Holdsclaw hears fans' encouraging words in return

Jul 18, 2009 - 4:01 AM By VIN A. CHERWOO AP Sports Writer

Chamique Holdsclaw hears all the encouragement from the fans in her return to the WNBA after a nearly two-year absence.

"They're glad that I'm back," the Atlanta Dream forward said. "'Just keep pushing.' ... 'Glad you're back, Mique.' ... 'We love you.'

"It's always been great. I've had a lot of supporters throughout my whole career. Even when I went through hard times, I have a lot of people pulling for me."

Holdsclaw, drafted No. 1 overall by Washington in 1999, missed the end of the 2004 season due to what she later disclosed was depression. The Mystics traded her to Los Angeles in the offseason, and after two seasons with the Sparks, she retired five games into the 2007 season due to chronic tendinitis in her knees.

After playing in Poland the last two winters and having a home in Atlanta the last three years, Holdsclaw - coming off arthroscopic surgery on her right knee - decided to join the Dream this season.

"I feel great," she said. "Would I like to be 100 percent healthy, yes, but I can't complain. I just have to go out there and do what I can and try to make a difference."

Holdsclaw appreciates the positive comments after some people questioned her reasons for leaving two years ago.

"It's a blessing to have this opportunity again because not a lot of people get to walk away from something and then come back have the fans treat you so well," she said. "My people have really supported me and poured out their hearts and I really appreciate that."

Holdsclaw, who entered the season with career averages of 17.7 points and 8.3 rebounds, has been putting up 13.8 and 4.2 in for the Dream.

The New York native had nine points on 3-for-13 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds in Atlanta's last-minute loss to the Liberty on Saturday in her first game at Madison Square Garden since the 2005 season.

"It's always great to come back," she said. "Playing in front of friends and my family. I hate losing at the Garden."

Holdsclaw appreciated the strong ovation she received from the crowd during pregame introductions.

"It's always like that," she said. "I'm a New York kid, born and raised here. People have followed me for so long. I remember when I was younger and I used to be in college and come to the Liberty games. New York supports New York, that's the way it goes."

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SEARCHING FOR CONSISTENCY: Although the Storm entered the weekend just 2 1/2 games out of first place in the tight Western Conference, they are still looking to hit their stride.

Since opening with a sweep of a home-and-home series with Sacramento the first two days of the season, Seattle has split the last 12 games.

"I don't think we're as good as we can be yet," coach Brian Agler said. "We're still improving and I think there a lot of teams in the league that are still improving. We're going through an evolution here and at some point I think we'll find ourselves."

The only thing consistent about their result has been the inconsistency. The Storm have had a three-game winning streak, and a pair of two-game streaks mixed in with a pair of two-game skids.

"We've played some great games and some games where we haven't played so well," Agler said. "We've had a couple of tough losses, but we're going to keep moving forward."

All-Star guard Sue Bird was unhappy with the team's slow start in the Storm's loss at home to Detroit on Wednesday night. Seattle trailed by 11 midway through the second quarter before taking the lead in the third quarter and then losing by three.

"That's where a lot of our issues are, the lack of energy ... that we came out with in the first half," Bird said. "It's something that definitely needs to be corrected. To lose tough games on the road is tough, but to lose them at home, that's not what we do here. It's not something that we're going to accept and we definitely need to figure it out."

Complicating matters for the Storm, All-Star forward Lauren Jackson strained an Achilles' tendon in the loss and is out indefinitely.

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INSPIRING: ABC political commentator Cokie Roberts has been announced as the recipient of this year's WNBA Inspiration Award.

"Every aspect of Cokie's life - from being an Emmy-award winning journalist to best-selling author to being a proud mother and grandmother - has impacted the lives of millions," league president Donna Orender said in a release. "The WNBA is proud to recognize her for all her accomplishments."

Roberts, also a senior news analyst for NPR, will be honored at the league's Inspiring Women Luncheon in Chicago on July 29.

"Really? Me? The least athletic person on earth?" Roberts said. "I am thrilled and honored."

Previous winners of the award were Madeleine Albright (2006), Condoleezza Rice (2007) and Robin Roberts (2008).

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PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Washington's Alana Beard and Phoenix's Cappie Pondexter were selected as the league's latest players of the week for the Eastern and Western conferences, respectively.

Pondexter earned the honor for the second straight week and fourth time in her career. She averaged 19.5 points and 7.0 assists in the Mercury's wins against the Sky and Monarchs. In the victory at Sacramento, Pondexter made all 11 free throws she attempted, tying Penny Taylor's franchise record for the most made without a miss.

Beard was picked for her second weekly award of the season and fifth in her career. She averaged 20.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals as the Mystics split games against Los Angeles and Minnesota. Beard scored 26 points in the win against the Sparks, including Washington's first 13 points as it built a 22-7 lead in the first quarter.

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SCOREBOARD WATCH: Indiana at Connecticut, Sunday, 3 p.m. EDT. The Eastern Conference rivals meet for the second time this season. The Fever won the first meeting, 67-53 at home on July 2, limiting the Sun to 12 points or fewer in three quarters. Indiana has won five of the last six meetings, including two of three in the first round of the 2007 playoffs. ... Los Angeles at Seattle, Wednesday, 10 p.m. EDT. The Sparks resume their stretch of seven straight road games. Los Angeles has a week off since losing the last two games of an East Coast trip to New York, Washington and Connecticut. The Storm will be playing their fourth game in that stretch. The teams split their first two matchups this season, with each winning at home.

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STATS: Phoenix's Diana Taurasi entered the weekend leading the league in scoring at 20.7 points per game, followed by teammate Cappie Pondexter (19.9). San Antonio's Becky Hammon was next at 19.2. ... Atlanta's Erika DeSouza was tops in rebounding at 8.1. Washington's Crystal Langhorne (8.0) was second and Detroit's Cheryl Ford (7.5) third. ... Pondexter led the way in assists at 5.80, followed by Seattle's Sue Bird (5.79) and Hammon (5.3). ... Indiana, which entered the weekend with 10 straight wins, is giving up a league-low 68.7 points per game this season. ... West-leading Phoenix is first in the league in scoring (93.2 points), field-goal shooting (46 percent), free-throw shooting (85 percent), assists (13.6) and blocks (6.0). ... Hammon and Vickie Johnson set the record for most games played as teammates at 272 with the Silver Stars' win at Washington on Wednesday. The duo, who spent seven seasons together with the New York Liberty, moved past Lisa Leslie and Mwadi Mabika at 271 games.

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QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "We still have over half the season left and we felt it necessary to make this change. We feel like this is a playoff-caliber team that can compete and to dig ourselves down any further wouldn't be prudent." - Sacramento general manager John Whisenant, after firing Jenny Boucek as coach and taking her place. The Monarchs were 3-10 at the time of the change and lost in Whisenant's first game back as coach.






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