Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, July 30, 2012

U.S. rolls past Angola

Candace Parker had 14 points and 121 rebounds, Seimone Augustus had 13 points while former UConn star Maya Moore added 11 points, was 5 for 6 from inside the 3-point line to go with five rebounds and four assists to lift the four-time defending U.S. squad to a 90-38 win over Angola in the second of five pool-play games.

Angel McCoughtry added 10 points , Lindsay Whalen had nine points and four assists while former Huskies Swin Cash (eight points), Diana Taurasi (six points and four assists) and Tina Charles (6 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks) also had solid games.

Sylvia Fowles did not play as she rested a tender foot but the other 11 U.S. players scored including Asjha Jones, who had two points in her Olympic debut after being held out of the opener.

Here are some quotes courtesy to the people at USA Basketball

Geno Auriemma (head coach, USA and University of Connecticut) Thoughts on the game:I agree with what our opponents have said because it’s obvious that there is a level of talent that’s … the gap is really, really wide. And it’s important that in a game where you know that there is that disparity that you just do the things you need to do to be a better team; to work hard; to make sure we get the kind of ball movement we want; make sure we get the shots we want. The fact that we had 25 assists on 36 baskets, that’s an incredible number. I think that’s the kind of team we have. I wanted us to get better from Saturday’s game, and I thought we did.
On Candace Parker’s performance:
I thought it was a tremendous performance by Candace. We saw a little bit of everything that she’s capable of doing. There are things that Candace can do that no other player can do. Tonight was a perfect example of that. And it started right from the beginning of the game.
The one thing that we’ve been really, really, really harping on Candace is to really sprint the floor and get herself in situations to score before the defense gets set, and to be a factor in every possession and I thought tonight she was . 
On whether the team is gelling:
Yeah. It’s been a little bit challenging. We played one game and one scrimmage in Seattle, and then we played one game in Washington D.C.; we played one in Manchester and we played two in Istanbul. And that’s the extent of this team’s preparation. You watch China play, and see how well they are playing. They played 30 games before they even finished these games. We would love to have had that preparation but it just doesn’t allow for it.  So, every practice the day before a game, every shoot around the day of the game, every game, we have to use it as another training session to get better and better. Where other countries have been able to do it other ways we have to be able to do it while we are here. Fortunately, we’ve got the kind of players who are able to adapt and adjust very very quickly. But it’s not going to look pretty all the time. Sometimes it’s going to look great and sometimes not so great. Today, there were stretches where we looked really really good.  
On subbing for the starting five in the first quarter … was there something you were upset about?
No, no. I had planned on doing that. We did it in the first game, in the second half. I like that second group as a unit. They change the tempo of the game. When they come in it’s a lot different. There were things that were frustrating but that wasn’t the cause of the substitutions; that was planned.
On whether late start times allow morning shoot around to function as a practice:
This morning we did. This morning we had a workout for about an hour, so that helps. Tomorrow we’ll have practice. We’re staying … it’s a 45-50 minute ride to where we are staying in the city, so it’s not easy to get here and back on game days, but the players want to get together. Again, it’s an opportunity for us to get better. No matter how much they know each other from playing against each other and playing together, just putting players together doesn’t make a good team. We’ll work out tomorrow morning, I think like 11:30 or so, and we’ll get better; we’ll improve on what we did today and hopefully that will be evident against Turkey. Because we’ve got a really, really tough game coming up. They are a very, very good team. As a matter of fact, the next three games are going to be very difficult.
On whether he saw Turkey play earlier in the day, and areas that still need improvement:
France is one of the best teams in the world, so whenever you’re playing one of the best teams in the world, I don’t know that … I guess it was a mild upset, but you can understand teams winning here at the Olympics. Everyone thought the China win over the Czech Republic was an upset. Then you see China play again and realize, maybe it wasn’t such an upset. They are really good. Turkey is very good and they proved it at the European Championships. I saw them play a lot. And then when we went down there to play … yeah, they cause a lot of problems for you. They are big and they are smart and physical. They are really, really well coached. And for us, every game is a practice for us. So it may take us 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes … I don’t know how long for us to figure out what we are trying to do. We played Croatia in Istanbul and beat them by 50 and it was a great game when we played them here, so I’m sure that the same team we played in Istanbul when we played Turkey probably won’t be the same team we play on Wednesday. But they are not going to be playing against the same team either, so it all evens out.  

Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)How much did Coach Auriemma get on all of you after the Croatia game?
He’s actually been, in terms of getting on us, very laid back. I think it’s because he knows that we know what we need to do. Right now we’re just feeling each other out, getting comfortable. In that Croatia game there was a moment in the first and second quarter where we probably could have put them away. Because we didn’t, we gave them life. And it became a little bit of a problem for the rest of the game. But, we know that we have to kind of play within ourselves. We’re so talented that we don’t have to make spectacular plays or crazy plays or try to go for the touchdown play every time. If we just play within ourselves, we’ll be fine. And that’s what he’s been telling us.
Tonight you’re up by a lot and yet you’re still pressing and double-teaming. What kind of message are you sending out?
If somebody got a message, great. For us, it’s really about how we play. We’re not really worried about the competition. Obviously we talk about them and prepare, but it’s more about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, no matter what the score is. We can really use games like this to get to know each other better and to learn because the training time has been limited. So, whether it’s practice or a game, we still have to work on things.
On the play of Candace Parker:
Early in the Croatia game she missed a couple easy ones that she normally makes and I think she kind of had that in the back of her head and she really wanted to come and was focused. Coach Auriemmma told her in the beginning of the game anytime we get a rebound on the defensive end she should just get out and sprint, and she did that. She was able to score easy, we were able to get her looks and she obviously did the rest from there.
Are you where you want to be?
No. I think we can get a lot better, I really, really do. It’s good to have a test early against Croatia, maybe a game like this and now we’re going to have another test with Turkey. That’s all going to help prepare us for hopefully what will end up being the gold medal game.

Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
Turkey’s a good team.  They’ve played together for a long time.  They’re well-coached.  They’ve had a great tournament so far and we just hope we play really well.
On the game tonight?
We played well.  We did some good things.  We improved from the Croatia game so I thought it was overall a good 40 minutes for us.
Thoughts on Angola:
They’re African champions.  We have a lot of respect for them.  They went out there and played hard no matter what the score was.   That was good for them.
What was the difference in the game tonight?
Sometimes there is a fine line … I mean we held that team to zero points in the first eight minutes.   Offense part of it, it always take a little bit of time.  I think today we found a little bit better organization within ourselves and you can tell on the court.
On the improved play of protecting the ball in the second half:
We probably turned the ball over a little bit too much in the first half.  In the second half, we only had three so I think that was good for us to know against better teams you can’t give away possessions so that was really good for us.

Speaking of the Olympics, here is a link to a nice story on how UConn and U.S. coach Geno Auriemma invited former UConn men's coach Dee Rowe, who was an assistant coach on the 1980 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team which did not get to compete because of a boycott ordered by President Jimmy Carter, to take in the Olympics first hand.

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Leedham scores 15 points in loss to Canada

Former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham had 15 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals  but it wasn't enough to lead Great Britain to its first win in the Olympics as Great Britain fell to Canada 73-65.

Natalie Stafford also had 15 points for Great Britain while Shona Thornburg led Canada with 18 points.

Great Britain also put up a good fight against Australia but lost in the Olympic opener for both teams. Next up is another tough test with a game against Russia on Wednesday.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Charles shines as U.S. wins opener

Connecticut Sun center and former UConn star Tina Charles had 14 points and 10 rebounds to lead the U.S. to an 81-56 win over Croatia in the Olympic opener for both teams.

Croatia, which lost to the U.S. by 54 points just seven days ago, struggled to pull away from a pesky Croatia squad. The four-time defending Olympic champions led by just three points at halftime and six points heading into the fourth quarter before a spark off the bench by Angel McCoughtry allowed the U.S. to pull away.

McCoughtry finished with 13 points while Candace Parker (11 points and 13 rebounds) and Tamika Catchings (10 points) also scored in double figures.

Charles and fellow former UConn stars Diana Taurasi (eight points) and Sue Bird (five points, five assists) all started for the U.S. team which is coached by UConn's Geno Auriemma.

Asjha Jones, one of six former Huskies on the squad, was the only player not to see action for the U.S. Auriemma said it was merely a case of Jones being sore and opting to rest her.

"Asjha is just a little bit sore," Auriemma said. "They were on their feet a long time last night.  I figured out I would give her some time off. "

The U.S., which extended their Olympic winning streak to 34 games, will continue pool play against Angola on Monday.

