WNBA now on Olympic break


Mid-season month off affects teams differently

By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer


With the entire U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team entirely composed of WNBA players, the league schedule is now on break until August 17. The interruption has both good and not-so-good consequences for the league’s teams and players.

“First and foremost, I think it is a terrific opportunity to showcase the talents of the WNBA,” observes League President Laurel Richie on this summer’s Olympic Games in London. “It’s an incredible opportunity for them to compete on the international stage.”

Laurel Richie
Photo by Sophia Hantzes

However, is the month-long stoppage of play bad timing or momentum-killing for teams such as Connecticut and San Antonio, who respectively are playing the best ball in the WNBA? The Sun is on a five-game win streak, and the Silver Stars went into the break on a nine-game roll.

Or, is this a good time to regroup for teams like Chicago, who hopefully can revert to their start-of-the-season form when they won seven of their first eight games? Can it help Chicago stay in playoff contention, especially without star guard Epiphanny Prince, who broke a bone in her right foot June 16 and sparked the team’s losing tailspin? If the playoffs started today, the Sky would limp into the fourth and final playoff spot in the East.

Or is it a good time for Minnesota, who went 2-3 in July, to recommit to defense, especially playing the passing lanes, in the season’s second half? Despite leading the West, in three of their four losses this season the Lynx have given up an average of 91 points, 18 points above its 74.2 ppg scoring allowed. They have both San Antonio and Los Angeles closing in on them as well.

Nonetheless, each club is affected by the Olympic break. It is awfully important to not only give the players a much-needed break — albeit a short one, since they have been playing virtually non-stop since last fall — but also to hold a mini-training camp for both physical purposes.

“We’ve been through it twice now,” says longtime Connecticut Sun Coach Mike Thibault, now in his 10th season, on Olympic-year scheduling. “What we did the first time [2004] is we talked to a bunch of college football coaches. Because they have about a month to prepare for bowl games, we patterned some of it to what they did.

“We give [the players] the first third of the time off,” explains Thibault. “The middle third we have conditioning and individual work every other day, and then some brief team sessions. The last 10 days we do it like training camp.”

Minnesota has three players — Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen — on the 2012 USA team, the most of any WNBA team. “This time we are going to be missing two key players, Tina [Charles] and Asjha [Jones], so we will have to have guys in more to practice against during that time so we have enough people to have a match-up for our post players,” continues Thibault. “I think if we can stay healthy through it, and do a lot of individual work and get better in some skill areas, that’s the most you can expect from it.”


Packin’ her bags

Kiera Buford as a Gopher
Photo courtesy of U of M

Kiera Buford, who completed her four-year University of Minnesota basketball playing career this past spring, recently signed a pro contract to play in Poland. In taking her game overseas, she joins former college and St. Paul Central teammate Ashley Ellis-Milan, who has played pro ball in Europe the last two seasons.

Buford, who played guard in college, will be heading overseas in mid-August. Her season will begin on September 29.

The St. Paul native finished as the seventh player in Gopher history to score at least 1,500 career points (1,532), and fifth all-time in three-point field goals and free throw percentage.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.