Renee Montgomery Returns To XL Center In Red, White And Blue
Sept. 9, 2010 • Hartford, Conn.
When Renee Montgomery (Connecticut Sun) takes the floor with the USA Basketball Women's National Team on Friday, Sept. 10 against Australia and Sunday, Sept. 12 against Spain at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., it will be a familiar sight for Connecticut basketball fans.
Montgomery won their hearts with a 139-11 record over her four years at the University of Connecticut, winning the 2009 NCAA Championship and reaching the 2008 Final Four and 2007 and 2008 Elite Eight. Drafted by the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx in 2009, she was traded to the Connecticut Sun this past January, and averaged 13.3 points, 4.1 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game in her second WNBA season.
And while Montgomery admits it will be a pleasure to return to the site of many University of Connecticut wins in the XL Center and the home of many fans, the games against Australia and Spain are much more than a chance to put on a show for a friendly crowd. Not only will Montgomery and the USA be trying to make a statement against reigning world champion Australia and the No. 5 ranked women's program in the world Spain, but Montgomery also will be one of 18 players trying to earn a roster spot on the 2010 USA Women's World Championship Team.
Only 12 players will be selected to play in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, but Montgomery told USABasketball.com she at least knows what the committee is looking for in a USA Basketball point guard.
What do you remember
about playing for USA Basketball at the Youth Development Festival when you
were in high school?
The thing I remember the most is all the coaches and people on the sidelines. When I was in high school, I didn't really know what they were looking for, so I was trying to do too much. Now, it's such a different experience for me because I know what I'm good at, know what I need do to make the team or what I need to do to give myself the best chance to make the team.
Tickets for the Sept. 10 and Sept. 12 USA exhibition games
are on sale now online at www.ticketmaster.com,
What is it you are focused
on while you try to make this team?
Right now, I'm focused on not being a scorer but if I'm open to make sure I make it, and then also playing hard on defense. Back when I was in high school, I was focused on, 'OK, I got to make sure I score and do this and I do that.' I didn't know they were looking for somebody who could just play a role. I think now I have a much better concept of what it means to be a USA Basketball player.
What do you remember
about playing for USA Basketball at the 2006 FIBA Americas U20 Championship
in Mexico City?
The first thing that comes to mind is a day when it was raining, and we walked in the rain, unintelligently without an umbrella. We got soaked. I have lots of pictures from that trip, too. The team was made up of players that I had played against all the time growing up and in college. You think, 'Man, they're good.' And then we were all together on the same team, so it was fun.
Are you still able to
learn new things from Coach Auriemma after playing for him for four years in
I am because every time I make a mistake, he teaches me a new way not to make it. So, I feel like until I stop making mistakes, which will probably be never, I'll continue to learn from whoever is coaching.
Can you tell me about
your first experience in the EuroLeauge with TEO Vilnius in Lithuania this past
fall and winter?
It was nice. It was ideal. The theater played movies in English, with the captions in Lithuanian, which was unbelievable. There was a McDonald's right next door to me and a couple of fast food places. The coach coached in English. My team spoke English. So, I mean it was pretty much an ideal situation as far as being overseas. We played in the EuroLeague, and I played against Asjha Jones' team, DeLisha Milton-Jones', Cappie Pondexter's team. It was a good experience overall.
Do you think that helped
you learn more about the international game? Could that help you make this team?
Definitely. The international game is just a different game in itself, and until you've played it at a high level, it's hard to predict what it will be like. Once you've experienced it, you kind of know what to expect. So, I think just going over there and getting that experience will be a tremendous benefit to my basketball game.
After so many accomplishments
and so much work, what does it feel like to compete for a roster spot?
It's hard to explain because you feel so blessed to be even asked to compete for the team. You are being asked to try out for the USA Women's National Team, not even just a youth team, but the national team. So, you are taking that all in, and then you are like, 'OK, I really want to make this team, so I got to focus in.' And then when you are on the court, you know, my thought process is I want everyone to do well, and then just let the committee make their decision. It's a hard thing because you are excited when everyone does well, and then you are still thinking, hopefully I'm the one good enough to make the team. There's just a lot of thoughts going on, but I just try to go out there and pretty much do all the little things - be loud, cheer, keep the team together, just any little thing that I can do.
This team will continue
to pick up players as the WNBA playoffs continue and teams lose, as a point
guard, is that tough to adjust to?
It is, because you are trying to build a team chemistry, which is something you can't really rush. That's the thing when it comes to basketball and throwing a team together, chemistry takes time. You build chemistry as you go through things together on the court and you bond. And so it's hard out here for the committee and Coach Auriemma, because you want to clearly have the best players, but also you want to have good chemistry. So, it must be hard to decide who to cut and who to keep.
Does it help that most
of the players know each other from playing against each other, or even on the
same teams, in college or the WNBA?
It does. Even playing against players, you understand what they like and they don't like. That helps, and it speeds up the process on the court of building a team. You know Seimone likes to curl and get a 15-footer rather than a 3-pointer, so you know not to pass to her at the 3-point line, where you'd likely end up turning it over. Little things like that do help.
Can you talk about what
it's like playing for the Connecticut Sun after spending four years earning
fans at the University of Connecticut?
It's great because once you have a fan base like you do at UConn, it kind of doesn't get any better than that. And then I went to Minnesota, and they did have a great fan base, but like I said, there's really nothing that can compare to Connecticut, so going back to Connecticut was just an amazing thing. To be back there again and look up in the stands and everybody's in their seats cheering loud. Unfortunately we didn't make the playoffs, but at the end of our year, they loved every minute of it. They make you feel good, and they support you through whatever happens.
You got a chance to do
some commentary work for ESPN, what was that like. Were you nervous?
I was nervous, but it was a different type of nervous. I've been on TV plenty of times, but when I'm playing, I can dictate the outcome, I know what's going to happen and I know what to expect. But now when I'm watching players, I may not know a lot about all of them, and I don't always know what to expect. It's just different. I'm going to their shoot around and watching instead of being in the shoot around. It's just a different feel, but I liked it. I definitely want to continue to do that.
Did you learn anything
about basketball working as a commentator?
I did. You see the game from a different view. I'm watching the game, and as I see someone make a mistake, I think in my head, 'Yeah, I see, she should have done this.' So, I'm learning as I'm watching and commentating, and you learn from other people's mistakes. Or, you are watching and you see someone do something that works, and you think, 'Yeah, I got to add that to my game.'
What will it feel like
to play at the XL Center again?
I think it's going to feel pretty normal. We practiced this morning, and it felt normal. I don't feel like a stranger coming in here, so I guess it's going to feel a little like coming home again. I don't' know exactly how to explain it. In some ways, it feels like I never left.
What do you expect tomorrow
It's going be tough - period. Even if we had our full roster, I think it would be a tough game. Australia's a tough team. We just have to come out and make sure we play hard and take care of the little things because a team like that will hurt you when you make those mistakes.
What would it mean for
you to play in the 2010 FIBA World Championship?
Man, I don't if there's a feeling to describe it. From the time when you are little, you just think, 'I want to play for the USA team.' That's just a dream that every person that wants to play at a high level has. I want to win a gold medal. I want to play for USA. The World Championship - this is a big deal. To me, this is my Olympics. I'm just trying to make the team so I can be a part of it. Even if I make the team, and I play one second, I would be just as happy as if I played a major role. I mean, I would love to play more, but just to be on the team and experience that would be amazing. And then, moving forward, I would have that experience, and it will help me in the future.