Valencia, Spain • March 18, 2008
The site was the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The year was 2000. In walks a slew of young girls, wide-eyed and eager to impress USA Basketball with what they all thought were mad skills. At this point most of them knew they were the best out there. Untouchable. Best of the best. However, being the best in your city can’t show you how good or bad you really are. To do that you need to go up against the best in the nation. And there they were. The next crop of college stars. Look at that girl over there. That one. The one from Chicago with a WNBA tattoo on her arm. Yeah. That one. It says “The Future.” Ha! We’ll see about that.
So many young stars have gone through the same drills, two-a-day tryouts at 6,200′ of elevation. And so many have quickly come to realize that, while they’re very good, there’s still a long way to go to be great.
Over the course of the weekend that young 5-7, 143-pounder from Chicago stood out. As did many others, including the 5-11 guard from Shreveport, La., who was on her way to Duke in the fall. And still numerous others. There was even the one who wasn’t there but brought a lot of talk to the sessions by being absent. She was a 6-0 forward from Chino, Calif., who was headed to Connecticut, but couldn’t make the trials. Apparently she was good enough for the committee to grant her waiver request and she eventually made the team. With all the All-Americans and all-staters on the court, people joked with that young Chi-town product about her tattoo most of the weekend. We all wanted proof that she indeed belonged to the future of women’s hoops. But she took it all in stride, quietly smiled and continued to hustle.
Flash forward eight years later. She still has that tattoo. Only now nobody is laughing at her for being so bold about getting the ink as a young teenager. The level-headed guard has proven that she is here to stay.
Cappie Pondexter made that 2000 U18 squad as a 17-year-old with still a year of high school in front of her. Coached that summer and the year after by UConn’s Geno Auriemma, the budding star learned a lot about what she could expect once reaching the college ranks.
Not only has she been an integral part of numerous USA squads, Pondexter helped Rutgers post a 97-22 mark during her four years on the New Jersey campus and earned a pair of Big East titles during that time. Entering the pro ranks in 2006 Pondexter was the No. 2 pick by the Phoenix Mercury and in her second season was named the WNBA Finals MVP after helping lead the Mercury, along with that cocky and self-confident product of Southern Cali from the summer of 2000, to the ‘07 WNBA crown.
She’s also made her mark in the European pro ranks. Pondexter is in her second season with Turkey’s Fenerbache SK and has played in a pair of EuroLeague All-Star Games, winning the MVP trophy in 2007.
A member of eight different USA Basketball squads since 2000, winning five golds, one silver and one bronze medal during that time, Pondexter is on the cusp of realizing her ultimate goal: becoming an Olympian. Part of that journey brought Pondexter to Valencia, Spain, for USA National Team training and a couple of games. She is still working as hard as ever to try and impress USA Basketball – she wants one of those 12 spots and will scrap for every loose ball and take on every opponent to prove it.
We sat down with “The Future” before the USA’s first game (today, 3:30 p.m. EDT) against Ros Casares to see what’s going on in Spain these days.
How has the trip been so far?
I think Valencia was a good place for us to have a training camp. Aside from the basketball, it’s a great place, great weather, great culture. We came at the fire bombing time (Fallas Festival), but besides that it’s been good overall. This is a good group of women training together. Everybody has great attitudes. Nobody really has a guarantee on the team so it’s like we’re still fighting, which is good. Everybody’s working together and it’s been great so far.
What have you gotten out of this trip to this point?
First of all, camaraderie. Just to be back together and playing on the same team and not against each other. Knowing that we’re representing the USA. Secondly, I think our defensive intensity has gotten a lot better overall. Individually, too. Everybody’s positive, which is always good.
You mentioned the fires, can you explain about the Fallas Festival and have you ever been somewhere where firecrackers are going off 24/7?
Not for five days straight, no. It’s a little annoying, but I don’t want to knock their culture. It’s a huge festival for them, I just wasn’t ready for it. I wouldn’t like to come again during this time. You can’t sleep. You wake up in the middle of the night and hear ‘Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!’
You’ve been living in Turkey for the last few years. How do you like living overseas?
I think it’s wonderful. The clubs treat us with so much respect, they treat us like how we should be treated. It’s a different way of living, it’s not the same as home. But sometimes the basketball makes up for it. There’s great food and it’s a good chance to learn about different cultures.
What have you learned during your travels?
You know what? In Turkey they pray like five times a day. You can hear it. At five in the morning it begins. That’s one difference. They have this dessert called baklava. It’s really good, my favorite. But it’s really sweet so you can’t have too much of it. Their food is similar to Greek. They have the onion salad with tomatoes and vinegar dressing. The rice, the lamb. It’s kind of like Greek food and it’s pretty good.
All the summers playing around the world with USA Basketball, did that help you with your adjustment to playing overseas?
Definitely. I was just telling this reporter a couple of months ago that my first time in Turkey was in Izmir with the USA World University Games Team. So I had a chance to get to learn about their culture and it was one of the reasons I wanted to go back to Istanbul. It kind of helped me in my decision the first time I came. Definitely, it gave me a heads-up on what to expect, the way of living, knowing not to complain about anything. They don’t really like us Americans so we have to blend in, be nice and not too greedy. You know we can sometimes because we’re use to so much more.
Your first USA Basketball experience was with an 18-and-under team. FIBA is now going to have U17 World Championships so the first international experiences for USA players will be on a 16-and-under (FIBA Americas U16 Championship) team. Looking back on your first international experience, how eye-opening was that and do you think that’s going to help these young kids heading overseas to play in a tournament with their games and maturity levels?
Definitely with the development of basketball, going to 15 and 16 is going to help us in the future. It’ll give them a chance to get use to international play. A lot of these players in Europe have been playing professionally a long time. They’re use to the physicality, the not getting the calls, the banging. For our players, it’s not really our style of basketball. But for us to get use to that at an early age will help the development as far as USA Basketball.
When you were in high school on the 2000 USA U18 National Team you played for a college coach, Geno Auriemma. What kind of experience is that for a high schooler to go through college-like practices?
It’s an eye-opener because they really teach you that you’re not playing hard when you think you are. In high school you’re use to everybody feeding you and telling you how great you are. But he was just like … he broke everybody down and told us that we’re not great. It was good though. Some people took it the right way, some people took it the wrong way. If you take it the right way you’ll end up in a position like some of us are in right now with the national team.
What kind of advice would you give to a 15- or 16-year-old who wants to play for USA Basketball and might be traveling overseas for the first time in her life?
Be willing to do anything. There’s so much that you can experience off the court, learning different cultures. But you have to be willing to do it. If you’re willing to do it, it can take you so much further in life.
Thanks Cappie and good luck tonight!
No problem and thanks!
Article exerted from the USA Basketball’s Website. Check the site out!