Here are more quotes from Auriemma, Bird, Charles, Swin Cash and Maya Moore courtesy of the folks at USA Basketball.

Geno Auriemma

On tonight’s game
Playing in the Olympics is completely different than playing in any other competition.   We had an opportunity at the beginning of the game when Croatia had a very difficult time scoring.  We had an opportunity there to really open a big lead and we didn’t take advantage of that.  Like a good team, Croatia came back and actually ended up taking the lead against us.   I think that’s to be expected at these games.   You don’t go into any game thinking (you're going to win because) you’re the United States or just because you’re ranked #1 in the world and somebody else isn’t.  So, we’re not surprised at all by how well Croatia played.  We’re not surprised at all about the fact that it was a close game for 30-some minutes.   But, we got better as the game went on.  We kept improving as the game went on and for our team, that’s really important because we haven’t had a lot of time together.   One of the things we want to do is keep improving every game and improving during the course of the game.  We did that.   Again, we have 10 or 11 players that can come off the bench or start and I think that may have been the difference.   I think the Croatia team might have got a little bit tired towards the end of the game because they don’t have the depth that we do.  It’s one of the advantages of the United States.   We have good players but we have more of them.  Tonight I thought that was the difference in the game.
Angel McCoughtry seemed to really spark things in the second half especially defensively.  What did you see from her and the juice she gave that group?
One thing we talked about before the tournament started, whatever your role is, whatever you’re really good at, you need to be great at that for our team and Angel’s a fantastic defender especially off the ball.  So she makes things happen.  That second team we had out there was able to not only give us energy which they did but I think they made it difficult (for Croatia).   I think what that second team did made it possible for when that first group came back, I think they had worn down the Croatian team a little bit.   Angel was a big, big part of that.  She’s one of the quickest players in the world.   When she’s going to the basket or she’s on defense in the passing lanes, there aren’t very many people better than her.
Were you disappointed at all to only be up four a few minutes into the fourth quarter?
I don’t think you can be disappointed at this level.   There’s a lot of really good teams and when you’re playing in a place for the very first time … we have five players that have never been in the Olympics before.  They’re going to be a little bit nervous, everybody’s going to be a little bit nervous but shooting the ball in a brand new venue like this is not going to be easy.  I think you’re going to see a lot of really bad shooting percentages early on in the tournament.   I thought defensively we did a pretty good job.  If you hold a team to 56 points then you did a pretty good job defensively.   The offensive stuff:  some days it’s there, some days it’s not there.   We’re better than we showed but I don’t know that we are going to be great right off the bat.
What was halftime like?  Did you make a lot of adjustments or sense any panic with any of your players?
No.   Like Tina said, they’ve been in this situation a lot.  When you’re a professional basketball player, you have to be prepared to play the game the way it’s being played.  We said before the game started, we’re not going to win the gold medal or lose the gold medal in game one.  You’re not going to win the game or lose the game in the first half.  The adjustments we made were how we were going to guard the pick and roll.   The adjustments were how we were going to play defense moreso than what we were going to do on offense because I knew our offense was going to be OK eventually.   Eventually we were going to make some shots.  Eventually we were going to get our offensive going.  We just made a couple of adjustments defensively on how we were going to guard it.   We made a conscious decision to make sure we used that second group and they came in and did a great job.  That’s basically the only adjustments we made.
On the pressure on the coach to win with a team like the US?
I don’t think it’s about me.   If I was playing, I would feel a lot more pressure because I’m not that good.   So the fact that the players are playing, I don’t feel the pressure myself except when I’m away from the game a little bit and thinking about it.  But, I don’t let that bother me during the day or when I’m with my team or anything like that.  Someday, maybe Monday, maybe Wednesday, maybe Friday, maybe Sunday, who knows, the US is going to lose a game in the Olympics.   That’s just the way the world works.   If it’s me coaching that team, I’ll be disappointed for the players if that were to happen.   I don’t think that’ll effect my life that much.  But, I’ll be disappointed for the players.  I’ll be disappointed for the first-year players that are on this team that have never gotten a gold medal because they want one so desperately.   As long as I keep the focus based on that, then the pressure’s there, whether you worry about it or not.   It’s like you know you know you have a dentist appointment in two weeks, what are you going to do, worry about it every day for two weeks?   On that morning when you wake up, you’re going to worry about it.   I don’t want to worry about what might happen Monday, Wednesday, Friday, whatever.

Sue Bird

Was the team nervous tonight with it being its first game?
I don’t think that nervous is the right word. I think as a team Croatia played a great game and you have to take your hat off to them. But as a team I don’t think we played our best. We have a lot of individuals who have high standards, as individuals and as a team, and when we weren’t playing up to that what you saw was a little bit of disappoint on all of our faces. But we knew, we knew in the second half we just had to stay with it, stay with it and eventually it would turn around and it did.
Are you satisfied with the game?
A win is a win in the Olympics; you’ve got to be satisfied.
Not the start you envisioned?
No, to be honest I didn’t really envision anything. I think there was probably a little jitters; probably a little sluggishness if you will; but for the most part we just didn’t finish off plays we normally finish off and we allowed a team that when they get going can really get going. They’re known to kind of spread out the floor and try and hit as many threes as they can. When we didn’t put them away early they got back into the game that way. But in the second half we knew we just had to stay with it and the shots we normally make would go in and hopefully we would be able to wear them down.

Swin Cash

On the team’s 21 turnovers:
A lot of it is our offensive flow. When we get familiar with each other, some of those turnovers will cut back. But in an environment like this, where we’re still trying to build that chemistry throughout this tournament, you’re going to get some of those turnovers. With a point guard like Sue Bird and putting the ball in her hands, I feel good that a lot of the turnovers will cut down.
On the spark off the bench:
It’s one of those things where we feel like we’re the deepest team in this tournament. We have the ability to really stretch the floor and get some pressure full court. That’s our game. We have a very athletic team, a very versatile team and we try to utilize all of our strengths. Like I said, we have a lot to work on.
What’s the biggest area that needs improvement?
One, take care of your body. That’s what’s first. Second, we just need to watch video because a lot of times you can learn the game without going so much on the practice court, getting really familiar with things, seeing how the offense works the floor.

Tina Charles

On tonight’s game:
This was my first time so it was really exciting and kind of nerve-wracking for  myself but I think my teammates and I kept our composure out there. Croatia played great.  They came back.  They didn’t settle when they were down.   They started making their shots.   Overall, it was a great game but I think in the second half, we turned it up and we were aggressive coming out and we just had a point to prove.   We came out and we got the win.
Was there anything in particular you noticed you could do to exploit the Croatia defense?
I know we definitely were trying to play an inside-out game.   Sylvia, Candace and I need to do a better job of finishing around the basket but Coach definitely wanted us to point an emphasis on getting the ball inside and executing plays, just trying to limit turnovers and get on the offensive boards.  So that was one thing he said at halftime, to definitely get on the offensive boards.   Tamika Catchings did a great job doing that.
Were you deterred at all when they made it a game before halftime?
No.  We’re pros and we’ve all been in these positions before, whether it be with our teams back home or in college.  I think everybody that came across us as players definitely prepared us for these type of games.  Having captains do it like Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings talking to us has given us that force to go out there and keep it on and just keep playing through it.  Everything is not going to be because we’re Team USA, we’re going to blow people out.  Everybody’s going to come out and play us hard.
What were your thoughts on last night’s Opening Ceremonies?
It was epic.   I think that’s the best word I can use.   It was definitely an epic moment for me … something I’ll never forget.  I think it goes along with winning a national championship when I was playing at UConn.  It’s just a feeling that you can’t describe.   It just showed … all these past years just came down to that one night.   That definitely was the cherry on top for everything I’ve been through.  Just that one night.

Maya Moore
On playing in her first Olympic game:
The first thing we noticed was the atmosphere. So many people came and were excited to watch us play. It was a good feeling being in the arena. So that was a really good way to start. I’m glad that we were able to work through some things today. Hopefully the way we finished the game will build the momentum for our next game.
Do you think there were a lot of first game jitters?
I don’t think we have jitters at this point. It’s just that sometimes we’re a little off. It happened a few times on the offensive end and especially defensively. For the most part we held them to a pretty low number of points. They’re great shooters as well and when we left them a little bit of space they knocked them in. So, there are a few things we can take from this, as far as our defense and how we’re going to guard screens. Offensively we just need to keep going, because we know we can score.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Augustus, Taurasi lead U.S. past Turkey

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi had 14 points in a hard-earned 80-61 win over Turkey
in the U.S. Olympic team's final exhibition game before the start of the Olympics.
(Photo courtesy of USA Basketball)
In what was easily the most competitive of the United States Olympic team's five pre-Olympic international friendlies, the U.S. was pushed by host Turkey for three quarters before pulling away for an 80-61 victory in the final exhibition game before the start of the Olympics.

