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The Girls Are Back in Town

Fundamental basketball takes many forms in the Alamo City. The SIlver Stars have a new crop of players ready to get on the court and dominate, while the veterans are prepared to take on the role left by injured Sophia Young. Here's the first report on this week's training camp, and why everyone should watch a WNBA game this season.

Christian Petersen

The majority of sports fans in San Antonio associate this city with the Spurs. And understandably. It is the largest professional sports team in town, one that dominates fans of all ages, cultures and economic status. If it’s game day, you will know by all of the black/silver attire and car flags around town. Our NBA team has produced a dynasty, a franchise admired and envied by others. And as we are seeing in the playoffs, a team that exudes strength, speed and stamina.

But San Antonio is also known for another team, one that has produced Olympians, national and international stars, athletes respected in the league. This team is about to start their season, with a new crop of talented young players alongside the experiences veterans.

The San Antonio Silver Stars.

Now I’m betting that most readers aren’t able to name one player on the Silver Stars team, or may not have even watched a single minute of a Silver Stars game.

And I get it.

I live on my soapbox for women’s sports, having researched gender issues in sports for years. I’ve seen the discrepancies in media coverage and acceptance in society. I’ve heard every comment possible on the WHYS someone won’t watch a WNBA game. I know the obstacles a female sports team has to jump over to receive praise and acknowledgement.

But to me, if you love sports and all the excitement that comes from athletic competition, than you should be a fan of SPORTS. All sports. No matter who or what is playing.

The Silver Stars are extremely athletic. They are aggressive and dominating. They are agile and fast. Led by Becky Hammon, with 14 years of experience behind her, the team is ready for this new season. At training camp this week, the team looked fit and focused. Some members played overseas during the off-season, some decided to take time off to train their own way.

Just days into training, Coach Dan Hughes mentioned that he was already impressed with the off-season preparation from his players (meaning primarily that his players stayed healthy), and the “new crop” of members are starting to mesh into the culture and family of the team.

They are such good people, that they are trying so hard, and in some cases, they need to relax some. We haven’t had the ability to really see the girls as themselves, but I know we will soon. Every day, I see them get a little more comfortable by bringing in their talents to what we do, but they are trying so hard to please and be perfect … I’ll take a bit more imperfection if that brings out more of their true game.

For some, like newly drafted Kayla Alexander from Syracuse, there was very little transition time from college to professionals, taking just days off to pack up her stuff from New York and travel to San Antonio. And being here, in the WNBA with the Silver Stars was a childhood dream:

I’m thrilled. It’s surreal. I know I’m going to work my butt off everyday. I look down at what I’m wearing on my chest and know that I’m blessed and honored.

Such determination will translate well into the league, as Alexander told me,

As a player, I know I will have to expand my game or else I won’t grow as a player. But at the same time, Coach [Hughes] told me to just focus on my game and then as I develop, I’ll get stronger and understand the game more and get used to the physicality of the game. I’m told to focus on who I am and bring that.

For Jayne Appel, center for the Silver Stars, her off-season was all about staying healthy, playing three months in China then taking time off back home in California. This new season could bring new challenges on the court with new faces in the game, which will force Appel to be more aggressive. However, her role will stay the same:

But my main jobs are to rebound the ball and be the backbone of the defense, making sure I’m talking to the team since I can see the whole floor. I’m going to have to be moving more, but Coach [Hughes] has stressed that he wants us to stay with our game and focus on defense. With no weak teams in the league, every game will be a battle. But we have tons of speed on that outside perimeter, which will be good for long outlet passes.

The one big question on many minds is the absence of Sophia Young, lead scorer for the team. She tore her ACL while playing in China, and while such loss was felt with the team and fans, the gap on the roster will be filled, as Hughes told me:

Our culture reinforces that we do things by committee. Our definition of star power is a bit different than the rest of the league. To us, star power is like a constellation – we have stars but they are all in alignment. If we are missing one of those stars, it doesn’t destroy the whole constellation.

So, forget your presumptions about women’s sports. Forget the stereotypes of the women’s game. The Silver Stars play fundamental basketball with their own definition of flash. If training camp was any indication of how the Silver Stars will play this season, then that group of athletes is ready to play. With the first two preseason games against Indiana Fever, the 2012 WNBA Champions, it will be a good test for the rookies and veterans.

Bring on the WNBA season!