OK, so maybe it won’t be the Sue Bird spotlight live from Turkey, but the Storm all-star PG is making a historic trip to the FIBA World Championship for Women, which runs from Saturday through Oct. 5 in Ankara and Istanbul.
Bird, 33, has competed for USA Basketball’s national team since 2002. In that span she’s won three Olympic gold medals and two gold and a bronze World Championship medals.
When USAB’s pool play begins with a tip against China on Saturday, it’ll mark Bird’s fourth Worlds — a first for an American.
“When you get toward the end of your career, or on the other side of it, you start hearing about stuff like games played or World Championships, or in the WNBA it’s number of assists for me or number of points for somebody else,” Bird told reporters in Turkey. “I really think it speaks to a consistency, luck in some ways, to stay healthy and be able to compete at that level. It also speaks to the individual as well that they were able to stay at a high level for an extended period of time and continue to add to their game and get better.”
The journey began as Bird being Olympic PG Dawn Staley’s pupil to now leading youths like C Brittney Griner (Phoenix) and passing along knowledge to PG Odyssey Sims (Tulsa), who’s the frontrunner to lead USAB into the future. Gold-medal vets in G Diana Taurasi (Phoenix) and PG Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota) are there to offer leadership on and off the court, too.
Television coverage for the World Championship begins Saturday at 4am PT on ESPN3 with Canada against Mozambique. The Americans vs China wrap the day’s play at 11:30am PT on ESPN3.
The gold medal game, regardless of who advances, will air on ESPN2 at 11am PT on Oct. 5.
NBA TV will cover all of USAB’s games live on its station. That schedule is below.
If you don’t have NBA TV, the Watch ESPN app or ESPN via your computer, you can pay a $10 subscription to watch the full tournament on LiveBasketball.TV. Or/And use the hashtag #Turkey2014 on Twitter to get updates and commentary about the competition.
The Americans lost to France in an exhibition Sunday but remain the heavy favorite to win gold. If they do, it’s an automatic qualifier for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Griner, a matured shot-blocking phenom, is a difference-maker but she’s only had two practices with the Americans due to an eye injury suffered en route to the WNBA championship earlier this month. Griner, who was named Defensive Player of the Year, will likely wear protective goggles during the FIBA competition.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun and definitely different for me,” Griner said prior to departing for Europe for her first international competition with the national team. After her first practice in Turkey, she added, “I think my role will be blocking shots, playing defense and protecting that paint. I’m happy with that because I love defense.”
Australia was another favorite, but is without its inside anchors in posts Lauren Jackson (hip/knee) and Liz Cambage (Achilles) due to injury. Jackson, who also missed a second WNBA season with the Storm, won’t compete for the Opals for the first time since 1998.
“This is the first time I’ve missed out on the national team in 20 years and it’s scary and I cried my eyes out,” said Jackson, who underwent hip surgery this month. “In preparing for the Worlds, it was rush, rush rush. Had my (knee) been at 60 percent, I would have come back. But it would not come back and it was because of the hip. My doctors now are focused on getting me at 100 percent.”
The Opals do gain F Penny Taylor and PG Erin Phillips, however, keys to the Mercury winning the franchise’s third WNBA title. And former Kennewick HS star PG Leilani Mitchell made the roster. Mitchell missed the WNBA season with New York in order to vie for a spot, qualifying for citizenship because of her Australian mother.
Czech Republic star C Petra Kulichova is probable after suffering an ankle injury in an exhibition loss to the Americans this week. The country does have a healthy F Jana Vesela, who was part of Seattle’s 2010 championship team.
Other notable players aligning with their national teams as naturalized citizens or natives are Canadian F Michelle Plouffe, a 2014 Storm draft pick, and UCLA star G Nirra Fields. New York’s rookie PG Anna Cruz is with her native Spain along with PG Silvia Dominguez, who was signed to play for Seattle but couldn’t obtain a visa, and Atlanta All-Star F Sancho Lyttle, who was named to the WNBA’s all-defensive first team.
The Brazilians feature Atlanta C Erika de Souza and Minnesota rookie F Damiris Dantas while the talented French will be led again by PG Celine Dumerc (Atlanta) with Los Angeles C Sandrine Gruda inside.
Former Atlanta C Yelena Leuchanka will suit up for Belarus. F Lara Sanders, who was LaToya Pringle when she starred at North Carolina, was named to the Turkish roster. She played with Storm stars Tanisha Wright and Camille Little in Turkey last winter.
“We know what we have to do,” said Bird, who now claims Seattle as home. “And now it’s time to truly focus and do it.”
Here’s the promo for the FIBA World Championship:
And the American’s television schedule. All times are Eastern:
NBA TV Telecast Schedule
(All Times Eastern)
USA Games on NBA TV
China vs. USA
Saturday, September 27
USA vs. Serbia
Sunday, September 28
USA vs. Angola
Tuesday, September 30
TBD vs. USA*
Friday, October 3
9:15 a.m. or 12 p.m.
TBD vs. USA*
Saturday, October 4
12 p.m. or 2:15 p.m.