Team USA’s thoughts before heading to Turkey for two more warm-up games before the Olympics
After beating Great Britain Wednesday in their second exhibition win in the past week and the team’s third overall exhibition victory since being finalized as a 12-member squad this past April, the 2012 USA Basketball Women’s National Team practiced once more in Manchester, England before heading to Istanbul, Turkey.
They have two more warm-up games await on July 21 and 22 before the opening of the 2012 London Olympics and their quest for a fifth straight gold medal.
USA and University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma and eight U.S. players talked about their win over Great Britain, the upcoming London Games and heading to Turkey where many of them play in the EuroLeague during the WNBA offseason.
Geno Auriemma (head coach, USA and University of Connecticut)
On Wednesday’s game.
We talked about the same thing after the game against Brazil. Last night, we were really good, we were good and we were lousy. Some of the things we weren’t so good at against Brazil, we were better at. Some of the things that were good against Brazil, were not as good last night. I think last night was one step forward and one step backward, so we are kind of at the same place right now. That’s why days like today, when we get to Turkey and beyond that, we need three of four days in a row of just practice. And the more we can do that, I think we can eliminate the lows. We are peaks and valleys right now. We need to cut out some of the valleys and stay more at the peaks.
On having Sue Bird joining the team in Turkey:
I think anytime you lose somebody like Sue, who has the respect of every single player on the team and is a coach on the floor, you feel it. There is a comfort level knowing that when she gets in the huddle and says something, it’s exactly what you would say, or in some cases way better than what you would say. But not having Sue has given us an opportunity to see Lindsay Whalen in a different light, and I think she’s opened a lot of eyes. Maybe people thought, well she’s just there in case something happens to Sue or Diana, but she’s proven she is here to affect the outcome of the game. That’s been one of the more pleasant surprises for me.
Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever)
Thoughts on Wednesday’s game:
I thought it was a good game for both teams. For us, we’re still in that mode of trying to prepare to get ready for the Olympics, and I know they’re doing that too. They’re a much better team, a much-improved team. It was a great game.
Did Great Britain surprise you?
Yeah, I think so as a team. But, one of the things you can’t do is underestimate any team. For us, we started off slow in the first quarter and even in the third quarter. They built that lead in the first quarter, and then the second unit came in and did a really good job. But I felt that they played really well together as a team. They’re going to do their country proud. They have a lot of young talent, a lot of great talent. When they play together, they look amazing. It’s going to be a fun team to watch.
On the USA’s short training time and the pressure the team faces:
I wouldn’t call it pressure. The expectations of this team are really high for this team, of course, like every other team. For us, we need to not look at it as pressure, but more so we have to stay more focused. We’ve been put together for a reason. Every single practice that we have, every game that we have together, we just have to take advantage of it and continue to play together.
Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun)
How is the team coming together after three practices and two games?
We’re coming along good. We just have to execute things that we do in the practices better in the games, slow down on offense, make sure we’re in help on defense and take care of limiting turnovers. We still have to get that chemistry together with all of us. But, it’ll be there.
On handling the USA’s pre-London travel, being in DC, Manchester and Istanbul:
It’s just a maturity thing. We’re all pros. We play overseas. We play WNBA. So, we’re kind of use to that whole thing. We’re in one city … we could be in Minnesota one night and then in Tulsa the next night. I think we’re all used to that. It’s just about getting our bodies right, but we’ll be okay.
What are some of the things you learned about during the USOC Athlete Ambassador Program that maybe you hadn’t thought about heading into the Olympics?
Just talking about distractions, making sure you tell your family before rather than later about your whereabouts and how you want to use your time wisely. Especially on the days off or game days. And when Sylvia (Fowles) was talking about expecting the unexpected. You can’t really prepare for it. You just have to go into it and know that the staff will take care of a lot of things and help us out.
Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky)
The team is traveling to Istanbul, where you played last season. Are you looking forward to being back there?
I’m looking forward to getting back to Istanbul. I think we’ll have a good welcome home. Dee (Diana) played there, Tina, Seimone, Catchings played there, also Angel played there. It’ll be good to get back to Istanbul.
What can fans expect to see from this team?
A lot of intensity. Us being more focused. Coach has been stressing that over our two games. Just being more focused playing USA Basketball.
Do you think the Fener and Gala fans will come together as one to cheer on the USA team as one?
With all the travel the team is doing ahead of London in a short period of time, how are you able to stay focused and get rest?
We’re all used to it. Even though we just have a short period of time to get it done, you basically have to take care of yourself. If that means seeing Ed (Ryan, USA Basketball athletic trainer) on your off time or getting into the weight room, knowing that you need those things. Basically, it’s taking care of the little things that you need to take care of on your own. But like I said, we’re used to it.
Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream)
On the USA’s travel and exhibition schedule:
I would say at this point now, I am pretty much used to it. We are used to being on the road traveling, having a hectic schedule. It’s part of the process. We have no complaints. We just have to do what we have to do as professionals, and this is a business trip.
