Editor’s note: Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans will have a weekly conversation with a newsmaker in the WNBA. This week, she speaks with Tulsa center Liz Cambage, an Australian Olympian who has played only two WNBA seasons since being drafted in 2011 due to national team commitments. The 6-foot-8 All-Star will miss the 2014 season to prepare for the FIBA World Championship this fall, but was in America this spring as her national team played exhibition games against WNBA teams, including the Storm.
Seattle Times: Aren’t you barred from WNBA arenas because you’re contracted by a WNBA team and not playing this season?
Cambage: I was just allowed in the gym, but I’m not allowed to sit on the bench or train on WNBA courts, so we’re training at colleges. When the (team) is playing, I’m with our strength and conditioning coach, who is working me out every day.
Q: I’m guessing there wasn’t much strain in picking country over your WNBA team?
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Cambage: It was hard. I love my team in Tulsa but with (Australian Olympic returnees) Suzy Batkovic, Jenna (O’Hea) and now Abby Bishop choosing not to be part of the Opals, we’ve got a pretty inexperienced group. We finished fifth in the last World Champs (2010). I never want to go through that again. I thought I’d put my hand up and help by doing the whole lead-up this year. I’m close with (Tulsa teammates) Jennifer Lacy, Roneeka Hodges and Tiffany Jackson-Jones, who supported me and told me to do what I needed to do.
Q: Then you’re taking on a captain role because five of the players are first-time national team members?
Cambage: No! We still have (two) captains, but I did get voted into the leadership group, which is very humbling. That’s something I’m focusing on this year, my leadership skills and being accountable.
Q: The international competition schedule isn’t changing, how will you plan your WNBA schedule?
Cambage: I’ll definitely sit out Olympic years. … I’ll definitely be back (in Tulsa) next year. This is my job. I’m missing out on a paycheck doing this!
Q: The Aussie national team only pays about $25,000 Australian?
Cambage: We do get paid, but I’m missing out on my Tulsa paycheck, which is pretty nice (about $53,000 guaranteed). People forget that. I don’t just actually choose to not go back to Tulsa. I have a reason.
Q: How do you feel about the perception people have because you have missed two seasons?
Cambage: People don’t really understand coming from Australia. (National team) training is so different. (Americans) come together after the WNBA season and go into Worlds. We have massive lead-ups and we have to qualify. But I’m also really different and homey. It’s hard for me to come over here to play. Last year I was only home two months. But that’s the life of a baller.
Q: How was your second season in China? I saw Maya Moore won the league championship.
Cambage: I got really sick because of the pollution in Beijing. But, yeah, we got runners-up, again, to Maya’s team. She’s just unstoppable. She shoots threes with three guards hanging off her. It’s hard over there and so physical. The referees don’t watch.
Q: So, what can you tell Storm fans about Jenna O’Hea?
Cambage: My J-Wow. The first time I met Jenna I was really scared of her because she was a private-school girl and the “cool chick” in basketball. She’s a great shooter. Her three-point ball is amazing. Her one-on-one has been developing every year. She’s a little on the quiet side but will bring a lot of energy.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.