Seimone Augustus led the U.S. with 16 points, former UConn star Diana Taurasi had 14 while Sylvia Fowles added 12 points and Candace Parker finished with eight points and a game-high 12 rebounds. The other five former UConn stars on the U.S. team combined for just 17 points although Sue Bird and Maya Moore did combined for 10 of the 20 assists for the U.S.

The U.S. will remain in Turkey and practice on Monday and Tuesday before heading to London. The U.S. will open against Croatia on Saturday. The U.S. beat three of the five teams in its Olympic pool during the pre-Olympic preparation.

Here are some quotes from Geno Auriemma and Diana Taurasi

Geno Auriemma
On the game:
I think it’s better for us than last night for sure. We had to make plays. We had to get stops, and they are a really, really good team. They have a lot of weapons, they have a lot of ways they can beat you and they are really smart. We gave them a lot of life. We missed a lot of opportunities that would have made it much easier for us, but maybe in the long run that’s better too. It’s easy to win when you shoot (78.0) percent like we did last night. It’s another thing when you shoot 35.0 percent in the first half and are able to beat a really good team by 19. So yeah, it showed some of our flaws and our warts, like everybody else has, and we’ve got four more practices to fix it and then we are on the big stage.

On the USA’s shooting:
I think when teams don’t shoot the ball very well, you do have to make a decision. Is it good shooters getting wide-open shots that don’t go in, or are they contested shots, or are they wrong players taking the wrong shots? So, I betcha there was a whole bunch of that – all three of those things. We missed some wide-open layups inside. We missed some open shots that we’ve been making, and Turkey is a really good defensive team. They put some pressure on you, and it took us a while. But once we got that little bit of a spurt, when the shots start going in, then it changes the whole complexion of the game. So, it wasn’t just we shot the ball poorly, I think they contributed to that a little bit as well.

On Seimone Augustus:
That’s why you have somebody like that. You bring her in the game because you know offensively; she’s got it going every night. Some players they know what they are good at. They know what their specialty is, and everybody on the team knows, if we go to her, something good is going to happen and she didn’t disappoint, which she rarely does. So, I was happy for her because going into the Olympics, she’s going to be that designated hitter. You are going to bring her off the bench, and you are going to get instant offense from her. So, this is a good send-off for her.

On the six players who have played in Turkey for either Fenerbache or Galatasaray:
Basketball in Europe is kind of like basketball in the United States. There are pockets where it’s great, and there are places where it is ok. This is one of those places where people are rabid about women’s basketball, and they have a right to be. They have two great teams with a tremendous amount of talent that has played her over the years, and they are knowledgeable group of fans as well.

When all of that is said and done, all of that goes out the window when your country is playing. I don’t care how much you hate Fenerbache, it doesn’t matter, when you are (cheering) for your country, you hate the guys they are playing against, so this was Turkey versus the U.S., and I would venture to say that a lot of the people there that love Diana, loved her before the game and loved her after the game and during the game they booed her every time she touched the ball, so it was perfect.

On the fourth quarter as the USA pulled away:
I think the second group that came in at the end of the third quarter, because they play so fast and have so much energy, they really take the legs away from some of the other teams that we play against, and tonight was another example of that. We were able to wear them down. There is not as much of a drop off when we sub as there is on some other teams. The depth that the United States has is one of our biggest strengths, and tonight was a perfect example of that.

On the USA – Turkey rematch in the preliminary round of the Olympics:
The Olympics bring out either the best or the worst in people, and so when we go up there, some people that didn’t play well tonight are going to play great, some people that played well are going to struggle. The pressures of the Olympics get to you one way or another, but I would think we know them; they know us. There aren’t going to be a lot of secrets when we play them. They learned a little bit about us; we learned a little bit about them. They are a good team, and I’m looking forward to playing them again.

Diana Taurasi
On the game:
I think we did some really good things. Obviously, this was a lot tougher team, and that’s what we are going to face in the Olympics, so I think it was a good test for us.

Whenever a team comes out and does a good job and plays well and challenges you, it really shows what kind of resolve we have.

On the USA’s shooting:
I think we got good shots. One night you shoot 70.0 percent, another night you shoot 30 – that’s basketball. You have to find a way to win, and we did that.

On the USA’s depth:
Whenever you have one-through-12 that can go in there and change the game in different ways, I think it gives coach some confidence and it gives everyone a sense of picking each other up.

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Tiffany Hayes returns home

Former UConn star Tiffany Hayes took advantage of the Olympic break to return home to Lakeland, Florida and hold a basketball camp yesterday.

 Here is a link to a story on Hayes' camp

 Hayes finished the first half of her rookie season with the WNBA's Atlanta Dream. Hayes scored in double figures in her last four games and her 13.6 points average in July trailed only Tulsa's Glory Johnson and Los Angeles' Nneka Ogwumike.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bird returns in U.S. win over Croatia

Former UConn star Sue Bird brings the ball up the
court in Saturday's 109-55 victory over Croatia.
(photo courtesy of USA Basketball)
The day after the funeral of her stepfather former UConn star Sue Bird was back with the U.S. Olympic team and in action for an exhibition game against Croatia in Istanbul, Turkey.

Bird had eight points, four rebounds and a team-high five assists in a dominating 109-55 win. Bird talked about the death of Dennis Burden following the game. Here's a link to Doug Feinberg's Associated Press story on Bird's return and emotional week

Sylvia Fowles led the U.S. with 15 points (on 6 of 6 shooting). Candace Parker (14 points, 6 rebounds), Seimone Augustus (12 points) and former Husky Tina Charles (11 points) also scored in double figures. As for the other former UConn players Diana Taurasi had nine points and four assists, Swin Cash scored eight points, Asjha Jones had six points and Maya Moore had four points and a team-high eight rebounds.

Here are some quotes from Geno Auriemma, Bird and Taurasi courtesy of the USA Basketball site

Geno Auriemma
On tonight’s game: 
It’s a little odd, for us and for them I’m sure, to know we are playing them a week from today, so we wanted to make sure we found out a little bit about them and more importantly, kind of start getting into some kind of flow ourselves. Having Sue back really helps an awful lot. It’s fun to watch us when our defense is generating all of our offense for us like it did that first 10 minutes. You score as many points as we did that first quarter, that’s a great sign for us because we have 12 scorers on our team. So, as long as the ball is moving, as long as everybody is on the same page and our defense is the catalyst, we’re obviously capable of being a really, really good team just like we were tonight.

With a big lead throughout, were you able to accomplish some things?
Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t. I thought in this instance we tried not to get too complicated. We stuck with just two or three things, and I thought because we didn’t try to do 15 things, the two or three that we were working on, there’s a little more familiarity now. Players were talking on the bench about how we are starting to get into a rhythm because players are starting to understand where to go next, what to do, who likes the ball where and when. So in that respect, regardless of the lead, we managed to make some players feel more comfortable on the floor, and that’s good.

Sue Bird
On returning to the team after returning home following the death of her stepfather figure:
In a way, this is kind of my normal routine, being with a team, being around these guys. It feels real good to get back to that. It was obviously also really good to be home with my family and my mom last week.

Diana Taurasi
On tonight’s game:
I hope we got a little bit better today. The last couple of days we’ve been working on some things, trying to get a little bit more organized on both sides and I think it showed a little bit today.
On the USA’s 70.8 shooting in the first quarter:
That’s a product of getting really good looks and people sharing the ball. Obviously you still have to make it, but if you get good shots, you can live with them. Today that’s what happened.
Have you been working on defense a lot?
I think it’s one of our strengths. We have so many athletic, energetic players and that’s something coach wants us to do, get after it a little bit, put a lot of pressure on them and then turn that to offense.
You played two seasons in Istanbul, including last season on this court. What was it like stepping back onto your home court?It was great. The fans here were great. Tomorrow night when we play Turkey, it’ll be a great scene for basketball. The people here love basketball. They love us.
How happy are you for your Turkey teammates that they qualified for the Olympics?
I’m excited for them. They’ve worked really hard. We’ve played against them in the EuroLeague for a long time You can just see their development every year, getting better, getting more competitive. For them to make the Olympics is a big deal. I think they’re going to go into the Olympics and make some stuff happen.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Report: Castro Marques cut from Brazilian Olympic team

According to a report on the site, former WNBA wing Iziane Castro Marques has been cut from Brazil's Olympic squad.

