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Atlanta / Olympics '96

About All They Have in Common Is Their Sport

Women's basketball: U.S. team trying to establish own identity.

July 19, 1996|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — They are hotter and operating at a higher profile than any previous U.S. women's basketball team, but habits die hard, and nobody can seem to quit defining them in terms of the men.

Dream Team, Too.

The men's team made a morning appearance, the women made an evening appearance, and guess which group was repeatedly asked about the other?

Hint: Nobody asked Shaquille O'Neal how his travel itinerary compared to Lisa Leslie's.

Had the U.S. women gotten a taste of what the NBA is like during their 51-game, yearlong tour?

Jennifer Azzi, a Stanford alum, got a good-natured chuckle out of that one.

"They have homes and they go out for a few days and come back to their city," Azzi said. "Basically, we've been on a yearlong road trip. . . . That side's been a little tough--and we don't have our own jet."

Nevertheless, the women basketball players are among the few groups at the Olympics not complaining about under- or overexposure. They are a vibrant, talented dozen who could emerge as stars of the Atlanta Games--as Sports Illustrated apparently believed when it put Sheryl Swoopes, Katrina McClain and Ruthie Bolton on the cover of its Olympic preview issue, with former USC star Lisa Leslie, four-time Olympian Teresa Edwards and Coach Tara VanDerveer on the inside fold.

The same cover with the men would have been a yawner, but once again, the women's team isn't looking at it that way.

"I don't think of it as us versus them," Azzi said. "They don't need another Sports Illustrated cover. But it's a big step in terms of respect for our sport."

It will be considered an upset if the U.S. team doesn't win the gold, although Brazil and Australia figure to provide some competition, and Cuba, Russia, Canada and Ukraine draw mentions from VanDerveer.

"This is not a slam-dunk situation where one team can expect to come in and walk all over everybody," said VanDerveer, whose team opens Sunday against Cuba. "We are one of the favorites. I think it's going to be a great competition."

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