Seven of 23 campers have UConn ties
WASHINGTON -- Coach Geno Auriemma was at ease on the first day of the U.S. women's basketball training camp.
It wasn't too surprising since the Wednesday practice resembled a UConn alumni game with Sue Bird going head-to-head at the point against Renee Montgomery and Swin Cash and Maya Moore battling for rebounds.
The six-day camp is the first chance for players to be seen by Auriemma, who succeeded Anne Donovan as the Olympic coach for the 2012 London Games. With seven current or former Huskies among the 23 players invited to the training camp, most were already familiar with Auriemma.
"It's certainly a comfort level for me," Auriemma said. "A lot of these players fit the style that I like to coach. I think they'll enjoy it. A lot of the stuff we do is similar to the stuff they did when they played in college with small tweaks here and there."
The Connecticut system was evident from the start as the former Huskies demonstrated drills and were quick to help others understand the nuances of plays.
"It's like we already knew what he was going to say and the progression of the drills," said Montgomery, who graduated in May after leading the Huskies to an NCAA title and 39-0 record last season.
Though they knew the drills and coach, not everything went well for the former Huskies. In one offensive drill, Auriemma put UConn players together. Then after two unsuccessful possessions, the coach pulled them off the court saying, "they stink."
"That's just coach being coach," said Bird with a smile.
Later, the same five UConn players lost a drill competition, which resulted in a sprint as punishment.
"They may have played for me, but that doesn't give them any kind of advantage in this environment," Auriemma said.
The only former UConn player not at camp was Diana Taurasi, who is playing in the WNBA finals along with Phoenix Mercury teammate Cappie Pondexter and Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings. Candace Parker won't be at camp until Friday because she had to wrap up things at home after the Los Angeles Sparks ended their season in the Western Conference finals.
"There definitely are a lot of new people here," Bird said. "But everyone's coming off their seasons and these are some of the best players in the world, so they pick things up really quickly."
Besides those still playing in the WNBA finals, the U.S. team was missing five players to injury. Seimone Augustus, Alana Beard, Jayne Appel, Kara Lawson, and Lindsay Whalen were at practice but unable to play because of various ailments.
"It's so important that we're here for the beginning of this," Lawson said. "With new coaches, new plays, new players, just to be around them and learn is huge."
While Bird, Taurasi, Catchings, Parker, Pondexter, Augustus, Lawson and Sylvia Fowles are guaranteed a spot in the national pool that will help choose the 2010 World Championship team and the 2012 Olympics team, the rest of the invitees aren't necessarily in the pool. The camp is a chance for them to try out.
"They aren't guaranteed to make a team," USA Basketball national team director Carol Callan said. "The training camps is like a tryout. With such limited training time because of commitments to play overseas, we need to prepare."
After the training session at American University, the team will head to Russia to play in a tournament.
"Our job here is to get them to play together, get a feel how to play and get comfortable," Auriemma said. "From that standpoint, it's our job just to point them in the right direction."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press