Sue Bird Steps Up to the Plate
May 31, 2008 ï¿½ Colorado Springs, Colo.
Literally stepping off the plane after winning the 2002 NCAA title in her final game at the University of Connecticut and onto the court in Colorado Springs where the USA Women's National Team was training, Sue Bird went from a comfortable setting where she was a senior leader to one where she'd play an understudy role learning from one of the best point guards to ever play the game.
As the back up to eventual three-time Olympic and two-time FIBA World Championship gold medalist Dawn Staley, as well as Shannon ï¿½Pee Wee' Johnson, who would go on to earn All-Worlds honors later that summer, Bird soaked up everything she could. Although she saw limited playing time at both the 2002 World Championship and 2004 Olympic Games, Bird was being groomed to take over for the soon to retire Staley. It's not easy to sit on the bench when you're accustomed to starting, but when there are 12 legitimate starters on a team sometimes you have to wait your turn.
Bird waited patiently, all the while honing her game to prepare for this summer's starting assignment.
Not only was she continuing to build her resume as a member of the Seattle Storm, capturing the 2004 WNBA crown, she took her game overseas in order to add to her repertoire of tricks. For the past two ï¿½off seasons' Bird played alongside USA teammates Tina Thompson and Diana Taurasi, an old friend from their days as Huskies in Storrs. She also listed Australia's best player, Lauren Jackson, as a teammate in both Seattle and on the Spartak Moscow Region squad. She also played alongside Maria Stepanova and several other of Russia's best. With a team loaded with talent Bird helped Spartak collect the 2007 and 2008 EuroLeague titles and both years the squad also captured the Russia Super League championship.
Over the past six years Bird has grown into her starting role and is ready for the challenges that await in Beijing this summer. But don't take our word for it. USA Basketball.com chatted with Bird on the phone prior to the team being officially announced on May 31.
Congratulations on your selection to your second Olympic team. Does it feel different at all this time around?
It feels a little bit different because the last time I was straight out of college and I don't even think I had a clue about what was really going on. But this time, especially with the loss in the (FIBA) World Championship there's definitely a different feel to entering the Olympics now.
In Athens you were learning from Dawn Staley and now you've taken the reigns as the starting point guard. How will that compare to Athens?
It's going to be so different. Last time around it was a great learning experience, it let me kind of get my feet wet learning from one of the greatest point guards ever and now a lot more is going to be expected of me. I'm really looking forward to not only that challenge but looking back at the World Championship our loss has stuck with everyone. I think we have a lot to prove and I'm glad I can be a part of that and play a bigger role.
What words of wisdom can you pass along to some of the Olympic rookies?
Just to enjoy it. It's a once in a lifetime experience so really soak it all in. Try to do and see and expose yourself to as much as possible. I think the best thing that I did, aside from the playing part and getting that experience, was to go to other events. Try to meet other athletes, both American and non-Americans, really get a feel of what the Olympic Games is all about.
Is there a specific event you'd like to see in China?
I'm not sure, but I hope we have time to do all that stuff. Last time I got to see the women's soccer gold medal game, which I would love to see especially if it's U.S. versus Brazil again. And then I also saw women's volleyball, which was really cool. The one thing that I didn't get to see last time was track and field. That's something that I hopefully will get to see this time.
The different training the team has had throughout the year and then with you and Diana Taurasi have been playing together in Russia, even though the full team hasn't been together at one training camp, do you think it's going to be easy to come together at the end of July?
Obviously when you look at our team as we approach the Olympics, that's something other people view as a disadvantage. For us, the good thing about USA Basketball is because we've had so many training camps over the years, we all know each other. We've all played either with each other or know each other from playing against each other in the WNBA. That's the one positive that comes out of us maybe not having the same amount of time to train as other countries. It's something we had to deal with somewhat the last Olympics and I don't see it really as a problem. We have all played together before and it won't take us long to get back into it.
China should be interesting, there's a lot going on there right now. There's a lot of pressure on the U.S., a lot of expectations. But a lot of people out there wouldn't mind us losing and that's a unique position for us. It's a challenge and I'm really looking forward to it.
Can you break down some of the USA's competition?
I obviously know the Russian team really, really well from playing with and against a lot of those women in the off season. And they're the team that beat us in 2006. I could really give you a full scouting report on them. They have Maria Stepanova in the middle, she is pretty amazing, at 6-7 she does it all. They have a lot of tall guards, they have a lot of versatile players, they have a unique style. They're good. They're very talented from top to bottom.
Australia, I know them well also because of (playing with) Lauren (Jackson), probably one of the best players in the world right now. The thing about the Australian team is that they have Lauren, they have Penny Taylor, another one of the greatest players in the world right now. The rest of the team fills in, they go out and play their roles. They're very team oriented, they really play well as a team.
That's one of the really unique things about women's basketball today. You go into the Olympics and you know everybody.
Look at Brazil, if they qualify for the Olympics, I've played with Izi (Iziane Castro Marques) for a couple years. Right now Kelly Santos is on my team. The Czech Republic team ... I played against Brno, which is virtually the entire Czech Republic team, in the EuroLeague Final Four. You name it. I feel like all of us know all of us know all these players. That's what's interesting about the Olympics.
Have you been able to tell your family yet?
Yeah, I told my mom, my dad and my sister and they're all really excited.
Were they expecting you'd make it again?
You hope for that, but you never know until the phone call actually comes. My family is very excited. My mom and dad are both making plans right now to get to the Olympics so that will be exciting.