Commentary

No rest for the weary -- or WNBA

Originally Published: August 27, 2008
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

BEIJING -- It seemed everybody was taking a vacation after the Olympics. Michael Phelps said he couldn't wait to sleep in his own bed, hang out with his friends and do nothing for a while. Jerry Colangelo, asked about the future of the Redeem Team, said everyone needs some time off before that discussion takes place. The always-exuberant Kerri Walsh said, "I'm in!" (regarding the 2012 Olympics), while beach volleyball partner Misty May-Treanor said, "Let's just relax a little and enjoy this one first."

[+] EnlargeTaj McWilliams-Franklin
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesAfter losing Cheryl Ford to a torn ACL, Detroit traded for Taj McWilliams-Franklin, a 10-year veteran who averaged 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in 26 games this season with the Mystics.

Yeah, after all the pressure of and buildup to the Olympics, and then the actual events themselves, everybody was ready to rest. Everybody except …

You know what season starts right back up again. Hey, Sue Bird, congrats on that second Olympic gold medal. So about the Storm's playoff hopes …

It's that fast a turnaround for the WNBA's Olympic team members, many of whom never seem to slow down unless they're hurt. Such is the case with Bird's adversary during the Olympics but teammate in the WNBA, Lauren Jackson.

LJ -- who looked after the Olympic final like the absolute last thing she wanted to see was another silver medal -- will need surgery on her ankle and won't be back any earlier than the playoffs. If, that is, Seattle is in the playoffs.

"We're definitely in the playoff race," Bird said. "With Lauren, I would have called you crazy if you didn't bet on us. Without her, it's going to be a little harder. But that's OK. We're ready for the challenge."

First, though, Bird got to enjoy some revelry with her Olympic teammates after the gold-medal game.

"This team is crazy in the best possible way," Bird said. "We have so much fun. The personalities -- go down the line. We complement each other very well on the court. You should see us on the bus. It's way better."

Of course, they don't give medals for performance on the bus, but if they did, the U.S. women would probably have taken that gold, too. One little ol' bronze in the 2006 World Championship created a group ravenous for the top of the podium again.

"It reminds you that you have to show up," Detroit's Katie Smith said of that World Championship experience. "You might have the best players, but you've got to show it. It hurt when we got that bronze. The hunger that everybody had to get this done in a convincing way was big.

"I learned from Dawn [Staley], Jennifer Azzi and Teresa Edwards. These are the guys who taught me how much you have to work, how much you have to want it. It's our turn now. It's like giving back. With the change of players over the years, it's amazing the commitment that this needed to keep the USA on top. It's a tradition, keep it going."

Smith, who earned her third Olympic medal, said she thought the break for the Summer Games was just what Detroit needed. The Shock lost Cheryl Ford to an ACL injury suffered on "Fight Night" and Plenette Pierson must finish her four-game suspension. But Smith said the Shock needed the time to regroup and she expects the team to finish strong, especially with the addition of veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin.

[+] EnlargeSue Bird
Bob Donnan/US PRESSWIREPoint guard Sue Bird, right, led the U.S. women to the gold medal in Beijing. Now, she will try to lead the Storm to the playoffs -- without injured Lauren Jackson.

"I like where we're at," Smith said. "The break helped a lot of teams, and I think we're one of them."

Indiana's Tamika Catchings, who has two golds, had to battle her way back this year after an Achilles' tear at the end of last season. She wants to be able to run all the way through the finish line this year. Sylvia Fowles, who had a terrific Olympic tournament, said she feels totally healthy after a knee injury sidelined her earlier this season.

"I'm not worried about my knee," Fowles said. "It's not a problem."

In the Western Conference, Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter go back to Phoenix to try to dig out of last place. Becky Hammon, who won bronze with Russia, returns to San Antonio to try to stay in first place. A U.S. citizen, Hammon was able to receive dual citizenship in Russia since she has played professionally there.

Lisa Leslie, DeLisha Milton-Jones and Candace Parker will attempt to reignite the Sparks (Leslie now sports the serious bling of four gold medals). Seimone Augustus (Minnesota), Kara Lawson (Sacramento) and Tina Thompson (Houston) also jump back into the wild, wild West.

Augustus, an Olympic rookie, said what she'll bring back to the Lynx is a sharpened sense of what it takes to be the best.

"The intensity and the focus were amazing," she said. "It's another level. There's so much on the line, and you're playing on the biggest stage you can play on. Hopefully, I can bottle some of that and use it for the rest of the games this season."

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.