Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

USA Basketball Training: Senior Veteran Senior Sue Bird Sets Sights on More Personal Memories

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

Despite being the oldest member on the USA Basketball Women’s World Championship Team Training Camp roster, Sue Bird zipped around the Naval Academy court with the energy of a toddler after eating candy.

Even though Bird, who was named one of the 15 greatest WNBA players in history, has enjoyed a decorated career that has included five Euro League titles, three Olympic gold medals, two WNBA championships along with numerous individual accolades, she treated Monday’s first day of training like a rookie trying to make a lasting first impression.

“I think by nature, my position, the good thing is I have always had to be a leader,” a smiling Bird said following practice. “So to be the oldest now and kind of continue with that leadership role, it hasn’t really changed much so I don’t feel old if that makes sense. I’m just doing what I’ve always done.”

The Syosset, Long Island native who turns 34 next month, has an opportunity to become the first woman in USA Basketball history to make four World Championship teams.

Nothing is guaranteed and Bird of the WNBA Seattle Storm where she became the overall No. 1 draft pick in 2002, knows she has to be at her best during this week to earn a spot on the team.

“That would be amazing, you know, it would be an honor, and it would be very special,” Bird said. “I don’t take anything for granted. You kind of just learn that as you go, not to take any moment for granted. I just want to have fun with it.”

She was one of 17 players present on the first day of practice at Halsey Gym.

Or you could say, she was part of another UConn alumnae reunion within the USA training camp as she was one of five former Huskies (Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson) participating in workouts along with current UConn junior Breanna Stewart.

Diana Taurasi is currently helping Phoenix in the WNBA Finals.

Furthermore, Geno Auriemma, the first person to return for an encore appearance as the USA Basketball World Championship Team women's coach, has guided them all at UConn, while Jennifer Rizzotti, the Hartford women's mentor, who is serving as advance scout and floor coach, is also a former Huskies all-timer.

Like Auriemma, Rizzotti is also a Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.

Bird is part of a pool of 24 amazingly talented women’s basketball players trying to make the 12-man roster that will head to Istabul, Turkey after a training stop in Paris to compete in the World Championships, which runs from Sept. 27-Oct. 5.

Betwen now and leaving American soil, the team will also play an intrasquad game, billed as the USA Basketball Showcase, Thursday at 7 p.m. at the University of Delaware's Bob Carpenter Center and then Monday make a stop to play the Canadian National Team in a friendly at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.

Seven of the players, including former Delaware all-American Elena Delle Donne and former Temple star Candice Dupree, are playing in the WNBA Finals.

With Delle Donne excused to play with the Chicago Sky in the WNBA finals, Bird will be one of the featured attractions competing in the USA Basketball Showcase event that will be televised live by ESPN2.

A roster spot on this elite squad would complete a terrific comeback for Bird, who sat out the entire the 2013 WNBA season after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst from her right knee.

Even if she didn’t make the roster, the 2002 No. 1 draft pick has already succeeded as she averaged 10.6 points per game this season for the Storm and earned her eighth All-Star nod.

She performed at a high level this season. Her presence on the court was an awesome site for fans and her Seattle teammates.

Missing that year proved to be a blessing in disguise for Bird, who experienced the same thing after tearing her ACL during her freshman year at UConn.

Of course, Bird has a degree in communication science, so she has an understanding of how she would share her story if it was up to her.

“If I was to write the story about myself, I think one of the pivotal moments for me was getting hurt in college freshman year,” Bird said. “Having the game taken away and just being forced to watch and you learn so much.

"It’s everything from bigger picture things to something as small as where my teammates like to catch the ball.

"It happens just because you’re observing. Sometimes, you tend to miss things when you’re playing because you’re in the moment and the game is going so fast.

"To have it happen 12 years later was good for me. Having to sit back and observe and learn again was good for me.”

Bird is among the pool of players along with Swin Cash, Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings that are links from near the humble beginnings of the WNBA, which launched in 1997, to where the league is now.

They have continued to perform at a high level during their careers despite the immensely talented players entering the league every year.

The strong competition has forced Bird to be at her best, but she’s happy to be challenged on a consistent basis. Her assists has helped fuel the furnaces that burn inside of her teammates.

When Bird entered college, she was lucky to have plenty of motivation from the likes of Philadelphia's Dawn Staley, currently serving as an assistant coach on the USA staff, Sheryl Swoopes, Teresa Edwards, Ruthie Bolton and Katrina McClain, who helped blaze the trail for her and many other women.

She remembers the 1996 USA Women’s National team being a “machine.”

Bird and her AAU team drove down to the Palestra in Philadelphia on the University of Pennsylvania campus to watch them in person during the USA’s successful barnstorming tour in which they blew out China in the game.

That squad along with the undefeated 1995 UConn women’s team fueled Bird’s passion to play a sport she enjoys.

That era of women’s hoops also helped her realize that her dream of playing basketball in the United States would become a reality.

“Even though I was one of the first generations of women to go to college knowing that there was a WNBA, basketball was already going,” Bird said.

“We were helping it to continue to grow and it was already there for us. Those players like Dawn, Sheryl, Lisa Lelise and Rebecca Lobo got it going for us. It was up to us to keep it going.”

Whenever Bird retires, she can feel great knowing that the league is in terrific hands.

One of the many things that fill Bird with pride is watching the maturation of Bria Hartley, who is also part of the USA Basketball World Championship pool.

Like Bird, Hartley is a native of Long Island and won national championships at UConn.

Now, Hartley is one of the many hungry young players Bird is mentoring and competing with for a roster spot on this team at the same time.

“It’s great to have somebody come from where you grew up and kind of watch her do similar things,” Bird said. “I am happy and proud of her. She did a lot to get better and grow in college.

"She played well today. It’s been fun for me to watch all of those young players improve.

"The league has gotten so much better and the talent is amazing. To make a roster is so hard and to pick a team is not easy and that’s one of the more special things about my career is to see how much better the WNBA has gotten.”

Through it all, Bird has grown stronger, wiser and resilient.

Proving that age is just a number and a state of mind, Bird’s gorgeous game has stood the test of time.

She has played 107 games in a USA Basketball uniform, which means she’s the only member of this pool in triple digits.

Bird is third all-time in assists in USA World Championship history with 70. In the 2012 Olympics, she led all players in assist to turnover ratio (3.27) and was second in assists (4.5 per game).

As one of eight women on the planet with at least NCAA and WNBA championship as well as an Olympic gold medal, she is on the verge of achieving something no other woman alive has accomplished.

Overall in those categories she collected two NCAA crowns, two WNBA titles and three Olympic golds to already cement her future status likely to include induction in both the Naismith and Women's Basketball Halls of Fame.

Bird hasn’t given one thought to retiring soon.

“You know, when you know,” Bird said of a potential timetable for retiring. “I think for me I feel good and I am healthy.

"For me personally this summer didn’t go well for me or my team. I look forward to the opportunity to help us move on next season. I am excited to be playing.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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