Perhaps the most stunning part of the move is that she was cut without making room for another player so it will be interesting to hear what led to her removal from the team.

Castro Marques, who led Brazil with 21 points in an exhibition game against the United States on Monday, has had previous issues during her time with the national team. Back in the 2008 Olympic qualifying tournament there were reports of a verbal altercation with Brazil's head coach which resulted in her not playing in either the third and fourth quarters. When she refused to enter the game in overtime that seemed to be the final straw as she was not among the 16 players named as candidates for Brazili's Olympic team in late June of 2008.

Leedham leading way for Great Britain

When looking at players who have scored at least 20 points against the U.S. women's senior national team over the last few years it's not shocking to see veterans like Ann Wauters and Evantha Maltsi on the list. But to have a player just two years out of college accomplish the feat - as former Franklin Pierce and Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham did on Wednesday - is certainly an impressive accomplishment.

I spent several minutes on the phone with Leedham on Thursday and was able to address a handful of subjects including Leedham's 21-point performance against the U.S. “Oh my God, it was amazing,” Leedham said.

“Going to a Division II school for all four years you (admire) people like that in the four years watching them play on TV. The fact that I am meeting them on the court all the (11) players at once, it was amazing. It was just a real exciting experience sharing the court with people like (Diana) Taurasi and Maya Moore. It is amazing to be able to compete with them is a dream come true that we can do that.”

Considering some of Great Britain’s recent results, the fact that it stayed with the U.S. for a stretch should not be a shocker. Britain was only down seven at halftime to world No. 2 ranked Australia, defeated No. 8 France behind 23 points from Leedham and shocked No. 4 Czech Republic by 24 points led by 19 points and 12 steals from Leedham.

Leedham’s effort certainly caught the eye of U.S. and UConn head coach Geno Auriemma.

“She had such a great career over in the U.S.,” Auriemma said after Wednesday’s game. “She's one of those really smart individuals who really knows how to play and takes advantage of all the little things that you may or may not do. She knows how to get open. She doesn't miss very many open shots. She's very crafty, to say the least. I'm sure on her team, they're asking her to do a lot and I was really impressed with the way she played.”

Leedham is not only a member of Great Britain’s team which received an automatic berth into the Olympics as the host country but she is the team captain. In a week she will be walking into London’s Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremonies.

“It will be about a million different emotions probably a permanent smile on my face and maybe tears of joy and tears of 'oh my God, this is really happening right now,'” Leedham said. “It will be something that I will never probably be able to explain but it will be very unique.”

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jamelle Elliott signs extension at Cincinnati

Former UConn star player and assistant coach Jamelle Elliott signed a three-year extension meaning she is under contract to be the head women's basketball coach at Cincinnati through the 2017-18 season.

"I am excited and it is my privilege to sign a contract extension through the 2017-2018 season,” Elliott said in a statement. “The support that we have received from the UC administration has been invaluable with helping us elevate our program. I would like to thank President Greg Williams, Director of Athletics Whit Babcock, Senior Woman Administrator Robin Martin and the rest of the athletic department for their belief and commitment to Cincinnati women’s basketball. As a staff, we are excited and energized to ‘Represent the C’ and continuing our success in the future, both on the court and in the classroom.”

Elliott led Cincinnati to a 16-16 record in 2011-12, her third year at the helm of the Bearcats.


Leedham planning to give WNBA a shot in 2013

Former Cheshire Academy star and current Great Britain captain Johannah Leedham said she is planning to come over for the Connecticut Sun's 2013 training camp.

I spoke with Leedham, who scored 21 points in an 88-63 loss to the United States, a couple of hours ago for a story which could run in the Register as early as tomorrow. A third-round pick of the Sun in 2010, I asked Leedham her intentions for the next WNBA season.

"Absolutely I am going to come over next year," Leedham said. "It is just bad timing really with the Olympics and stuff like that, having qualifiers it has been a busy time and a fun time for basketball in Britain. I've had to
commit myself to that so I haven't had time to go to the WNBA yet. Next year is my time to go and give the
WNBA a shot. I am going to put all of my time into that."

Having gone to prep school and college in New England should be a bonus when she arrives back in Connecticut for training camp.

"I went to prep school in Connecticut and New Hampshire is not that far so I feel like I have a really good
support system in New England which is great," Leedham said. "I have a lot of positive vibes there and it would be lovely."

The 5-foot-11 Leedham could provide a combination of size and a 3-point threat that the Sun has not had at the small forward position in a couple of years. With the possibility of Leedham and Spain's Alba Torrens, a former FIBA Europe Young Woman of the Year winner, the Sun could be adding a couple of intriguing prospects to a nucleus which entered the Olympic break leading the Eastern Conference with a 15-4 record.

If Leedham makes the Sun in 2013, she would join Tina Charles, Kelsey Griffin, Danielle McCray, Kalana Greene and Allison Hightower and become the sixth players taken in the 2010 draft to play for Connecticut.

After Wednesday's game, former UConn star Maya Moore was asked how Leedham would fare in the WNBA.

"She’s tough," Moore said. "She plays with a lot of confidence and she plays hard the whole game. When she had open threes, she knocked them down. She didn’t miss many of her open threes. She seems like someone who knows how to play: pass, cut, screen, make reads, just play basketball. So, anytime you know how to play the game and you have some talent, as far as being a shooter, you have a shot anywhere. She was really big for them. You could tell that she was their leader, as far as a go-to player to score. I have a lot of respect for how she played today."


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

UConn's recruiting focus on next year

Even before top recruiting targets Diamond DeShields (North Carolina), Taya Reimer (Notre Dame) and Karlie Samuelson (Stanford) opted to commit elsewhere, the UConn brain trust was not doing cartwheels around the options in the high school Class of 2013 opting to focus on the talent-rich Class of 2014 pretty early on in the process.

A recruiting source told me that UConn's attitude towards the current group of available Class of 2013 commits is along the line of  "we'll get who we get." In other words, UConn is impressed by the three players it is currently recruiting in that class but don't look for any new names to emerge between now and the early signing period in November.

UConn is still involved with guards Linnae Harper and Saniya Chong and post Erica McCall in the Class of 2013. Chong was recently quoted as saying that she plans on taking visits to her final four schools (UConn, Louisville, Maryland and Ohio State) in the fall before making her choice.

Harper and McCall are both members of the U.S. team which will be competing in the  FIBA U17 World Championship for Women and the process of visiting campuses and weighing their college options will have to wait until they return from Amsterdam next month. The U-17 team will meet in Colorado Springs on Aug. 1 for training camp before leaving for Italy for three international friendlies. The U17 World Championship will run from Aug. 17-26 which means they will be tied up with their USA Basketball commitments for almost the entire month of August.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma saw each of those players earlier this month. He was on hand to see Chong score 53 points and Harper rip down 18 rebounds. UConn seems to have a different approach in the Class of 2014. The Huskies already have a commitment from sweet-shooting Arizona guard Courtney Ekmark and are EXTREMELY high on Brianna Turner, the only member of the Class of 2014 on the U.S. U-17 team.

I was able to speak to Turner, a versatile 6-foot-3 forward from Pearland, Tex., at the U-17 training camp in Kissimmee, Fla. in May. She talked about taking a trip to the UConn campus.

"I went to New York for spring break and took a train to Connecticut," Turner said. "We took a train to Hartford and then we drove to where UConn is. I toured the campus and it is nice. I got to meet the players and coaches. They were really nice and I liked what they had."

Unlike Ekmark, who was one of the earliest commits UConn has ever received, Turner seems willing to take her time.

"I want to take as many visits as I can," Turner said. "Probably next year when I am a junior to narrow it down to 10 schools."

In terms of committing she said "probably after high school season my junior year."

The final question I asked her is what she was looking for in her college of choice.

"I want a coach to take me out of my comfort zone and give me something I have never had before," Turner said.

Auriemma saw Turner in person earlier this month and I've heard that he came away extremely impressed with her.

