BUENOS AIRES (National team) - When Marcela Paoletta isn't eating her favorite Argentinian dish milanesa and listening to Madonna, there's a pretty good chance she's practicing her dribbling or jump shots.
Then again, the 28-year-old guard might be hitting the books, or even working behind the counter in a sports goods shop.
There is, after all, a huge difference in earning power between Argentina's Olympic gold medal winning men's team and those on the players on the women's team who are just trying to reach the Olympics.
Paoletta first played the game at the age of eight and made her national team in 1996.
She has gone on to play in more than 20 international tournaments.
At the FIBA Americas Championship, she and Argentina did enough to grab a place in the World Olympic Qualifying Tournament that will be played next year.
"We also gained a lot of experience because we are a very young squad," she said.
"The only negative aspect was the absence of several players from European clubs."
Paoletta spoke to Jorge O. Blanco in an exclusive interview with FIBA.
FIBA: You play for Velez Sarsfield in Argentina, but to supplement your income you also work. We also hear you are a student. What can you tell us about all of this?
Marcela Paoletta: "I do many things in a short space of time. I work in a sports clothes shop from 9AM to 6PM and I also study labour relations at night. Sometimes it's very difficult to train. One or two times a year, I want to scream "Stop, please! Enough!" But I love everything I'm doing. Sadly, all that prevents me from keeping my best basketball level."
FIBA: Do you receive any official economic help as a national team player?
Marcela Paoletta: "Only this year, we began to receive 370 pesos (around 60 US dollars) per month from the national government. It's not enough if you consider that just a pair of shoes cost more than that. But at least it's something. We hope that if we qualify for Beijing 2008, that amount will increase.
FIBA: Despite this, Argentinian women's basketball has grown in recent years. Did the success of the men's team, reaching the final of the 2002 FIBA World Championship and their gold medal win at the Athens Olympics two years later, help in any way?
Marcela Paoletta: "No, those achievements were very important for the boys, but for the girls nothing changes. The only favourable aspect was the transmission by TV of some games at the last Tournament of the Americas. That was important."
FIBA: But you think support for the women's game grow?
Marcela Paoletta: "I know that by reaching the Olympics, our sport can develop even more," she said.
FIBA: For you, individually, how important is it to play in Beijing?
Marcela Paoletta: "I know that the repechage or Beijing will be my last tournament with Argentina. After that, I want to focus on working and studying. Therefore, we'll make our biggest efforts to reach the Olympics."
FIBA: What are your hopes for next year's World Olympic Qualifying Tournament?
Marcela Paoletta: "It will be very hard. We know that the rivals will be very important teams like Cuba and Brazil. If we can add the girls who are playing in Europe, I have no doubt: we will give them fight. French Tarbes' Gisela Vega, for example, is a key player for us. Without them it will be impossible."
FIBA: Why do you think there is still a big gulf in performance between Argentina and some of the other leading countries in international basketball?
Marcela Paoletta: "Because they have a better structure, with professional leagues and private support. Besides that, they also have great players and who have better physical condition."
FIBA: Thanks Marcela. And for those who may not know, milanesa is beef that is first soaked in crude whisked eggs and then covered with breadcrumbs.
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS