Selasa, 14 Agustus 2012

Bio: Sue Bird (part 1)

With her Olympic 2012 GOLD medal
Everyone loves a winner—which gives fans all the more reason to love Sue Bird. Over eight seasons in high school and college, she won four championships and lost just seven games. As a WNBA rookie, she created a palpable electricity whenever she took the floor, turning the Seattle Storm into a team befitting its name. Hailed as the Mia Hamm of women’s basketball, Sue could end up being that and a whole lot more. This is her story…


Suzanne Brigit Bird was born in suburban Long Island on October 16, 1980. Her mother, Nancy, was a high school nurse, and her father, Herschel, a cardiologist. She has one sister, Jennifer. Everyone called Sue “Peanut” when she was a kid. She was always happy and energetic—unless she lost at a game, even something as mundane as Candyland. Then her mood would turn dark, and she would become unapproachable. 

Sue’s earliest basketball memory was a trip to see the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks play in Madison Square Garden in 1988. She recalls a dunk by Michael Jordan, but not much else. A pro hoops career was about the farthest thing from her mind at the time.

Sports was a big part of growing up in Syosset, and Sue was one of those kids instantly better than her classmates at almost every activity she tried. Her best sports were soccer, tennis, track and basketball. A combination of great coordination and an unquenchable thirst for victory propelled her throughout her childhood.
While serious about honing her basketball skills, Sue was hardly a gym rat, a la her WNBA counterpart Jackie Stiles. When practice was over, she put down the ball and put her mind to other things. More than anything, she enjoyed the social aspect of sports (and for that matter she still does). The only time Sue took the court in non-competitive situations was when she would perform three-point shooting exhibitions during halftime of her older sister’s games at Syosset High School.

Sue was the type of player you noticed immediately. Everything about her was natural and fluid, and she never made the same mistake twice. Once, after her CYO team scrimmaged during halftime at a St. John’s women’s basketball game, the 11-year-old was stopped by a security guard…for her autograph.

That was the same year Sue began showing signs of becoming an elite player. Her father remembers a game in Staten Island to determine who would advance to a national tournament. Sue took over in such convincing fashion that everyone on hand told Herschel his daughter would be a star.
Living in soccer-crazed Long Island, Sue also matured into an avid player on the pitch. The sport helped her develop quick footwork and great anticipation. She found these skills translated well to the hardwood. By age 15, after two years on Syosset's varsity hoops team, her game was ready to blossom. 
In search of top-level competition for their daughter—and in the midst of a painful divorce—Sue’s parents enrolled her at Christ the King Regional High School. A private catholic school in Middle Village, Queens, Christ the King had a phenomenal basketball program. In recent years the Royals had produced Chamique Holdsclaw, Lamar Odom, Jason Williams and Speedy Claxton. Sue had all the earmarks of being an equally special player.
During her career at Christ the King, Sue lived in a Queens apartment with her dad. When he was out of town on business, Nancy would stay there. The strain of her splitting time between parents was trying on the teenager. So was being the target of local hoops coaches, who accused her of having allowed herself to be recruited.
Sue’s coach at Christ the King was Vincent Cannizzaro, who years earlier had helped mold Holdsclaw into the top player in NCAA history. He and his assistant, Bob Mackey, tried to help Sue shut out the pain of her home life, advising her to immerse herself in basketball. She developed a particularly close relationship with Mackey, who is now Christ the King’s head coach.

With the Royals, Sue stepped directly into the starting point guard job and came into her own. In turn, Christ the King built on its reputation as a national powerhouse. In Sue's junior season, the team went 27-0. She had so many good teammates that instead of shooting, she preferred to set them up. Sue noticed how much better they played when she anticipated their moves and put the ball in their hands at just the right time. This talent became her trademark throughout high school.

The Royals were an incredibly cohesive unit that stuck together all year round. During the summers, they all played for the same AAU team, called the Liberty Belles. It was as big-time as women’s high school basketball gets—travel, hotels, morning shootarounds, post-game interviews with high-circ newspapers.

The 1997-98 season—Sue’s senior year—was one for the books. The Royals had four other first-rate starters in Kathryn Fowler, Maria Edwards, Mary Kacic and Antoinette Saitta—who, along with Sue, made up the “Fab Five”—plus two excellent reserves, Gillian McGovern and Mary Bullock. (In an unheard of development, all seven earned college basketball scholarships.) With Sue running the show, Christ the King went undefeated, won the state championship, and was named national champion by USA Today. She averaged more than 16 points, seven rebounds and eight steals a game, and was voted New York State Player of the Year.


Sue’s grades were good enough to get her in to just about any school. With scholarship offers from around the country, she chose the University of Connecticut. She liked the fact that UConn was close to home in Storrs, but was also drawn to the school because coach Geno Auriemma had fashioned a winning tradition that felt like the one at Christ the King.

Upon settling on UConn, Sue was delighted to learn that she was part of the top recruiting class in the country—some called it the best of all time. This meant that the Huskies would have a strong squad right through her senior year. Sue’s fellow freshmen included Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams, each of whom would have been an immediate go-to girl at virtually any other program.

Eight games into the 1998-99 campaign, disaster struck. On a simple stop-and-pop she had executed without incident countless thousands of times before, Sue felt her left knee collapse during practice and had to be carried off the court. Doctors gave her the bad news: it was a torn ACL. She had to sit on the bench the rest of the year, and because she had participated in 20% of the team’s games, she could not red-shirt and come back as a freshman the following fall.