Apparently Turner is not the only Texas player to catch the eyes of the UConn coaches. Recruiting analyst Keil Moore tweeted earlier this week that Recee Caldwell, a 5-8 guard from San Antonio, is planning on visiting UConn in the fall. Another player to keep an eye on is Christ the King star Sierra Calhoun. Calhoun's dad has been quoted as saying he'd prefer his kids to go to the same school and his son Omar Calhoun will be a freshman on UConn men's team in the fall. LaJahna Drummer, a 6-2 forward from Inglewood, Calif.,  listed UConn among eight schools she considers to be favorites on her bio at the U-17 national team trials.

In a perfect world UConn would not have unbalanced classes but pretty much from the time they locked up a sensational Class of 2012 with commitments from consensus national player of the year Breanna Stewart, No. 2 rated Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, they knew it would not be easy to convince players in the next recruiting cycle to come to Storrs because of a concern over available playing time. If the Huskies get only one or even two commitments in the Class of 2013, it wouldn't be the first time they went down this road. In the Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi classes UConn signed just one player and rising senior Kelly Faris was the only player signed in her recruiting class.

The good news is that while many of their competitors have been going hard after Class of 2013 prospects, UConn seems to have a jump on identifying and pursuing the top players in the Class of 2014.

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Maya Moore, Jo Leedham shine in exhibition

It was more of a struggle than Monday's win over Brazil but the United States defeated Great Britain 88-63 in an international friendly played in Manchester, England.

Former UConn star Maya Moore led the U.S. with 18 points, six rebounds,  five assists and three steals. Moore also didn't commit a turnover in 24 minutes. Lindsay Whalen, Moore's teammate with the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, was the only other U.S. player in double figures as she had 13 points and five assists. Former UConn star Asjha Jones, who missed Monday's game against Brazil as she continued to recover from an injured left foot/ankle, played 13 minutes and finished with two points and two rebounds.

Former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham had a game-high 21 points, four rebounds and four assists for Great Britain.

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Here's a link to obit for Sue Bird's stepdad

For those interested, here is a link to the obituary for Dennis Burden, the stepfather of former UConn guard Sue Bird who died at the age of 68 on Saturday.

Burden, a regular at Bird's games when she was at UConn, was the retired director of athletics at the Great Neck North school district.

Calling hours are on Thursday from 2-5 and 7-9 p.m. at the Thomas F. Dalton Funeral Home in Levittown, N.Y. (2786 Hempstead Turnpike is the address). The Catholic mass is Friday 11:00 AM at St Bernard's R C Church (3100 Hempstead Turnpike, Levittown).

Bird left the U.S. Olympic team to return home to New York to be with her family during these trying times and is expected to meet up with the U.S. team on Saturday when they are in Istanbul, Turkey for a pair of international friendly and a couple of practices before heading to London  for the final preparations leading into the Olympics.


Kelley Hardwick's attorney "NBA made the right decision"

I just got off the phone with Randolph McLaughlin, an attorney with Newman Ferrara who is representing Kelley Hardwick, who filed an employment discrimination suit against UConn and U.S. women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, the NBA and USA Basketball.

Hardwick is alleging that Auriemma attempted to kiss her in the hallway of a hotel in Russia in 2009 where both were working at a tournament the U.S. was taking part in. The lawsuit said that after Auriemma was rebuked he began the process of having her removed from security detail from the Olympics.

Multiple sources confirmed to the Register that Hardwick was assigned to security detail at the Olympics. The NBA would not comment or confirm that she was assigned to provide security for the men's basketball team although a source told the Register that is the case. McLaughlin said the fact that Hardwick is on a plane headed to the Olympics to work security is a vindication of Hardwick and the work she has provided for the league in the past.

"We think the NBA made the right decision so she can do the job she should have been doing all along," McLaughlin said.

"It's unfortunate it took this series of events to make a decision which should have been made from the beginning," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin would not comment on whether the filing of the lawsuit played a role in having her assigned to Olympic security detail nor would he comment on whether Hardwick's assignment to the Olympic security detail would impact the status of the lawsuit since she was seeking "monetary and injunctive relief" for being removed from Olympic security detail and now she is on the security team for the third straight Olympics.

Sue Bird set to return on Saturday; UConn's '12-13 rosteris up

Former UConn guard and two-time Olympian Sue Bird is expected to rejoin the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team on Saturday when the team is in Istanbul, Turkey for international friendlies against Croatia and Turkey as well as a couple of practices before heading to London.

Bird left the team during the recent training camp in Washington, D.C. following the death of her stepfather Dennis Burden.

ESPN2 will televise the U.S. Olympic women's basketball game against Great Britain today 2:10 p.m..  Great Britain's top scorer is former Cheshire Academy star Johannah Leedham.

For those interested in such things, UConn has put up the roster and bios for the upcoming season on the website.

Moriah Jefferson will wear No. 4, Breanna Stewart No. 30 and Kiah Stokes No. 41.

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Report: Kelley Hardwick working security at Olympics

According to an Associated Press story the NBA confirmed that Kelley Hardwick will be on security detail at the Olympics.

 Hardwick alleges in a lawsuit that Auriemma, the U.S. and UConn women's basketball coach, worked to have her removed from providing security for the U.S. team at the Olympics after she said Auriemma tried to kiss her in a hallway in a hotel in Ekaterinburg, Russia in 2009. Auriemma called Hardwick's claims "beyond false" in the statement released after the lawsuit was filed.

 Hardwick filed the lawsuit because "seeks monetary and injunctive relief" from Auriemma, the NBA and USA Basketball for being removed from Olympic security detail. However, a source told me that Hardwick is on security detail for the U.S. men's basketball team at the Olympics which begs the question of what financial hardship has Hardwick incurred?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Charles named Eastern Conference's top player

With no WNBA games being played until August 16, the WNBA released its Player of the Month awards for July and they were identical to the ones announced for the month of June as Tina Charles of the Connecticut Sun earned the nod in the Eastern Conference while Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks was the Western Conference honoree.

Charles led all Eastern Conference players by averaging 11.2 rebounds per game and she was fourth in scoring (19 PPG) while leading Connecticut to a 5-1 record and earning back to back Player of Week award.


Brazil's Luis Cicchetto: U.S. "team that is going to win it all."

Former WNBA sharpshooter Iziane Castro Marques not only led Brazil with 21 points in Monday's loss to the United States but she also served as the translator for Brazil head coach Luis Cicchetto who apologized to the media in Washington, D.C. that his English wasn't very good.

The best part of Brazil's portion of Meet the Press was when Cicchetto (through Castro Marques) stated the  obvious.

"We know that USA is the best team."

Then Castro Marques and/or Cicchetto went a step further.

"They are the team that is going to win it all."

With Sue Bird back with her family following the death of her stepdad, Lindsay Whalen not only got the start against Brazil but may have been the best player on the court.

Whalen scored 16 points (on just nine shots) and had five rebounds and five assists in 21 minutes.

"I wanted to make sure we came out and got some good looks, move the ball, share the ball and be aggressive when the time presented itself," Whalen said. "I think it was a good start for us. We got up, pressured the ball and make things happen."

Diana Taurasi, who shared team scoring honors with Whalen said, "when you play with somebody like Lindsay it makes the game pretty easy, just run and she will find you open."

U.S. coach Geno Auriemma compared Whalen to a fullback who moves the chains with gritty between the tackle runs on the gridiron.

"I don't think early on in Lindsay's career she probably got enough respect or enough exposure to let people know how good she really is," Auriemma said. "When she is on the world championship team, you might think some people were somewhat surprised but she just grows on you the more you are around her. She played great at the World Championships, came back and won a WNBA championship. She had gotten better and better and better every single year. The fact that she is able to play that role, come off the bench and do whatever you ask her to do run the offense, score points, play pressure defense, she is just a special kid to be around. She is in phenomenal shape. I would think over the next month she is going to have a real big impact on our team."

The press conference was coming to a close and as he tends to do Auriemma ended with a flourish.

He was asked about Angel McCoughtry's failed dunk attempt and the answer was a case of Auriemma playing the room to utter perfection.

"Angel's knee is fine, her hands are fine, her ankles are good, her arms and shoulder are good," Auriemma said. "As you move up that ladder things don't become so good. That was the lamest attempt at a dunk I have ever seen in my life. I can honestly say that. I embellish things a little bit but I am not embellishing it. What Sylvia (Fowles) did was honorable. I have seen guys miss dunks and Sylvia, she has been dunking her brains out in practice. What Sylvia did was an honorable attempt to kind of wake up the crowd. what Angel did was bring comic relief to the crowd so I guess they both had their place in the game."

