Storm stars Swin Cash and Sue Bird will play for the USA team against a group of WNBA stars on Saturday. The USA team will be coached by Geno Auriemma, Cash and Bird's coach at Connecticut.
UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Swin Cash likes to jog to the scorer’s table and sprinkle out some resin before games now. Then she dips her hands into the powder and shows her palms, as if playing patty-cake.
“It’s for the people who have been with me in my life, giving them high fives,” she said.
She’ll be with a couple of old friends this weekend. On Saturday, Storm stars Cash and Sue Bird, who played together at Connecticut, will be reunited with their former college coach, Geno Auriemma, as part of the USA Basketball roster.
The Olympic hopefuls will face the WNBA Stars at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN. The game dressed as an All-Star substitute has serious implications in deciding the American national team for the World Championships, which start in September.
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Cash, the 2009 All-Star Game MVP, has been fighting for a spot on the roster since a back injury kept her out of the 2008 Olympic Games. She’s one of six UConn players who could be named to the U.S. team when rosters are due Sept. 21.
“She’s perfect for this team because she can do so many things,” said Auriemma, the coach of USA Basketball through the London Olympics in 2012. “I’m sure there are people out there who think because Geno’s the coach, they’ve got all these UConn people on the team.
“As far as having that many out of 12? They were the best players in high school and everybody knew it. They were the best players in college and everybody knew it, and a bunch of them are the best players in the WNBA. So … “
Friday, Auriemma had his first session with the 19 players being considered for the World Championship team. He said the atmosphere with that many players and only two hoops felt a little like a high-school camp, but the workout went smoothly with the former Huskies and UConn senior Maya Moore already understanding Auriemma’s wants.
It didn’t take long for him to send a zinger toward New York guard Cappie Pondexter, teasing that Diana Taurasi wasn’t a dirty player until she played with the Rutgers alum.
“She wasn’t like that when she played at Connecticut,” Auriemma quipped.
Later, he insisted Cash wasn’t a three-point shooter. But her career-best 45.5 percent shooting from behind the arc this season has helped the Storm to a league-best 16-2 record.
“At the core, he’ll never change,” Bird said of Auriemma. “But it’s cool to see the different ways he runs offenses now. He’s evolved with the game and as a person. With us, he knows he doesn’t have to necessarily yell at us or be in our face the way you are with a college team. He realizes he can trust us, which is great, but he expects things from us.”
That’s where Saturday becomes tricky. While many in the sold-out Mohegan Sun Arena will want to bask in everything Connecticut, Auriemma’s mind-set is focused on the fact that he won’t see his full roster, again, until Game 1 of the World Championships — the winner of which receives an automatic bid to the Olympics.
So, little things typically left out of midseason showcases, like defense and caution, will be inserted. And don’t look for players to clear a path so Sylvia Fowles or Taurasi can dunk, either.
USA Basketball held a similar exhibition in 2004 before the Athens Games. The difference was the Olympic team was already picked.
“If I have this (WNBA Stars) jersey on, I’m trying to show them they’re missing out by not having me,” said Teresa Edwards, a five-time Olympian who’s part of the USA Basketball selection committee. “If I’m the national team, I’m saying, ‘Bring It.’ I would hope that this generation of kids are that competitive.”
Well, if the WNBA season is any indicator, they are.
Particularly Cash, who underwent back surgery in March 2009. She entered the leaguewide break averaging 15.6 points and 6.5 rebounds — her best marks since 2004.
“I feel like this season, I’ve put out some of my best basketball and it’s up to the committee,” Cash said. “Win or lose, I’m so happy and in a good place right now, even if I didn’t score a point or grab a rebound Saturday, I know what I can do. And at this point, USAB should know what I can do.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org