By Doug Booth, PA International
On the eve of the FIBA EuroLeague Women decider against Poland's Lotos Gydnia, star center with Gambrinus Brno, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, reflects on life as a professional basketball player, full-time mother and budding author and fashion designer. She tells PA International's Doug Booth what motivates her in an exclusive interview.
How do you feel going into the deciding game of the quarter-finals, one match away from a possible semi-final spot?
I feel good. it is the first time that I have been in this position after playing overseas since 1994. I am happy that I am on a team that has given me the opportunity to play for them, with a great set of team-mates. It is truly wonderful for me, since I am coming off a year when we were within one game of the WNBA Championship also.
Your stats are great - 40 points in two games against Gydnia - and 16.6ppg average. What are you and your teammates doing right?
I don't think that we are consciously doing anything particular for Gydnia. I am sure that if someone looks back on this year with Brno, they might think we did something special. but I think that the team is a good team already and they added a key piece with me. This team still had room for another foreigner, but they chose only an American and an Australian (point
|Taj McWilliams has been a force on the boards for Brno this year|
guard Alicia Poto). That says something for the quality of the players on Brno's team. We are playing Gydnia, who has the experience in the Final Four even though they have never won it, but they are a great team also. We are just playing well together, but right now, it comes down to who will play well in one game of 40 minutes or more, and that is it, someone must go
How does European basketball compare to the WNBA?
There is no comparison. I don't like to make comparisons to the WNBA. You are talking about apples and oranges. The WNBA has a team full of stars.
Every player on the squad has been on a good or great team at some point in their careers, seasoned; at least 21 years old. Some of the Polish and Czech players are 18 and 19, still getting their experience while playing. I don't think Margo (Dydek) could tell you the difference in Polish basketball and the WNBA, it is just impossible to compare the differences.
There must be a good feeling around the club, particularly after last season's disappointment. What's it like?
I do not know what is going on from last season. I was in Parma, and we didn't make it out of the first pool and I was busy with my family and working out the trip from Parma to home. I do not pay a lot of attention to other clubs when I am not playing for them.
How tough has it been as a professional athlete and a full-time mum. Can you give some advice to other women?
I have been asked this question quite often. It is tough, but with a good support staff, a spiritual life and a caring husband it is quite easy. I love being a full-time mother and I want to say that my daughter, Michele (16) thinks it is pretty cool having a mom who is a professional athlete. My new daughter Maia Simone is two year old and is just having fun learning to
Do they play basketball ? Do you want to go further into designing fashion clothes as you have done?
No, neither daughter does. Well, the youngest is too little to try. I would love to design clothes in my next life, I just pray that God will give me the opportunities that I have had with playing basketball in whatever endeavour I try next.
You are 35 this year. How long is there left in the legs - another WNBA season with Connecticut?
That is the one million dollar question ... don't know, don't want to guess, don't care. When it is over, it is over. I wait to make that decision after each season passes.
What do you want to do after basketball?
Write a book for someone, write a book for myself, design clothes, become a lawyer or doctor, be on sportscenter with Stuart Scott just once, be a real mom that goes to music recitals, help with the PTA, bake cookies for the "bake sale." You get the picture, a regular person with some skills.
Who was the biggest influence in your life and why?
To say that I had one "big" influence in my life, would be saying that the rest were small. Every person that has ever influenced or touched my life, whether good or bad, has been a big influence in the the mother I am, and the basketball player, the writer, the designer, the sister, the wife, the Christian, the person I am today.
What's it like playing against Lauren Jackson? How good can she get?
Lauren Jackson is a good player. I have played against the best, and she is right up there with most of them. I think she can improve a bunch and unfortunately for the rest of the league, she is not on our team. I am not happy about her improving against us, since they won the title last season, but I am happy to be watching the next level of the game evolve with such speed.
Your Connecticut team-mate Katie Douglas is on fire in Lithuania with Lieutvos - do you speak much?
I am happy that KT is having a great season in Lithuania, I wish only the best for her and Jennifer Devrjanik in Lithuania, but I am concentrating on what BRNO is doing. I don't get a chance to talk to her that much. I do text Jennifer sometimes. But most of the time, there is little time to reply. We all have our own lives outside of basketball too.
What about the other US players in Europe?
I talk to Chamique Holdsclaw, Shannon Johnson, Elaine Powell, Kiesha Brown, and a few of my team-mates from Parma... otherwise I dont talk to anyone else, except my agent and my head coach from SUN.
How do you pass your time off the court?
With my family, and if they are in Italy, with my friend and teammate Alicia here in the apartment, watching television, playing on the internet, watching game tapes, driving to other cities near by.