UConn Alums Excited to Play Alma Mater
Tina Charles has been there before. She knows what her opponents Monday are going to be feeling.
Charles was a sophomore at the University of Connecticut in November 2007 when the USA Basketball Women’s National Team came to town and walked away with a 90-74 victory. Now, Charles will be wearing her country’s colors as she and the USA take on the University of Connecticut tonight at 7 p.m. EST (ESPN2) in Hartford, Connecticut.
“It's gonna be pretty special to be back on the court,” said Charles, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who will be one of five former Huskies on the roster against their alma mater. “(When I was at UConn), they did a college tour, and I played against the likes of Lisa Leslie, so it's pretty sweet for it to come full circle.”
Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Katie Lou Samuelson and Breanna Stewart are the other Huskies greats who will face UConn. Taurasi and Bird have won four Olympic golds, while Stewart has one.
“Super excited to get the chance to play at home again. I didn’t think I’d get that chance,” said Samuelson, a guard-forward who was playing for UConn a year ago before being drafted fourth overall by the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. “Playing against these girls will be a lot of fun, because I’ve played with them the past few years.”
While the exhibition game comes at an unusual spot in the season for UConn, the timing is right for the WNT. The third segment of Olympic training includes Monday’s game and another exhibition Saturday at the University of Louisville as the WNT preps for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia.
The U.S., which is aiming for its seventh straight Olympic gold medal this summer in Tokyo, already has qualified for the Games and is participating in the tournament along with the only other qualified team, Olympic host Japan. Four groups are competing Feb. 6-9 at different venues across the globe with the top three teams from each bracket advancing to Tokyo. The USA will take on Serbia on Feb. 6, Mozambique on Feb. 8 and Nigeria on Feb. 9.
Charles remembers that 2007 experience well, as she was able to square off against a player she greatly admired.
“It was nerve-wracking,” said Charles, who won her final 78 college games, including the 2009 and 2010 NCAA titles for the Huskies. “You know, you're playing against the Olympic team, playing against my idol in Lisa Leslie on the court. But, overall it was just a great experience.”
Charles is in her first training segment with the WNT after a new program was introduced last summer to gear up for Tokyo. She has noticed the difference in how this team is gearing up for the Olympics.
“I think just think it's all been notched up,” Charles said. “There's a masseuse on the tour now, there's a sports performance coach on the tour now. I think it's the way USA Basketball is going about it holistically and just making sure that the players are well taken care of and ready to compete at any time. So, that's something that’s new since my first time with Team USA in 2009 till now. It's been a major difference, but in a great way just to prepare our bodies and make sure that we're ready to go.”
One of the players to watch Monday will be Stewart, a forward-center who ruptured her right Achilles’ tendon in April during the EuroLeague Women’s championship. She was back on the court practicing with the WNT and is expected to play against UConn.
Not that this group of WNT players would take any opponent lightly. The fact that UConn is 18-1 and ranked third in the country will keep the focus on the objective: winning and getting better as the Olympics approach.
“Playing UConn, we're going to have respect,” Charles said. “Having USA (across our chests) and individually as pros, we're going to have respect for every player, every opponent. So, we're not gonna look down on them just because they're in college, you know, they're a well-prepared team. I played for Coach (Geno) Auriemma and the coaching staff, so they're going to approach it not thinking that they're playing against pros, they're going to approach it and go out there to compete and play like pros. They've been watching us all their lives as well. It should be a good game.”
Steve Drumwright is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.