doubts, I'll be the first one to say it, and I told her that, that I worried she was just going to be a cruiser and just kind of be really laid back. I challenged her, and she's responded and I'm really happy for her.
Could you talk a little bit about what you have seen so far out of the Australia center, Liz Cambage?
AURIEMMA: Based on what I've seen, I've seen her since the All‑Star break now. So from the All‑Star break to today, I can't believe the improvement that she's made.
And from my standpoint, if the best players in America, which we have right now, have no chance to guard her one‑on‑one, I think if she were to go to college this September, I think she would be the most dominant player in America. Because there's no one else 6'9", and there's no one else that that's much an impact player at both ends of the floor. You can't score in the lane against her, and you can't stop her from scoring.
And she's skilled. She's not just a big body. She scores around the basket with both hands, makes free throws, handles the ball pretty well. The only thing she's lacking is experience. But I've not seen a center at her age better than her in a long, long time.
One thing that we've been lacking out of the American game is raising up the true post player. Why has that happened?
AURIEMMA: Well, first of all, nobody wants to play down there anymore. That's one big part of it. Second, I don't think internationally that's how you win. I think we do a disservice to a lot of these kids by sticking them in the lane and trying to make them into post players.
We come over here, and we have a very difficult time guarding the centers. We just played Belarus the other day. They're probably the size of, I don't know, Connecticut, that country. I don't know, three million people? I don't know how big they are. They've got six kids over 6'5" that all can make threes on a regular basis. We don't have six in America, much less on our team. So, I think we're going about it the wrong way. If I had a kid right now 6'4", 6'5", 6'6", the first thing I would teach her how to do is hand her the ball, teach her how to pass it, shoot from the perimeter, because in the future that's what's going to win championships and that's what's going to win Olympic gold medals.
On Lindsay Whalen's play so far:
AURIEMMA: Well, when we started training camp, I wasn't sure Lindsay was going to make the team. When you hear people talking about, you know, who some of the best guards in America are, for some reason her name gets left out. Some of that is because at the USA basketball level, she's been injured a lot and hasn't had the opportunity to be at an extended training camp and compete against other guards for a spot on the team and then playing time. But every minute of every day that I was around her, she impressed me with something, whether it was her knowledge of the game, whether it was her athletic ability, which she's very deceptive how strong she is and how quick she is to the basket. And for all those reasons, you can put her at the point guard spot. You can play her off the ball. One of the things we wanted to do was bring players over here that were very versatile, so with Sue, Diana and Lindsay, you've got three players that all play two positions, and in Diana's case, maybe three. But I think Lindsay has done an unbelievable job for us. Our second team, up until yesterday, our second group, was more productive than our first group through our first five games, and Lindsay was a big part of that. No question.
Is that where you think Elizabeth Cambage has made the biggest strides, in her defense?
AURIEMMA: I think you become a better defender by how much more you learn how to play defense, and she's obviously a quick learner. Sometimes you're a good defender just because you're 6'9". Don't get me wrong, she still struggles. Tina and Sylvia just had their way with her, and she got in early foul trouble. So she's got a long way to go to be where she's going to be. But you have to foul her. You can't take turnaround jump shots against her which Tina tried to do. You've got to be really, really specific in how you're going to attack her if you're going to score. If you make a mistake or if you're kind of lazy about it, she's going to block your shot, and she's unbelievably physical. Unbelievable. A lot of kids like that are, (soft). She'll knock you on your butt just as soon look at you. I'll tell you, that's a rare combination.
In what ways has Maya Moore improved?
AURIEMMA: Well, when you're playing in college, you don't have world-class defenders guarding you. When you're in college, you don't have to guard world-class offensive players. So now, for the last six games, she's had a much more difficult time getting her shot, and she's had a difficult time guarding the players that she's supposed to be guarding, because it's all new to her. And each game she's gotten a little bit better at it. But one thing we've talked about with Maya, you know, Maya's a great 3-point shooter, she catches it and shoots it better probably than anybody in the country, now at this level, once they figure that out and they don't let you do that, you better have plan B, C and D. And that's what we've tried to work with Maya on in Connecticut and now.
It's really become apparent to her that handling the ball, going by people, taking them in the lane, cutting hard to the basket -- when she sees Diana play and Tamika Catchings, she starts to understand there's more to trying to be successful at this particular level than there is in college. And the only way you know that is by being here and being a part of it. Somebody can tell you while you're in college. You can watch it on TV. It's not the same. You have to be here on the floor, on the bench, at practice. So the experience that she's getting is invaluable. And when she comes back to college she'll be that much more able to do the things that she wants to do. So all the things that are happening with Maya, she had 30 something against the Czech Republic in a scrimmage the other night. So there's that Maya, and there's the Maya that struggled the last two games. So, somewhere in between is probably where she is right now.