Milton-Jones not done with Team USA
Two-time Olympic gold medalist hopes to continue to suit up for red, white and blue
On Monday, USA Basketball named eight players as part of a so-called "core" group looking ahead to the 2010 World Championship and 2012 Olympics. All of them were part of the gold-winning U.S. team in Beijing last year.
But what of the other four who were in China? Los Angeles' Lisa Leslie, 37, is retiring at the end of the WNBA season. Detroit's Katie Smith, 35, decided to take herself out of the national-team mix, as she thinks it's time for her to step aside. L.A.'s Tina Thompson, 34, has not specified her plans beyond this season.
But L.A.'s DeLisha Milton-Jones, who will be 35 in September, says she definitely would like the opportunity to try to make the senior national team for next year's World Championship. And even for the 2012 Olympics.
"I'm still very interested," said the 6-foot-1 forward Tuesday. "If there's any doubt at all about that, I want to erase it. I'm available, and I still hope I can vie for a spot."
It should be stressed that Milton-Jones did not call me to lobby USA Basketball; rather, I made the contact to ask what her status was. She has a long history of competing for the national team, as she was part of the 2000 and 2008 Olympic gold-medal teams She was on the core group for the 2004 Summer Games, too, but she suffered a torn ACL in her right knee in February of that year.
Milton-Jones also played for the United States in the World Championship in 1998, 2002 and 2006. With Leslie's retirement, she is the most internationally experienced post player still in the mix among Americans.
Did Milton-Jones have a great Olympics last year? No; she averaged only 2.1 ppg and 1.3 rpg. But she really wasn't given much time on the court by coach Anne Donovan. And post play is a concern for the new national-team coach, Geno Auriemma. Not because there's a lack of potential talent, but because most of it is so young.
One of the players named Monday, Chicago center Sylvia Fowles, had a strong showing in Beijing, averaging 13.4 ppg and 8.4 rpg. Candace Parker, Milton-Jones' teammate with the Sparks, was another of the "youngsters" who had a good 2008 Olympic tournament: 9.4 ppg and 4.5 rpg.
Other players currently in the WNBA who might be candidates in the post include Chicago's Candice Dupree and Minnesota's Nicky Anosike. And college players such as UConn's Tina Charles and Stanford's Jayne Appel, both about to start their senior year, would appear to be in the pipeline for the national team.
Plus there's the Olympic veteran Tamika Catchings -- now 30, she's the oldest of the eight named Monday -- who averaged 6.8 ppg and 4.4 rpg in China.
But I can't see how any of that would preclude Milton-Jones from at least being in the mix when it comes time for the Americans' training camp, which is expected to be held in September.
Sure, USA Basketball is in a transition period and wants to look to the next generation. Ultimately, though, the biggest concern right now is putting together the most effective team to get back the World Championship gold the Americans lost in 2006.
Milton-Jones started on that team, as Leslie was a late scratch due to family issues. Milton-Jones averaged 7.6 points and 4.9 rebounds then for the United States, which lost in the semifinals to Russia and ended up with the bronze.
Milton-Jones praises the younger post players currently elevating in the sport, saying the best are pro-ready right out of college.
"It's a beautiful thing," she said. "It's the luxury the U.S. national team has, with all the talent that is out there.
"The thing I can give is the experience, knowing what it takes in international competitions. Sometimes it's a heart element or a passion element. Playing for your country is more vital than anything; there's a lot of pride and passion when we put on that uniform. If you have good examples around you, it helps you see the magnitude of what is happening."
Milton-Jones is averaging 10.3 ppg and 5.0 rebounds this season for the Sparks, who have had to deal with Parker's return from giving birth and Leslie's knee injury. Milton-Jones has filled in at multiple positions for the Sparks, and her versatility is another thing she thinks she could bring to the national team.
The roster, of course, will not be decided for some time; the World Championship is next September. Milton-Jones knows USA Basketball has many options. She just hopes to get a chance.
"I feel great that I'm in great shape and take care of my body," she said. "I feel I still have some good years ahead of me, especially now that my game has expanded."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
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