While her fellow Huskies were going full-tilt on the court, Sue had to be satisfied with going full-tilt in rehab. The experience gave her new perspective. Life without basketball made her see the beauty of the game and understand how much it meant to her. She vowed from to play every game from that point on as if it were her last. Auriemma was happy to see this change in attitude. Up until then, he believed Sue was on cruise-control, never tapping her full potential.

Sue's bench time also offered insights into her team. She watched where her teammates liked to get the ball and which way they liked to drive, then filed this information away for the following season. In addition, she observed how Auriemma handled different players, how he squeezed the most out of each in practice and during games.

Without Sue, the Huskies were still a force. Shea Ralph, coming back from a torn ACL of her own, led the team to a 24-4 regular-season record and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. UConn advanced to the Sweet 16, then prepared for what should have been an easy matchup with Iowa State. But Ralph picked the wrong time to play her worst game. She shot just two of 12 from the floor, and the Huskies fell 64-58. 

If Ralph could accept the blame for the premature end to UConn’s season (which she did), then she could also take credit for Sue’s recovery. By watching her teammate push herself all year and regain much of her past form, Sue became convinced she could do the same. So did Auriemma. He not only expected her back, but announced that UConn’s ability to contend for a championship would depend largely on Sue.

In the summer of 1999, Auriemma scheduled a preseason barnstorming tour of Europe, hoping his players would bond on the road, while sharpening their skills against some of the world's top women’s clubs. The trip also offered Sue a crash course in UConn’s new offense, which used a complex system of picks and screens to create mismatches. The challenge was not so much to anticipate the moves of her teammates as to have the patience to let the plays develop. 

The Huskies returned to Storrs a finetuned machine. In their season opener against Iowa, they shut down the Hawkeyes with suffocating defense, stopping them on their first 20 field goal attempts in an easy win. Next, in a see-saw battle against Kentucky, Sue hit a pair of clutch free throws, then led the team on an 11-5 run in the final two minutes to close out the game. From there UConn went on a 17-game roll, including victories over #2 Tennessee and #3 Louisiana Tech.

By now Auriemma's troops were running his offense flawlessly. The top five scorers form the previous season were back, so every time Sue brought the ball up the court she had multiple options. She also created havoc with her penetration, and introduced the Big East to her deadly pull-up jumper. In the 74-67 win over Tennessee, Sue was all over the place, scoring 25 points, diving for loose balls and playing terrific defense.

In early February, UConn and Tennessee locked horns again, this time in Storrs. The Lady Vols were looking for revenge, while the 19-0 Huskies knew this might be their toughest obstacle on the way to an undefeated season. In an epic battle, Sue had her team up 71-70 with seconds remaining. But Tennessee's Semeka Randall sliced between her, Ralph and Cash to can a tough 12-footer for the win. Sue got a hand on the ball but could not stop the shot.

Other than that loss, the Huskies were perfect in 1999-2000. They won the rest of their games, beating opponents by an average of 31 points. Their final regular-season contest, against Ruth Riley and Notre Dame (which was working on a winning streak of 20), was close for 37 minutes. Then Sue took over, scoring nine points to ice a 77-59 victory that decided the Big East title. 

With Ralph grabbing the headlines going into the NCAA Tournament, Sue was still a relative unknown. Though she was enjoying a fine campaign, rarely was she mentioned in the same breath as All-America point guards Helen Darling of Penn State and Tasha Pointer of Rutgers. That would change as the Huskies ran roughshod over opponents during the tourney's early rounds. 

UConn marched on to the Final Four, where they faced Penn State. Eager for the chance to go head-to-head with Darling, Sue played one of the best games of her life. In an easy win, she hit for 19 points and didn't turn the ball over once.
The championship game pitted top-ranked UConn against number-two Tennessee, for the third time of the season. Prior to the contest, the Huskies embraced a welcome harbinger. Five years earlier to the day they had captured their first NCAA title, also against the Lady Vols. The game had all the makings of a classic until Tennessee shooting guard Kristen Clement rolled her ankle in the morning shootaround. Minus this weapon, Pat Summitt’s club did not stand a chance. The Huskies forced 26 turnovers, blocked 11 shots—including nine by center Kelly Schumacher—and burned the Lady Vols with crisp cuts and pinpoint passes to win 71-52. UConn blanketed All-Americans Semeka Randall and Tamika Catchings, while the offense revolved around Ralph, who had an excellent all-around contest. Sue ran the point perfectly, and for the second game in a row did not record a single turnover. 

Going into the 2000-01 season, with Ralph entering her last year, Sue and her three fellow ’98 recruits began to exert their influence on the team. They were close friends and housemates, always competing, always pushing one another. Sue was the quiet leader, Williams was more of a vocal presence, Cash was a bundle of energy, and Jones was the workhorse. The four welcomed a new face that fall, freshman Diana Taurasi, a scary good shooting guard who would spell Ralph. 

The Huskies enjoyed another excellent regular campaign, and looked strong heading into the postseason. Defending their national title became a dicey issue, however, when Ralph blew out her knee once again, in the Big East Tournament final. Sue saved the day for the time being, canning a 10-foot buzzer beater to defeat Notre Dame for the conference championship. But without Ralph—not to mention Svetlana Abrosimova, who was also injured—UConn had a tough road ahead in the NCAA Tournament. 
Sue responded by taking charge, and the Huskies got through their early games to earn a berth in the Final Four. There UConn opened a 16-point lead against conference rival Notre Dame. Uncharacteristically, Sue and her teammates began thinking ahead—which allowed Riley and the Irish to ambush them with an historic comeback and bounce the Huskies out of the tournament. Sue realized later she had had the opportunity to control the game by shooting the ball, but chose to pass instead. This had been a bone of contention between her and Auriemma for two years, and she finally got the point, albeit a little late.

To be continue...

Source: JockBio

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