As a professional, are you practiced at taking care of your body on a trip like this?
Yeah. You see with the girls, we get in somewhere and we stretch and use the bands and do little exercises. Your body is important. Especially while you are young, you want to maintain because that shows when you are older. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been drinking a whole lot more water, and I feel different. I feel like I’m 22 again. You just got to watch your diet. After you win the gold, then you can do what you want to do — celebrate, eat crappy or whatever.
On playing in Turkey with USA Basketball after having played there for the Turkish club Fenerbache:
I play for Fenerbache and most of the teams there have really good support from their fans. They love their players. I do expect a lot of Fener fans there at the game, so I’m excited to go back. I have a lot of friends, a lot of family there in Turkey.
Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx)
The USA is dominate in women’s basketball. Does that add pressure?
I think it is a hard thing to do, but we can do it. We are very capable of doing it. I think the expectations that we have for ourselves are more important than the expectations everyone else has, and we feel like ours are very high and we work every day to try and make sure that we are prepared for the moments in these games coming up. So, we are excited to be here. We are happy to be in the position we are in, and we are proud of our legacy and we want to continue it.
On playing without Sue Bird:
I wouldn’t say we prefer a team without Sue Bird, but I’m just happy that we are able to continue to win and get some things done while she is away. That’s definitely a strength of our team is our depth and being able to pick each other up. We feel like we will be even stronger when Sue comes back.
On the team’s preparedness:
It’s kind of a mix of feelings as far as wanting to get to the Games, just being so excited and wanting to play, but also realizing we need to continue to get better. We are not where we want to be yet, and we really do have to make the most of every practice and every game we have up until the Olympics just because we don’t have a lot of time together. We are happy with the time that we are taking as far as preparation and just playing together, getting a feel for each other and the offense that we are running and the defense that we want to run.
How do you feel about the team’s short prep time?
I feel like we’ve put in the work. We’re confident that we’re prepared. We’re continuing to work and stay focused on the little things, which will help us to win in the big moment. We’ve got high expectations of ourselves, and we’re focused on the little things and before you know it, you look up and the big things are going to come.
What can fans expect to see from you at the Olympics?
From me, hopefully you’ll see a lot of energy, a lot of passion. I’m constantly trying to do something to create some momentum or give my team some energy; whether it’s knocking in a three or blocking a shot, taking a charge, whatever it may be, making a great pass. I try to be one of those players who can do a lot of things on the court well. Whether that’s scoring the ball or making the pass, I just want to be able to make an impact when I’m on the court.
Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks)
On Wednesday’s game:
Obviously sleeping on it we have a lot more perspective. There are lot of things that we could have done a lot better, but it wasn’t as bad as we thought it was looking back on the film. There are a lot of improvements we have to make. We definitely have to turn up our intensity, but I just think it’s getting to know one another on the defensive end and on the offensive end.
Did you underestimate Great Britain?
No. We knew that every team we play is going to come out and play phenomenal against us, and so we just have to be ready for it. I think what we pride ourselves on is our intensity for forty minutes and not just playing in short spurts. I think I touched on it a little bit yesterday about how maybe a team can hang with us in short spurts, but I think over forty minutes of pressure and just buying into our system, we’ll do well.
On the team’s preparations:
I think we’ve made preparations as best we could every practice. That’s our goal, to get better every practice. I think we were better in some aspects in the Great Britain game than we were against Brazil. We took some steps back, too.
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
Looking back on Wednesday’s game, what can you take away from that?
I think we looked good in certain times. At times we look like a team that’s only been together for three days, but as long as we’re getting back on the court and working to get better, we’re on the right track.
Do you think the fact that all of you play professionally overseas helps your team adjust?
It definitely does. FIBA is a different type of game. I think everyone playing overseas has really made that transition into these tournaments a little bit easier.
Do you feel the pressure of having to win a gold medal?
That’s the pressure that we come into these tournaments with, but we just try to focus on the task at hand. Whatever is in front of us, that’s the only thing we can worry about. Hopefully if can get to a point where we’re in contention for a medal, that’s when we’ll start worrying about that.
Are you looking forward to returning to play in Istanbul?
Yeah! I can’t wait to see all my Gala fans. They were great this past year. It’ll be nice to see them all again, because they’re great fans. They’re passionate and hopefully they’ll cheer for the seven ex-Gala players that I think we have on this team, which is pretty cool.
Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx)
Do you think the fact that all of you play professionally overseas helps your team adjust?
I think so, because we know the rules. We kind of know what to expect, just the way the game flows. Sometimes it’s different than the WNBA. Playing overseas really helps us.
On Wednesday’s game:
It was a good game for us. We’re happy to come out here with the win. It was a great atmosphere, and I think we did some really good things.
How are you dealing with the short training time?
We’re just trying to get better every day. We still have a week or so before the games start. But, we’re trying to get better every day, every shoot around, every practice we have is another chance for us to get better.