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USA - New season set for lift-off
SAN ANTONIO (WNBA) - There is no shortage of star power heading into the 2013-14 WNBA season, which tips off this weekend.
The Indiana Fever, who launch their title defense at San Antonio on Friday evening, once again have USA international great Tamika Catchings leading the charge and Australian Opal Erin Phillips in the backcourt.
Layshia Clarendon, the 1.75m guard who played at the women's NCAA Final Four for California earlier this year, will make her debut for the Fever against a Silver Stars team that boasts Kayla Alexander of Canada.
Alexander enters her rookie season fresh off a terrific four-year career at Syracuse, where she became the all time leading scorer in the women's program.
The most recognizable face in the San Antonio squad this summer will be evergreen Becky Hammon, who represented Russia in her second Olympics last summer.
The 36-year-old Hammon has 14 years of WNBA experience.
She won't be able to play until the end of June after breaking the middle finger on her shooting right hand in training camp.
Hammon knows she is getting closer to the time when she’ll end her professional career.
"I've been thinking about that probably for the last year and a half," she said.
"I think as an athlete, you have a shelf life, you're not going to be a basketball player for ever.
"Whatever I do, I'm going to work hard and let the chips fall where they may."
There is a lot of excitement in Phoenix, where center Brittney Griner now plays.
Griner, who just capped an amazing career with the Baylor Lady Bears, was the number one pick in the WNBA Draft.
She will be a teammate of USA internationals Candice Dupree and Diana Taurasi, and Australia star Penny Taylor.
Taylor missed all of last season, and the Olympics, while recovering from a knee injury.
The Mercury's first game is on Monday at home to the Chicago Sky.
The city of Chicago is buzzing about the arrival of rookie Elena Delle Donne, a player in the USA Basketball national team set-up.
"I love it here," Delle Donne said.
"It really has been an easy transition, which is a relief.”
Serbian Sonja Petrovic played for the Sky last season but was cut from this year's team.
The Connecticut Sun is where reigning WNBA MVP Tina Charles is on the books.
The Sun gave a tryout to Great Britain international Jo Leedham, but the joint-leading scorer of last year's Olympic Games was among the last two cuts that were announced on Thursday by coach Anne Donovan.
"I can say that I don't remember being so indecisive down the stretch, where my mind changed from one day to the next," Donovan said of her roster.
"I'd think I have a good grip on [the decision], and then we'd go to the next game or practice and it changes again."
The positive for Leedham, who competes for Bourges during the European club season, is that she can now link up with Great Britain's national team.
The Brits are warming up for the EuroBasket Women in France, a tournament that starts 15 June.
Connecticut's first game will be on Saturday at home to the New York Liberty.
Minnesota, the team that lost to Indiana in last year's Finals, will have their first game against the Sun on 1 June.
One of the Minnesota players is USA international Maya Moore, who helped the team win the title two years ago.
She says last year's setback was a huge disappointment.
"We finished one spot away from where we wanted to last year, and everybody knows that," Moore said.
"And I think it's okay to use that as motivation to want to improve on last year.
"You also have to be careful to not get too far ahead of yourself. A championship is so far off. You really want to just take advantage of every day."
Seattle visit Los Angeles to take on the Sparks on Sunday.
Candace Parker, one of the USA's leading players at the Olympics, and Nneka Ogwumike will lead the Sparks this season.
The Washington Mystics have newcomer Emma Meeseman, the leading player in Belgium's national team.
The 20-year-old rookie is eager to play.
“At first, I was just happy to be here, and I had to make the adjustment from Belgian/French basketball to American," she said.
"Now I know all the differences and what to do to be a part of it.
"It’s getting better each day, but I still have a lot to learn.”
Tulsa, who begin their season on Saturday at the Atlanta Dream, have plenty of cause for optimism.
The Shock now have the charismatic presence of rookie point guard Skylar Diggins, an All-American at Notre Dame.
Diggins will team up with Australia center Liz Cambage.
All of the Shock players visited Moore, Oklahoma, this week, the city hit hardest by last week's devastating tornado.
“I want to be a positive role model,” Diggins said.
"I want to be very active in the community.
"I want to be available. I want to be visible. I want to meet people.
"I want to go to the Boys and Girls Club. I want to help with kids and just do anything I can to be out there and give back to the community that’s been so supportive of me since I’ve been here.”