NEW DAWN FOR WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Four time Olympic champion Dawn Staley reckons the future of women’s basketball in Britain hinges on how well the GB team represents at London 2012.

“I don’t think anyone expects them to win a gold medal,” the WNBA legend told MVP. “You just don’t do that. You build towards that.

“But I think people’s expectations will be for them to put a product on the floor that they can be proud of. I think that on a lot of levels they need to perform well in order to keep basketball growing. And I think they will do that. They have a coach who’s used to building an Olympic team – I’m quite sure he’s going to put his stamp on this particular team and put them in a position to compete – and, hopefully, win a couple of games.”

The 41-year-old former Charlotte Sting and Houston Comets guard knows a thing or two about the Games – having taken gold in Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004). She insists nothing beats the Olympic experience.

“I played in the WNBA Championship and the NCAA Championship. But I didn’t win, so obviously winning gold medals is my favourite! But when you look at what the Olympics represent – being the best in the entire world – there isn’t anything that can take the place of that.”

Staley’s proudest moment though came in Athens, when she carried the flag for the U.S. delegation.

“It’s the most incredible experience I’ve had. Basketball pretty much comes easy to me – but carrying our flag into the stadium in Athens…I don’t have any other comparrisons other than maybe the Royal Wedding that took place the other week! You don’t dream about stuff like that. You dream about winning gold medals – but to carry your flag into an Olympic Games is incredible.”

Having owned the Olympics as a player, Staley helped the USA women to another gold medal as an assistant coach in Beijing in 2008. But she won’t be on the bench in London.

“The USA Basketball system select their head coach and the head coach then gets the say as to who will be their assistant coaches. I think the coach wanted to go in a different direction, and he put together a staff that he thinks will best get him a gold medal. Unfortunately, it wasn’t me. But everybody that can experience being part of an Olympic Games should. I was very fortunate that I was part of four. So I think the opportunity for someone else to experience that is a great thing.”

Much sooner than next summer though, the GB women have the small matter of the Atlanta Dream to deal with. They square off against the WNBA powerhouse at the Manchester Evening News Arena on May 29.

“I’m truly excited about it,” Staley says. “The game has grown tremendously and we want to see it continue to grow all over the world. What better place to have a WNBA team come over to than the UK – ahead of the Olympic Games next year?

“I think there has been an increase in girls picking up basketballs and playing. It’s only right for them to be exposed to one of the best teams in the WNBA. Other sports are more prevalent [in Britain], but that’s because they see them more, they’re exposed to them more. Hopefully the WNBA Game – and the USA basketball team playing GB in warm up games before the Olympics next year – will change that. The more exposure you pump into the UK, the more little girls will have the opportunity to see basketball, play basketball and succeed at it.”

The WNBA’s Atlanta Dream will play the Great Britain women’s basketball team at the MEN Arena on Sunday 29 May. Tickets are available from www.men-arena.com, www.ticketmaster.co.uk or 0844 847 8000.

Images: NBAE / Getty

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