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Here are five things that fans should watch for Saturday (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET) during the Stars at the Sun game between the U.S. women's national team and the WNBA All-Stars:
These ladies are going to put on a show at Mohegan Sun Arena, because that's what the fans are coming to see. The WNBA All-Star game falls right in the middle of Team USA's mini-training camp so this will be good practice for all 11 women on the roster.When I was on the WNBA cross country tour, I coached the East team and [current Seattle Storm coach] Brian Agler coached the West. We both went in with the mindset that this was just another All-Star game, but after we won the first game and were getting ready for the second, I looked out on the court and Agler had his team playing a zone. His competitive nature is key and he's going to make the game tough.
There will be a significant number of foreign players who will compete against the national team. Atlanta's Iziane Castro Marques and Phoenix forward Penny Taylor will lead the way, especially since Seattle's Lauren Jackson will sit out with a concussion. The WNBA All-Star coaches did a terrific job in assembling their roster, especially when challenged to fill the holes that were exposed when players departed to play for Team USA. In addition, they were able to round out their roster with Katie Douglas and Crystal Langhorne and made a last-minute swap of Sancho Lyttle for Lindsey Harding. The dynamic talent that this team brings to the table will be exciting to watch.
There are a few big names you won't see on the court this weekend. Although Los Angeles' Candace Parker is one of the most popular players in the league, she will not be playing with the U.S. team due to a shoulder injury suffered back in June. Fans will also miss the Mystics' Katie Smith and former WNBA great Lisa Leslie, who retired from the league last year after 11 seasons. Look out for some not-so-familiar faces on the USA basketball squad to emerge this weekend.
Team USA will have a little more structure, edge and focus in this game because the players have been working together to improve for the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women in September. Other players will have to step up in Parker's absence but, in the long run, it will make the team better. Team USA offers a good balance of talent this year. Sylvia Fowles has good size, Tina Charles and Swin Cash are both having phenomenal years, and Diana Taurasi is a formidable on-court presence who will dominate in scoring. UConn's Maya Moore is the only collegiate player on the team, so this will be a great experience for her, as well.
In coaching the WNBA All-Stars, Agler will only have a few days to prepare, whereas Geno Auriemma has been working with Team USA ever since he was named the head coach in 2009. There's really no comparison as to which coach is better, but Agler is very competitive and will throw different looks at Team USA.
Geno's approach is different: He's preparing for more than just an All-Star game. He's looking ahead to the world championship. This game will serve as a testing ground to see which players deserve to start on the national team, so expect to see a higher level of coaching and play out of these ladies.
Don't expect to see your typical All-Star game this Saturday. Last year, the players had a lot of fun on the court by clearing the lane for dunks and creative plays, but you won't see that this year. This game will be an exhibition featuring some of the world's best players assembled on the same court. There will be more of a competitive focus this year, which will certainly be exciting to watch.