Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Updated: August 23, 1:46 PM ET
Douglas disputes report that she turned down USA
By Graham Hays
As if learning an injury would likely keep her out for the rest of the WNBA playoffs wasn't enough, the Connecticut Sun's Katie Douglas also had to deal with reports Monday that she rejected an offer to play for the United States in the upcoming World Championships so that she could suit up for Lithuania.
Douglas, who suffered a hairline fracture in her right foot in Sunday's series-clinching win over Washington, was adamant Tuesday that an invitation to play for the United States would have been a can't-miss-it opportunity.
The president of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus, did reject Douglas' application for Lithuanian citizenship on Monday, but Douglas disputes the claim she turned down an invitation from USA Basketball and said she wanted to represent Lithuania instead.
Douglas says things played out very differently.
Douglas did consider playing for Lithuania, where she has played professionally the past two winters, but only after receiving little initial interest from USA Basketball and subsequently being approached by Lithuanian basketball officials. She applied for dual citizenship at the time mainly because, as the timing of this story indicates, working things out with a government bureaucracy takes time.
"We've had talks, and [USA Basketball] has been completely understanding of the situation," Douglas said Tuesday. "I've kept in contact with them. I've been open and honest and had open lines of communication with USA Basketball all summer."
It's not that unusual for American-born athletes to play for other nations, either as a result of emotional connections or simply as an opportunity to participate in some of the world's most prestigious sporting events. Just for starters, there's Demond Greene (Germany), Ed Cota (Panama) and Daniel Santiago (Puerto Rico); it's not difficult to find well-known international players who were born within the 50 states.
Make no mistake, Douglas is not Lithuanian or Lithuanian-American. In the words of Tom Petty, she's an Indiana girl from an Indiana town, having starred in high school at Indianapolis' Perry Meridian, then just up I-65 at Purdue in college. But she is also a well-traveled woman familiar with the other side of the Atlantic after six years of playing professional basketball overseas during the WNBA offseason, a fact of life for a large number of WNBA players.
In addition to starring in Lithuania for Lietuvos Telekomas (where she led the FIBA Euroleague in scoring the past two years), Douglas previously played in Greece, where she met the man she married this year. The leading vote-getter in the Euroleague's inaugural All-Star Game, Douglas is a popular figure in Lithuania and around the European basketball community.
But she's also an American kid who would love nothing more than going for gold with Team USA. It's just that, until recently, that didn't seem to be an option.
"Lithuania approached me at the end of last year," Douglas said. "It was definitely becoming serious for me in January. Lithuania approached me, and before I left in April, there were things [paperwork] being done. But by no means was I pushing or pressing. I wasn't opposed because [at the time] I didn't have a sense of USA Basketball's intentions and direction."
Few women's stars turn down the chance to play for any reason other than injury, so the national team roster is difficult to crack. Of the 11 players on the current roster, nine already have Olympic gold medals, including four with multiple Olympic gold medals.
Loaded with that kind of returning talent, USA Basketball was a little slow to recognize Douglas' blossoming all-around game. Known for several years as one of the league's best perimeter defenders, Douglas has become one of the WNBA's top offensive weapons, as well. And her blend of defense, transition offense and outside shooting is a perfect fit for international basketball.
USA Basketball did come around this year (after Douglas had been approached about the opportunity with Lithuania), asking her whether she would be willing to participate in a multiplayer tryout for the final spot on the national team. The only problem was the tryout was scheduled for the same time as the WNBA Finals, in which Douglas fully expected to be playing for the third consecutive season with the Sun.
Although her MVP status might have suggested she deserved better than a tryout opportunity, Douglas was open to the idea if it didn't distract from her commitment to the Sun. Unfortunately, the same injury that derailed her WNBA season also likely ends any hopes of playing in the World Championship.
But reject an opportunity to play for the United States? Not a chance.
"Obviously, as an American, I would love to have gotten the chance to play on the United States team," Douglas said. "To be able to play in the World Championships was a dream of mine. I definitely did not decline a chance to play on the United States team.
"I've been invited to try out for the United States at the conclusion of the WNBA season. I felt like I was on one of the best teams in the WNBA, and we were preparing to make a championship run, and that I was going to be unavailable to try out because the tryouts are during the WNBA playoffs. So I never turned down an invitation to play, I never turned down an opportunity to play for the United States."
But she has been turned down by Lithuania. Adamkus rejected Douglas' application for Lithuanian citizenship, saying "such a move would violate the basketball-crazed nation's constitution."
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.
"As an American, I would love to have gotten the chance to play on the United States team, To be able to play in the World Championships was a dream of mine. ... I never turned down an invitation to play, I never turned down an opportunity to play for the United States."
All-Star Game MVP Katie Douglas