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Basketball - 25. April 2007.

Catchings becomes a leader

Tamika Catchings and Katie Smith became the unquestioned leaders of the USA women's basketball team during its recent training camp in Italy and coach Anne Donovan would like them to continue to lead when some of the veteran players rejoin the team.

Catchings, the Indiana Fever's best player, averaged a team-high 12.8 points and 9.0 rebounds in the team's 4-0 trip, in which 11 players -- mostly newcomers to the national team -- participated.

"I knew with this team I had to step up and score and be more of a defensive leader," Catchings said. "Defense has been one of my roles with the team, but Tina (Thompson) e-mailed me and told me with this team that I had to step up offensively and continue to do the things I do defensively.

"It's my time. I've had some great people to learn under."

Several veterans didn't play during the camp, including Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets), Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks), DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics) and Thompson (Houston). But Donovan doesn't want Catchings, a member of the 2004 Olympic gold-medal team, or Smith, a two-time gold medalist, to change one iota when the veterans rejoin the team in September for the FIBA Americas tournament, the first step toward qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The squads that will play in September and in Beijing will be determined later from the 22-player roster.

"One couldn't do it without the other; they're not your stand-alone kind of leaders," Donovan said of Catchings and Smith. "I've had conversations with both of them about carrying over the things we've done these two weeks into the fall when we get back together.

"They're all growing up and emerging as independent players. That is truthfully one of the most important parts of the training camp is to develop that leadership, the chemistry and to not start over in September."

Said Catchings: "I've always sort of led by example and not said much. But having someone like her say the things I may be thinking is a good thing."

Donovan said Smith, who averaged just 6.5 points, was forced to play a lot of point guard during the four games, so her stats don't reflect her leadership role.

"A.B. (Alana Beard, Washington Mystics) has been out so we've had Lindsey (Harding) and Katie entirely at the point," Donovan said. "So from a statistical standpoint you're not seeing it, but from a leadership standpoint, she has taken charge of the team."

One of the young players being closely watched is 6-4 Jessica Davenport (New York Liberty), who had 13 points and nine rebounds Tuesday.
Taj McWilliams-Franklin (Los Angeles), who averaged 9.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in the four games, finished with 11 on Tuesday and Courtney Paris (Oklahoma) added 10. Harding (Minnesota Lynx) had a team-high five assists.

Add to the mix the play of 6-5 Sylvia Fowles (LSU), who averaged 10.3 points and 7.0 rebounds, and Donovan has many decisions to make in the coming months.

"It has been a great camp," Donovan said. "Our objectives were met. We have been able to evaluate and develop some of our younger talent at the same time, while moving one step closer to getting our chemistry -- on the floor and off the floor."

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