Coach G chats about upcoming trip to Beijing
July 17, 2008
On how the job has been so far: I think this whole thing was just a whirlwind for me, but heading into this summer I felt like I finally had my feet firmly planted in the ground. Last summer, right after I took the job, I was involved in USA Basketball and we went to Rome, then to Chile, and we've been in China already as well. I'm really excited again to have the opportunity to be with the Olympic team. We've been working for the last four years trying to prepare for this event and to bring home the gold medal again.
On where Team USA stands against the competition: It's going to be interesting because we've always been favored to win the gold medal. This year -- really for the first time -- we're not. In the world championships two years ago, we lost to Russia, then Australia beat Russia in the championship. So for the first time we're going in as a bit of an underdog, which I actually like. We're going to have to be ready to play. I think the USA has had a bit of a mental edge for a long time, but we don't have that edge anymore now that some other teams have beaten us. It's going to be a battle every night, but I love that. We're going to have to play our best basketball to win the gold medal.
On what she has learned from the experience so far: Every time I'm involved with USA Basketball, I feel like I learn, I grow, and I'm always able to bring something back to my own team. When you're scouting countries with different styles of play, it keeps you on your toes. It's very difficult, but at the same time you're constantly learning. They may run some new sets that we just haven't seen. It's a different style of play, one that I really enjoy and is very effective. They have a lot of three-point shooters. They tend to take advantage of mismatches and pull your post players out onto the perimeter. Those are things I've always enjoyed and have implemented into our own system.
On the lack of practices and preparation prior to the Olympics: That's the advantage that many other countries have over us. We probably have the most talent, but we get to play together the least amount of time. We'll have a total of six practices before our first Olympic game. It makes it tough on team chemistry, and on the players understanding and getting a feeling for one another out on the court.
On the development of the foreign game compared with the USA game: I think that's been proven in the men's game. Our men are now on the road to redemption. They're trying to win a gold medal because the world has been able to catch up to us, and it's such a different style that we play. The men's game in particular is a lot of one-on-one. When you watch the international teams play against our men, it's usually because of their teamwork that they are able to break our men's teams down. In the women's game, they haven't quite caught up to us yet, but they're on the same road, so we need to learn from some of the mistakes that our men's teams have made in the past. I think the world championships were a wake up call for us; that the world has really been able to catch up. We're fortunate that it happened in the world championships to better prepare us for the Olympics.
On whether USA Basketball interferes with her Texas responsibilities: I'm very fortunate to have such an experienced staff at UT. I trust them completely. It is difficult because I'm away from my team for basically a month. I get back on the 25th and I think we start school on the 27th, but they're here in summer school right now. I miss out on that daily interaction that I really enjoy and I think is necessary to build trust and relationships. My players and my staff are very understanding, but if I didn't have a staff that I really trusted, I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving as much as is necessary to coach USA Basketball.
On whether it's a good thing that Team USA isn't favored to win the gold: I think it is. There is an unbelievable amount of pressure that goes into the Olympics. If you don't win, you feel like you've let down your whole country, and that's a huge burden to bear. I think the fact that we're going in as underdogs really gives us a bit of an edge.
On her favorite thing about working with USA Basketball and the most difficult: The most difficult part is by far the time demands. USA Basketball has been very gracious in allowing me to leave for recruiting and meet up with the team later in certain situations. They've really helped me make it possible, especially with beginning a new program. It's made it difficult, not being around for my team as much as I would like to be. But I believe the positives outweigh the negatives in that I learn and grow. I'm with other great coaches like Anne Donovan, Mike Thibault, and Dawn Staley. We talk basketball 24/7 and exchange philosophies while we're together. I've coached with so many other coaches that have coached at the professional and collegiate levels, and I'm a sponge. I want to learn as much as possible about their philosophies, what they believe in and what works for them, and if I agree with it I'll implement it and make it my own. If not, it's still something that validates what we do.
On the differences between being an assistant as opposed to the head coach: It's not that difficult. I think that some people, once they're head coaches, have a hard time going back to the assistant role. For me, I think because I've been involved with USA Basketball for so long, it's very easy for me to jump in and out of the assistant role versus the head coach role. I understand what the head coach needs and expects. I'm certainly not nearly as vocal as an assistant as I am as a head coach. I try to be really positive and upbeat, whereas when you're the head coach, sometimes it falls on you to be the one to say the tough things. It's a different role for me, but it's pretty easy to adjust.
On the Team USA player that impresses her the most: Sylvia Fowles. I was amazed. I knew she was good because I've seen her on TV and I had the opportunity to play against her while I was at Duke, but in person, her attitude and work ethic were phenomenal. She's only going to get better because she wants to learn and is probably one of the most humble people I've ever been around.
On differences between the 2004 Olympics and this year: I don't think I'm as wide-eyed as I was for the Olympics in Greece. Everything was brand new. I was kind of like a kid in a candy store. Everything was so exciting and new. I think this time I'm much more settled. Donovan was the other assistant, so she and I really formed our bond in Greece. I think we feel a little more settled than we did four years ago.
On going to China: No, I'm not concerned at all. I think it's interesting that four years ago, several of the men's players actually pulled out of the Olympics for fear. It was after 9/11 and they said that the Greek government hadn't done a great job of preparing for the worst. When you compare them, I feel like China has done a great job in preparation. The Olympics are about peace; that's what I believe in, and we all believe in. You just have to feel strongly and believe that everything is going to go the way it's supposed to.
On whether she speaks any Chinese: I know how to say, "Hi, how are you?" I need to learn how to say, "I'm sorry," because I'll probably offend a lot of people unintentionally.
On what her Longhorns are asking for from the trip: My players want me to bring back souvenirs. A couple players have asked for autograph requests from some of the Olympic team members. At Texas, you expect to win championships in everything you do, and this is no different. They're expecting a gold medal. There are so many people from Texas involved in the Olympics. I don't know if it's possible, but if we could all get together for a photo, I think that would be incredible. Maybe around opening ceremonies, because that's really the only time that everyone is together.