This pretty much wraps up my coverage from the U.S. training camp. I feel pretty fortunate that my bosses decided to send me not only to Orlando to cover the U-17 and U-18 training camps but also down to D.C. for the Olympic camp. I was able to catch up with former and future Huskies, wrote 8-10 stories, 35 blog entries and probably as many if not more videos during my two trips. Hopefully you enjoyed the coverage I know it was a lot of fun and rewarding to provide a look at these players.

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Syracuse's Jim Boeheim talks about move to ACC and Geno Auriemma

My last task in what has been a memorable and productive four days in Washington, D.C. was to speak to Syracuse men's basketball coach Jim Boeheim after Monday's men's basketball game between the U.S. team of which Boeheim is an assistant coach and Brazil.  The timing was ideal since earlier on Monday the Big East and Syracuse announced that the Orange's move from the Big East to the ACC would become official on July 1, 2013.

 It has been previously reported that this would be Syracuse (and Pittsburgh's) last season in the Big East but with a date set for the departure and Boeheim being the most influential coaching figure in Syracuse athletics I thought it was the perfect time to get his take on the news.

 "It is time to move, the Big East needs to move on and we need to move on," Boeheim said. "We had an unbelievable run. It has been a memorable experience but things happen, the Big East changed over the years many times and it always worked out. This will work out for us and it will work out for the Big East."

 I asked Boeheim how much he will miss the classic games against UConn.

 "It is tough, those were great games," Boeheim said. "I can't tell you how great those games were over the years and probably the greatest game played in the Big East (a six-overtime thriller won by Syracuse in the 2009 Big East quarterfinals) and a lot of other really good ones. It really will be missed, there is no question."

Boeheim is a good friend with Geno Auriemma so I asked him to talk about Auriemma and being able to be over in London when they both try to secure gold medals for their respective teams.

"Geno's got the usual, the best team in the world," Boeheim said. "Every time he seems to go out there, he seems to have a great team. They have a great team and it will be fun watching them play.

"Both (men's and women's) teams get along, that is important because it is a long haul and you need to stay together because you are going to face some very difficult times in international basketball."

Finally, I asked him how much it means to him to be on the Olympic coaching staff.

"It means a lot to represent your country to work with the best players in the world, being up close and personal," Boeheim said. "It is a great thrill for me and also a learning experience too."

Tina Charles, Maya Moore lead next generation of U.S. stars

There must have been times when former UConn stars Tina Charles and Maya Moore wondered if the Olympics would ever get here.

It seems like a lifetime again when they were among the first 11 players named to the U.S. Olympic basketball team back in late March.

Now they are just a couple of weeks away from their Olympic debut.

“It is kind of like torture at this point. I just want to get over there and play. I obviously do enjoy every minute that I have with USA group but I definitely am ready to play,” said Moore, who had 11 points, six rebounds and three steals in Monday's exhibition win over Brazil. “We have been talking about it for so long now. I just want to get out there.

“I am going to come out with as much energy as I can to make sure we can cause some chaos for the other team, being aggressive on the offensive end and doing anything I can to help my team.”

Charles teams with Sylvia Fowles and Candace Parker to give the United States an embarrassment of riches in the post. They are also three of the five U.S. players 26 of younger.

“I am really excited to be around these group of girls,” said Charles, who had nine of her 11 points in the third quarter and added 10 rebounds. “I am definitely learning every day. I am just trying to follow their lead. Me and Maya are the youngest ones here so we are looking up to everybody.”

Charles and Moore were headliners on back to back UConn national championship teams and they became an unstoppable tandem later in their careers. There was some of that magic and on-court chemistry between the two during the final U.S-based training camp before the team heads overseas.

 “We had a little connection in practice,” Charles said. “I pointed up and she threw an alley up and it is good to see we still have it. “It is always great to be (playing) with Maya. Maya is a big reason for my success. I looked up to her even though I am older than her when I was at school; just her approach to the game definitely helped me along the way.

Moore, who was a year behind Charles as UConn, is looking forward to sharing the experience of going after an Olympic gold medal with her college teammate.

“We haven't really had a chance to have a good time together since she graduated so it is going to be fun to hang out with her, the off the court moments,” Moore said. But it’s not only the two youngest former Huskies who are loving life as an Olympian. Asjha Jones is also a first-time Olympian, Swin Cash is going for her second Olympic gold medal while Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are three-time Olympians. “There is definitely a sisterhood with some of the veterans, Asjha, Swin, Sue and Dee it is really spectacular how that generation of players from UConn are still being so dominant, it is really cool,” Moore said. “I am really proud of them and happy to be associated with them that way. It is something we don't necessarily think about when we are out here. We are just kind of playing at a level we don't even realize it.”

U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said that Asjha Jones could have played in Monday's game against Brazil but he wants to give the former UConn star a chance to get as close to 100 percent as she can.

Jones injured her left foot and ankle when she stepped on Michelle Snow's foot late in last week's WNBA game between the Connecticut Sun and Washington Mystics. She missed Friday's game against Chicago and Saturday's U.S. national team practice. She did some stuff in Sunday's practice and warmed up before Monday's game before sitting out.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Geno talks about death of Sue Bird's step father

There were some heavy hearts around the U.S. women's national team with the word that the step father of Sue Bird passed away.

Dennis Burden was a significant presence during Bird's playing days as you almost always say him at the game or out and about in the town UConn was playing in.

Obviously Bird left the team to be with her family and UConn coach Geno Auriemma is not exactly sure when she will be back.

"Sue, I told her to take as much time as she need, come back when you need to come back," Auriemma said. "She may or not play in the game at Manchester (England). We'll know tomorrow. We'll have a better idea what all the arrangements are for Dennis."

Taurasi, one of Bird's closest friends, echoed Auriemma sentiments.

"I talked to Sue a little bit today and she is doing pretty good," Taurasi said. "She will be back with the team as soon as she feels fit. She will be there when the real games start. She will be ready."

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Geno dishes on Rizzotti and President Obama

Following the game there were a wide range of topics that UConn and U.S. national team coach Geno Auriemma addressed following a 99-67 exhibition victory over Brazil at the Verizon Center. Let's start with his reaction to former UConn guard Jen Rizzotti being named to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

"One of the things I have always thought about Jen is when she ws in high school, she played the game in a way that people went to high school girls basketball games and that doesn't happen a lot and in small places like New Fairfield, Connecticut. When she came to UConn she played the game in such a way that everybody wanted to watch her play. "She's a 5-5, 5-6 girl in a ponytail who inspired an entire state to become women's basketball fans. What tells you all you need to know about Jen is her senior year she averaged 11 points a game and she was the national player of the year. Even now as a coach she represents all the things that are great about women's basketball. She has inspired more young people to play women's basketball than anybody I've ever been around."

Following the game President Barack Obama meet the U.S. team and Auriemma talked about what he had to say.

 "The President is a huge basketball fan, everybody knows that," Auriemma said. "He wanted to congratulate the players and wish them luck. He probably spent a lot more time then they wanted oo down there just being a regular guy. "He wanted to know about the team, where we were going, what the seeds are and who we are playing. He has a pretty good grip on what is going on in the Olympics. Some of the players had already met him. He treated all of them exactly the same, we knew some of them by their first name, some he recognized. One of the great things abou meeting the President, whether you votes for him or didn't vote for him whether he is a Republican, a Democrat or something else, when you are in the presence of the President, you are in the presence of the President. We had dinner with a bunch of generals and you get to shake hands with two four-star generals. It's not the same as no disrespect but it is not the same as being in Manchester, Connecticut and saying hi to one of the cops at Dunkin' Donuts."

Staying on the subject of meeting the President, former UConn star Diana Taurasi said "With the President we talked a little healthcare, tax breaks."

Lindsay Whalen, playing the role of the straight man in the tag-team press conference with Taurasi, was thrilled to meet President Obama for the first time.

"It was the first time I have ever met him so it was pretty cool," Whalen said. "What he said is represent the country well and make us proud so I know we will take it to heart and go to London with that mindset."

