Friday, July 23, 2004

Foreign WNBA players lose out

International stars faced big choice: Olympics or league

By Oscar Dixon
USA Today

The WNBA is suspending its season in August so players may participate in the Athens Olympics.

Several former WNBA players elected not to return to the league this season in order to play in the Olympics:
• Iziane Castro Marques, Brazil, Phoenix Mercury.
• Janeth Arcain, Brazil, Houston Comets.
• Helen Luz, Brazil, Washington Mystics.
• Annie Burgess, Australia, Washington Mystics.
• Kristi Harrower, Australia, Minnesota Lynx.
• Sandy Brondello, Australia, Seattle Storm.
• Jung Sun-Min, Korea, Seattle Storm.
USA Today
For the majority of international basketball federations, however, that wasn't enough, and players had to choose: play in the WNBA in 2004 or play in Athens.

Most chose the Olympics. Only three international WNBA players - Australians Lauren Jackson (Seattle Storm) and Penny Taylor (Phoenix Mercury) and Russian Elena Baranova (New York Liberty) - are expected also to participate in the Olympics.

Kamila Vodichkova, 31, told the Czech Republic she could do both. When the national federation said thanks but no thanks, she chose the WNBA. Vodichkova, averaging 8.6 points and 4.8 rebounds for Seattle, will watch the Games on television.

"It was a smart decision for me, stupid decision for them," said the 6-4, 185-pound Vodichkova, who played on the Czech Republic 1992 Olympic team in Barcelona. "They made the decision in April: either the WNBA or the Olympics. For me, it's not a question. I'm going to Seattle whatever you say.

Anne Donovan, coach of the Storm and an assistant on the U.S. team, hasn't quite gotten over it.

"I can't believe the Czech Republic will make the decision to go without her," Donovan said. "It has something to do with her returning to Seattle. She injured her foot at the end of our season, and she didn't go play with them in Europe. They thought she was faking an injury, so they were mad at me because they thought I had abused her. And they were mad at her because she didn't play hurt.

"But if she had decided to stay there and train with the team, they still weren't guaranteeing her a roster spot. She had to make the decision she did because they weren't giving her anything."

U.S. team and Seattle point guard Sue Bird says the Czech Republic team, which many say will be a medal contender, will miss her Storm teammate.

"This isn't like (the) 12th man off the bench. This is a starter they need," Bird said. "We played the Czech team during the offseason, and they have no low-post presence."

Jackson, the WNBA 2003 MVP, says Australia initially issued a similar ultimatum.

"They ended up coming around for me and Penny, but they didn't want anybody else coming back over here."

ROSTER UPDATE: Detroit Shock center Ruth Riley will replace the injured DeLisha Milton-Jones of the Los Angeles Sparks on the U.S. women's team at the Athens Olympics, USA Basketball officials said Thursday. Milton-Jones injured her right knee in a WNBA game July 9.

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