UConn great Sue Bird spoke to reporters prior to Wednesday night’s game between No. 2 Stanford and No. 1 UConn. Bird, on break from her team in Russia, was in Hartford, Conn., for the induction of the Huskies’ 1999-2000 national championship team into the school’s “Huskies of Honor” program.
Q: Is this fun– it’s almost Christmas, you’ve got Stanford, it’s almost a sell out?
A: I think it has the makings for a memorable night. It’s always great to come back. There’s some of the women on this team that I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s really good to see them, see how they’re doing, hear what they’re doing and just hang out. We got to go to Coach’s house (Tuesday) night for dinner. Everybody had a great time.
Q: What did you eat?
A: Chicken, pasta, veggies; we’re athletes, we have to get all the food groups in.
Q: Is this like a smaller, more intimate high school reunion?
A: Yeah, it definitely has the reunion feel. When we were in college, we spent so much time together, but such is life, when you graduate, everyone sort of separates a little bit. You can lose touch at times, so to see people and really interact and hear about what they’re doing is really fun.
Q: You were part of the UConn-Tennessee rivalry. Seeing what’s happening between UConn and Stanford, is that a testament that the sport doesn’t need UConn-Tennessee?
A: I play overseas, so I’m not really hip to the Stanford-Connecticut rivalry. Is there one right now? I’m not saying that with any disrespect. … I think it is great that there are other rivalries. There’s a lot to be made of the UConn-Tennessee rivalry; It’s one of those that may never get matched. That’s just the way it was.
Q: How do big regular season games like this one figure in the realm of a season?
A: I think it’s no secret that a lot of the games you play at Connecticut you win by a lot; that’s the nature of the beast. Those big midseason matchups are huge. Some of us were talking about it. You lose a game in the WNBA and it’s on to the next game. You lose a game overseas, you’re still upset, but there’s the next one. In college, you were devastated and distraught for days, weeks; you knew it in practice, you heard about it. There’s a lot of build up for the game, but if you lost, it was huge.
Q: Did you ever get bored with the blowout wins?
A: No, (Geno Auriemma) doesn’t allow for boredom because there’s probably going to be practice the next day and that’s probably going to be harder than what you experienced in games. There’s no such thing as boredom when you have to face him in practice.
Q: Have you seen much change in the college game?
A: As I was saying earlier, I play overseas to see the games. I have to stay up until, like, four in the morning and hope they are on the Internet, so it’s kind of difficult. From what I do see, the players are definitely more athletic — I can see that in the WNBA. The women that come in, you can tell there’s more athleticism. … I think teams now, there’s a lot more parity. Think about my class, there’s five of us in the top 15 that went to the same school. I don’t know if that happens any more. I feel like it’s more spread out.
Q: Going into the last game in 2000, Rebecca (Lobo) called it the “Backdoor-palooza. Did you go into that game knowing that the whole backdoor thing would be available?
A: No. That year we played Tennessee twice in the regular season and we split. The one thing I remember about both those games was, talk about a battle. Physically, mentally, it was just, those games were very difficult to play, to win. Heading into Game 3 of that little series being the national championship game, I think we were already prepared. But we didn’t know that’s how it was going to turn out.
Q: Can you imagine another decade like the one UConn has just gone through?
A: I don’t know. In think there is something to be said for the way Coach Auriemma coaches his players, the talent he is able to get and the unselfishness. It’s a characteristic you don’t see much of these days. … I don’t think you’ll see it. It’s hard to come by the first time, I’m sure. That’s one of the things a bout UConn players; you can talk about the talent, you can talk about the winning attitude, the hard work, the one thing every UConn player is unselfish.
Q: Did Stanford ever contact you about playing there?
A: Yes, that was my top — Stanford, Connecticut and Vanderbilt . I think at the time distance played a role. UConn was just right for me, though, more than anything. I mean, it’s a beautiful campus and all that other good stuff. … It’s hard to say no, and then I got in, so it was even harder to say no. That was on the refrigerator for a while in my house. I come from a family of Ivy Leaguers, I had to hold my own.