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Rizzotti part of 2013 Hall of Fame class

Jen Rizzotti, the point guard on UConn's first national championship team, is one of six players elected into the next class for the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Rizzotti will join her former UConn teammate Rebecca Lobo to become the second former Husky in the Hall of Fame. Rizzotti, currently the head coach at Hartford, played at UConn from 1992-96 and 1,540 points, 637 assists, and 349 steals. Rizzotti joins Annette Smith-Knight, Peggie Gillom-Granderson and Sue Wicks in the players category while Ohio State's Jim Foster (one of the people who gave UConn coach Geno Auriemma his shot in the coaching profession) and Texas A&M's Gary Blair will be inducted as coaching representatives. The Class of 2013 will be formally introduced at the 2012 State Farm Tip-Off Classic between Baylor and Kentucky on Nov. 13 in Waco, Tex. and inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on June 8 in Knoxville, Tenn

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A few notes of note

Not that's there is too much news for former UConn women's basketball stars to report on but Sue Bird isn't at the Verizon Center for the U.S/Brazil game because of a death in her family, Tina Chsrles was named the WNBA's Eastern Conference Player of the Week - again and word is Jen Rizzotti has been elected into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

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Chris Dailey eager to do her part in U.S. Olympic preparations

When Chris Dailey spoke with John Altavilla of the Hartford Courant and I following Saturday's U.S. women's national team practice you could sense the pure excitement the UConn associate women's basketball coach was feeling about her involvement with the U.S. Olympic team.

Dailey was out of the court for the two practices at American University's Bender Arena but she is not being employed as a coach in an official capacity.

"My  job is coordinator of scouting, director of scouting," Dailey said. (UConn assistant coaches) Marisa (Moseley) and Shea (Ralph)will join us. We will support and do whatever Geno and his staff, whatever we can to help them be better prepared to win a gold and that is what our job is."

Dailey will be staying with the team until the end of the Olympics and serve in a similar fashion as she did two years ago when UConn and U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma led the U.S. to the FIBA World Championship title. She won't be able to sit on the bench during games and won't receive a gold medal if the U.S. wins the title but that doesn't lessen the exhiliration she is feeling at the chance to witness history especially with half of the U.S. team members having played for her and Auriemma at UConn.

“You don't know when you will have this kind of an opportunity and the fact that you are able to be a part of the Olympic experience but for this particular group, to have six of our former players on the Olympic team that will never happen again,” Dailey said. “To be able to be around them again and hopefully be able to watch them experience (winning) an Olympic gold medal that would be - I can't even put it into words because it is not something that you think about every day. Now that it is here, I am just going to enjoy it every day and do whatever Geno and his staff need or want me to do. “I have an advantage, I have worked with him a long time i know his system, I know what he wants and whatever I can do to help I am happy to do it. I am going to enjoy it, not only with our six guys but I really enjoy the other six players. We have played against them and in the last two years I have gotten to know them better Sylvia (Fowles), Candace (Parker), Lindsay (Whalen) ...  It is going to be a great experience for me.”

Dailey’s relationship with the former UConn stars is different now than when they were in college. Dailey admits that she is like a sponge eager to pick up anything she can from players like Cash, Sue Bird, Asjha Jones and Diana Taurasi who have played at a high level and won games and championships all over the world.

“You can say different things,” Dailey said. “You can appreciate their humor in a different way. We have always been open to listening to our players but now they have so much experience, they have played in so many different situations that I like to ask their opinion on different things now it’s 'how to guard this, how do you do this? What teams do this? How do you find things? What is the hardest thing to guard? When you in college, you are pretty much telling them what those things are. Now with all of their experience, they are able to share a lot of knowledge.”

The former Huskies are thrilled to have Dailey around and she has also gotten to know the six players on the team who didn't go to UConn.

“CD always brings, I don't even know the word for it but she brings CD,” Maya Moore said. “She is there keeping us sharp. She is always somebody who is going to be focused on what you do and she is good at what she does. She helps keep everybody together. It is just a joy to be around people who have impacted me so much and continue to share in a special moment - my first Olympics - with people who have been such a big part of helping me get there.”

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No factions dividing U.S. team

The best tribute I could give the six former UConn stars who comprise half of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team is that if somebody not familiar with the Olympic team members were to wander into the training camp held over the weekend in Washington, they would not be able to tell which players were UConn grads and which ones attended other schools.

 There seems to be a tremendous amount of camaraderie on the U.S. team and I think the former Huskies should be commended for not allowing UConn and non UConn factions for forming.

 "People say it is a UConn clique but I joke around and I love Catch (Tamika Catchings), Angel (McCoughtry), Candace (Parker) and everyone," former UConn star Swin Cash said. "It doesn't mean that you have to g to UConn to have the love that we have here. We just try to embrace everybody. Obviously we have a special bond. We don't x anybody out of that at all."

Carol Callan, USA Basketball's Women's National Team Director, admires and is appreciative of how the former UConn stars have maintained close friendships with their college teammates while not making any of the other six players feeling like they are left out.

"What's interesting is you see the camaraderie (between former UConn teammates) but not as much as I thought I would see it," Callan said. "They have a very easy way with each other and it is very comfortable but they are also very cognizant of this being a different team and it is not like it becomes them (being part of) a bigger group in the inner circle which I think is maybe even more impressive."

Tamika Catchings, one of two former Tennessee stars on the team, gets a kick out of it when she is asked how former UConn and Tennessee stars coexist on the same team.

"At some point in time you put that to the side and you grow up and move onto the next level. People are like 'oh my God, Connecticut and Tennessee on the same team.' You know what, it is not only classified as a Lady Vol or a Husky now we are USA and we are representing something even bigger. "

U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma played against each of the six non Huskies when they were in college so he had a sense of what they were all about before he began his duties as national team coach. He probably knows former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry the best since she is the youngest of the non UConn products on the Olympic team and McCoughtry is the only one of the six to have played in the Big East. It should be noted that Catchings and fellow Tennessee alum Parker and former LSU star Sylvia Fowles own wins over Auriemma-coached UConn teams. It is pretty interesting that UConn was not involved in recruiting any of the six non-UConn Olympians.

"I didn't even know who Lindsay Whalen was in high school and she went to Minnesota and almost kicked out butts in the (2004) NCAA Final Four so I have always been a big fan of hers since college," Auriemma said. "Tamika Catchings we never had a chance to really get involved with but I've always loved her and she is my favorite player ever that played at Tennessee. She just plays so hard and plays with an intensity level and passion that you just have to love. Seimone, having coached against her all those years when she played at LSU ad Sylvia the same thing."

His relationship with Parker is the most interesting to watch. While the UConn/Tennessee games during Catchings time with the Lady Vols were something to behold, the relationship between Auriemma and Tennessee's Pat Summitt had yet to completely deteriorate. That couldn't be said during the Candace Parker era at Tennessee. I still remember after Tennessee beat UConn in Hartford and at the postgame press conference Parker and her fellow teammates would not only not touch the bottles of UConn water placed in front of them, they had looks on their face as if to say 'you don't think I'm going to drink that, do you?'

Auriemma and Parker seem to be on the same page and Auriemma has tremendous respect for the potential Parker has as a basketball player and Parker has a strong enough of a personality to dish it out as well as she can take it.

"Candace, we didn't recruit and I let her know that all the time," Auriemma said with a laugh. "She said 'well, I wouldn't have come there anyway.' "I am always trying to get her to believe that she is the best player in the world and she should act like it every moment of every day. That has been fun for me to watch her try to prove that there is nothing on the court that she can't do and which basically there isn't. I know what they are thinking, what bothers them, I know a little bit of how to tweak them a little bit so it has been fun. I have really really enjoyed it."

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Maya Moore thrilled about chance to play in China

When one opportunity closed in Maya Moore's world another one became available.

Moore, the all-time leading scorer in UConn women's  basketball history, was left in limbo when defending EuroLeague champion Ros Casares folded. Moore was expecting to return to play for the Valencia, Spain team and her agent Lindsay Kagawa went to work finding Moore a landing spot to play in the fall and winter.

Moore, who has always professed a thirst for knowledge and a desire to broaden her horizons, is fired up about the chance to play for Shangxu Xing Rui Flame in Taiyuan, China.

"I am excited" Moore said after Sunday's U.S. national team practice in Washington, D.C.. "I have never been to China, the closest I've been to Asia is Istanbul or Ekateriburg, Russia. It is going to be fun, a new experience. I'll get over there in the fall, just jump in and play basketball and hopefully experience a new culture and continue to grow the game of basketball."

Moore admitted that the uncertainty caused by the financial issues Ros Casares was dealing with caused a little bit of chaos in her world.

"It was (crazy), it threw a little wrench into the flow of things," Moore said. "I have faith that the Lord is organizing my steps and  I have great people working for me with my agent doing her job and everybody on that team doing their job so it would work out for me as far as where I am playing and the timing of actually getting over the China will be cool. I know there are a lot of basketball fans, a lot of Jordan fans, a lot of good fans in China so I am excited to see that and hopefully grow it."


