Women's basketball team hobbled with injuries

Updated: August 12, 2004, 5:18 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- The U.S. women's basketball team will march into these Olympics with a limp.

Or as coach Van Chancellor might say in his heavy Mississippi drawl, they've got a hitch in their git-along.

Outside shooting specialist Katie Smith has a bruised right knee. Three-time Olympian Sheryl Swoopes has a sore right foot. Forward Tina Thompson is dealing with sore calf muscles in both legs and Diana Taurasi, a rookie sensation in the WNBA, is recovering from a hip pointer.

And that list doesn't include 2000 Olympic veteran DeLisha Milton, who reinjured a knee last month and had to drop off the team.

So before the heavily favored Americans can think about dominating their opponents, they first have to get healthy. Not once since the team assembled on Aug. 2 have all 12 players been available for practice or an exhibition game.

Nor will Chancellor have a full team for Saturday's opener against New Zealand.

"That is about to drive me nuts,'' he said. "It is one of the most frustrating things I've ever had in coaching.''

Even when something good happens, it robs Chancellor of a player. Like Thursday, when it was announced that guard Dawn Staley would carry the flag and lead the U.S. delegation at Friday's opening ceremony.

"They said, 'We've got good news and bad news,''' Chancellor said. "The good news is Dawn's going to be the flag bearer. The bad news is she's got to miss practice.

"I said, that's OK. We've had every bit of paraphernalia get in our way since I got them together, what's one more day? What's one more thing? Let's play.''

Smith, who shot 60 percent from 3-point range at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, is the most serious concern. She hasn't played any basketball since hurting her knee July 23 and won't play Saturday.

Her only activity so far: running and defensive slides. She'd be happy -- and so would Chancellor -- to make it back for Monday's game with the Czech Republic, but she's not even sure about that.

"Obviously you get antsy to get on the floor, but it could have been a heck of a lot worse,'' Smith said. "You can look at it in many ways.

"I'm definitely anxious but not disappointed. It's just part of the way it goes. I'm going to get a chance to get out there. We're working with the trainer and we're going to get this thing together.''

Swoopes, a star on the last two Olympic teams, is playing with pain because of tendintis in her right foot. She missed an exhibition game against the WNBA all-stars in New York and played a total of only 32 minutes in games against France and Spain.

"She's going to have to play hurt over here and back in the WNBA,'' said Chancellor, who is Swoopes' coach with the Houston Comets. "But that's part of it. She's got one of those injuries that doesn't keep you from playing. Rest is the only thing that will help you.''

Thompson, who also plays for the Comets, missed eight WNBA games because of strained muscles in both calves. She has played in all three games with the Olympic team and was playing well just before the WNBA took a one-month break to free up players for Athens.

Taurasi, coming off a third straight national championship season at Connecticut, has been coping with a hip pointer since late July. She has continued to play and said she's much better than a week ago.

"I'll be all right,'' she said. "Once you get into the game, the adrenaline, the thrill, you don't feel it.''

So far, the Americans have overcome the injuries with little problem. They won their three exhibition games this month by margins of 16, 30 and 15 points, running their pre-Olympics record to 16-0, and they should have no trouble with New Zealand.

But tougher games are coming up, if not in the preliminaries than certainly in the medal round, which is expected to include heavyweights Russia, Brazil and Australia.

"It worries me. We don't have that cohesive unit,'' Chancellor said. "But hey, we've still got good players. I've told the press all my career, the secret is to load the bus with good players and we've got good players, so I'm not crying.

"I'd rather have good players that are hurt than bad players healthy every day.''

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press