There is little idle time for the world’s elite women’s basketball players. One day they are in the WNBA, the next flying to Seattle to slip on the USA jersey for 72 hours.
iN the winter, they are off to the world capitals of Europe and Asia, hanging out in Prague or embarking on a 22-hour trip from Spain to Ekaterinburg, Russia for just one EuroLeague game.
Still, this is the best time ever for players like Minnesota’s Maya Moore, the former UConn All-American, and Lindsay Whalen, the former Connecticut Sun all-star. They are spanning the globe, maximizing their inherent skill – taking breaths whenever possible.
“I call this time of year, May Madness,” said Moore Thursday, after Minnesota, the defending WNBA champion, opened the 2012 preseason with a win over the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Casino.
Friday morning, Moore, Whalen, Seimone Augustus of the Lynx and Asjha Jones and Tina Charles of the Sun, flew to Seattle for a brief USA Basketball training camp. There they will reunite with seven other teammates and Geno Auriemma’s coaching staff and go over a few things before playing China Saturday and scrimmaging with Japan on Sunday.
Then they all will get on planes and rejoin their WNB A teams in preparation for next weekend’s season-openers. The Olympic team will not be able to gather again until July in Washington, another 72-hour excursion that will precede its departure for the summer games in London.
“Not having our three players now is not ideal for us,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. “The timing is tough. We all [WNBA coaches] want the Olympic team to do well and we are all making sacrifices to help that happen. Maybe it would have more sense for Minnesota to host the camp, since we have three players that need to travel [to get to Seattle]. And we’ve expressed our displeasure about that. But it is what it is and we are happy to be supportive.”
For Moore and Whalen, like it will be for first timers like Jones and Charles, the Olympic experience represents an enormous thrill.
“I was in Praque when USA Basketball called [to say she had made the team],” Whalen said. “I looked at my phone and thought, ‘Um, I never get calls overseas. So it must be something important, something going on.’ So I answered it and it was. They told me I had made it.
“I felt good about my chances. I just wanted to play and train as hard as I could for the World Championship [in 2010]. I wanted to do what I could to prove I could contribute in any way. And we had a strong team [USA won the World Championship] and the Lynx had a strong season last year [the WNBA champion] so I felt good. The way I looked at it was, if I made the team it would be awesome and if I didn’t, I would have known that I gave it my best shot.
“It’s such a high honor, something you work towards your entire life [as a player]. Had I not made it, it would have been somewhat difficult, knowing how I’d been on other USA teams when I was younger. You want to play for your country, and this is the Olympics, and it’s so important to do well, so it would have been a little rough [not to make it]. But I would have also known I gave myself every opportunity to make it.”
Both Moore and Whalen took time off after the WNBA season ended before joining their European teams in January. After winning two national championships at UConn and playing for the World Champions in 2010, Moore was the WNBA’s rookie of the year in Minnesota and help lead the Lynx to their first title. Then this winter, she helped Villencia’s Ros Caseras team to the EuroLeague title.
“It’s been whirlwind, but so many great things have happened,” Moore said. “There are a lot of things that I’ve been dreaming about for a while, from winning the WNBA championship, to being a part of another championship in Europe and then holding my first camp and clinic [in Atlanta]. There are a lot of great things going on for me. I’m extremely blessed, and I try to live in a humble way and try to do what I know is right. Whenever I get a chance to be a part of something that is great, I will jump at it. I can’t tell you that I knew everything would happen in the way it has unfolded, but I am grateful that it has.
“For me, whatever season I am in, whatever it is I am doing at the moment, is the highlight for me. So now, the highlight is just having a good practice every day in Minnesota. Then once I join USA Basketball, the goal will be the gold medal. I try to stay in the present, stay in the moment I am in and make sure the gas tank is empty when I am done with what I am doing.”