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bird, Cash and Jones are teammates again

Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones made some history a decade ago as UConn became the first team to have three of the top four picks in the WNBA draft. As we fast forward to 2012 and they are on the verge of another groundbreaking achievement.

 There have been college teammates on previous Olympic basketball teams. North Carolina men's stars Phil Ford and Walter Davis were a dynamic duo in the 1976 Olympics while on the women's side the duos that immediately come to mind are former USC teammates Cheryl Miller and Pam McGee helped the U.S. to the 1984, in 2004 Bird and Cash were on the U.S. gold medal winning team while four years later former Tennessee teammates Tamika Catchings and Kara Lawson played key roles in the United States winning the gold medal for the fourth straight time. However, to have three players who not only went to the same school but were part of the same recruiting class in simply hard to believe.

 "To give you a good perspective in '95-96 when we had that year long program and it was remarkable to me how those 11 players on that national team spanned almost 11 different years," USA Basketball Women's National Team Director Carol Callan said. "There were maybe two from the same class but certainly not in the same school and now you are talking about three from the same recruiting class is speaks volumes about their abilities but also the ability of Geno to recruit them all and get them to where they are and the ability of the coaching staff to make them better than they were."

When you add in Diana Taurasi, four members of the starting lineup during UConn's 2001-02 national championship team are on the Olympic squad. It seems highly unlikely that feat will ever be matched again. "It is pretty impressive and if you think about it, if Tamika (Williams) would have perhaps stayed with it maybe she would have been on the team too - high school player of the year. When she was at UConn she was probably the most talented.

 "A lot of time you get three players who are talented and take each other's space on the court and really don't really play together but all three kind of fit on their own space on the court, Sue on the perimeter, Asjha can go in or out, Swin likes more of the middle of the court so they kind of complement each other perfectly." The friendships which started in the late 1990s when they enrolled at UConn has withstood the test of time.

 "We can appreciate it but not that much right now until we get older and have a chance to look back and see," Cash said. "When you in it you really don't think about it as much. When I think of the things I have experienced with Tamika, Sue, Asjha, now we have three of us on this team and four of us (including Taurasi) from my senior year stating in the (2002) national championship game, that is pretty amazing and I think that is one for the history books. We've all remained friends, we've all gone in our different directions in regards to not only playing basketball overseas but also in business and different ventures we have gotten into. The one thing that makes it special is our friendship and the bond we had at UConn. That is something that when people talk about us they always say 'you guys are together, it is like a clique. It is a great experience for me."

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Olympians offer advice to UConn's incoming freshmen

UConn's incoming freshman class of Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck could be the most talented group since the group led by current U.S. Olympians Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones so I spoke with the three stars from UConn's Class of 2002 to give them a chance to offer advice to the newest Huskies. “Trust yourself,” Cash said. “We came in and we believed in each other and knew what we wanted to do. A lot of people took that as we were being young and cocky, actually we just wanted to help. Just trust your instincts and listen to the coaches, they definitely know what they are talking about. The biggest thing is to enjoy the moment, trust yourself and play as hard as you possibly can. Coach (Geno Auriemma) and everyone will love that.” Bird’s thoughts are pretty similar to those of her former college roommate. “Just take it all in stride, don't get caught up in the highs, don't get caught up in the lows there are going to be highs and lows, that is inevitable,” Bird said. “If it doesn't come from media and the outside people, it will probably happen in practice. Take it one day at a time and enjoy it.” Jones stressed the importance of focusing on the process and not the results in being able to make it in a pressure cooker like the one at Connecticut. “We never thought about not losing,” Jones said. “I think Coach Auriemma does a great job of making you play and live day to day. That is probably the biggest lesson I have learned coming out of that program is to put your work in, you have to be prepared. The best and most talented (team) doesn’t always win, he would always say did you win because you outworked them, you played harder or you are more talented and he challenged us like that every day.”

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Class of 2002 forever changed UConn's fortunes

Back in the late 1990s UConn was a very strong program but still yet to establish itself as the super power it is the current time.

Eager to prove that the Huskies run to the 1995 national title was not a one-time only experience, UConn coach Geno Auriemma and his staff felt it was imperative to get more athletic.

It started with the recruitment of Shea Ralph. The following year Svetlana Abrosimova came in and then came the coupe de grace with the signing of perhaps the best recruiting class in women's basketball history.

Sue Bird and Keirsten Walters added speed at the guard position but it was the signing of forwards Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams which changed the way the Huskies played the game.

"We were going through a lot of changes from our first Final Four in 91, the kind of team we had - small and not the most athletic bunch in the world," Auriemma said after Sunday's U.S. senior national team practice at Armerican University. "The '95 team that won a national championship was unbelievably good but other than Nykesha (Sales) we weren't the most athletic bunch. Little by little, adding Shea, adding Svetlana we started looking more like teams around the country that we had to beat. Asjha, Tamika and Swin made is possible for us to really expand all the things that we wanted to do our on the court. We became a much more aggressive team in terms of  how we wanted to play defense and how we could influence other teams. I remember their freshman year it seemed like we averaged 100 every night. It was fun to watch because I hadn't experienced anything like that. They did have a huge impact on not just UConn but how people viewed our program."

I was on the verge of coming onto the UConn women's basketball beat for the first time when the recruitment of that class was in full swing. I remember the naysayers saying it made no sense to bring in Cash, Jones and Williams since they were pretty much the same player. Some people would go as far as predict that there was no way the three of them would play together for four years.

Well, they not only stayed but they thrived. They led UConn to a pair of national titles and if Abrosimova and Ralph had stayed healthy during the 2000-01 season, it's not out of the question that UConn could have won three straight national titles.

Considering that Cash and Jones join Bird as members of that recruiting class to be named to the U.S. Olympic team I asked Auriemma about the reaction now to those who questioned his basketball sanity for bringing in Cash, Jones and Williams in the same class.

"People have always misunderstood my kids go to a certain school or why kids want to play with other players," Auriemma said. "Asjha, Tamika and Swin are not at all alike and that is what people on the outside fail to see. Their games are not alike, they are not alike in personality, they are just three different people who came to our school and played three distinct roles. The three of them were able to create something that had they gone to school individually, it would never have been able to happen for them.The outside world doesn't understand that part of recruiting."

Securing that class was not an easy chore.

"Tamika Williams was the national high school player of the year but the player I wanted was Asjha," Auriemma said. "We knew we were going to get Tamika because I think I was the first coach to see her when she was in ninth grade or something like that so I knew we were going to get Tamika. We had to work our butt off to get Asjha but that was who I wanted. I said 'she is the best offensive player out of all three. Swin, we just gave up on. I said the hell with it, she is not interested in Connecticut, I don't want her anyway and then she called us and said 'why aren't you recruiting me?' I said 'I didn't think you wanted to come.' She said 'I want to come to Connecticut.' I said 'you know where we are so let's go.' Between the three of them, they all came for different reasons at different times but what has happened to them since they left Connecticut, in some ways I am not surprised. They were great people then, they are great people now. They were great players then and are even better players now."

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Atlanta Dream coach thrilled with Tiffany Hayes' development

When former UConn star Tiffany Hayes was available with the 14th pick in April's WNBA draft, the Atlanta Dream's Marynell Meadors believed she got one of the gems in the draft. When I spoke to Meadors, an assistant coach on the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team, following Sunday's practice it is clear that Meadors is loving the pick of Hayes more and more with each passing day.

With a sprained knee keeping the WNBA's leading scorer Angel McCoughtry out of action for the last four games, there was an opportunity for Hayes to have an expanded role. She certainly made a bid for more playing time when the WNBA emerges from it's month-long Olympic break.

Hayes scored in double figures in five of the last six games Hayes averaged 13.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Hayes, who had some issues shooting the ball early in her rookie season, shot 53 percent from the floor during that span.

"She is not a rookie anymore, she has elevated herself to a second-year player," Meadors said. "She is playing absolutely outstanding for us. She is working extremely hard. On our defensive assignments, she has the best offensive guard and has done an excellent job.

"She is (playing) 20 plus minutes and it is really good for rookies to get that many minutes. Her scoring and 3-point shooting has increased, it is doing better. Defensively, she is all over the court. She is a help defender, she is guarding her player, she is just doing a great job for us."

Hayes' defensive versatility has been a major bonus for Atlanta.

"We've had her guarding the 1, 2, 3 and sometimes the 4," Meadors said. "She is big enough that she can guard bigger people because of her quickness, the lateral quickness that she has she can defend just about anybody on the court. I was greatly surprised when she was there at 14. Everybody who selected before us did us a huge favor because she is big plus for us."