Minneapolis – There was no shortage of stardom at the Target Center on Friday.
Twenty-two of the WNBA’s best met in Minneapolis to practice for Saturday’s All-Star Game, giving fans a glimpse of what’s to come, while offering plenty to cheer about.
“We have so many things to celebrate here,” Lynx forward Maya Moore said. “Whether it’s our fans, our community, even the house that we’re in now with the Target Center being so nice and fresh, it’s just a really good time for us to host.”
This year’s edition of the All-Star Game won’t feature the classic conference match up of East vs. West. Instead, the Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne and the Sparks’ Candace Parker are serving as team captains, and they drafted teams from a pool of the selected All-Stars. Selections were announced Wednesday.
“For me, I of course had to have my two girls on the team,” Parker said of Los Angeles teammates Chelsea Gray and Nneka Ogwumike. “But after that, it’s like you can’t really make a bad pick. … You’re picking All-Stars here. So forming a team was easy for me.”
Ogwumike had to withdraw, due to illness, and Minnesota forward Rebekkah Brunson was named to take her place by league president Lisa Borders.
Delle Donne made sure her selections landed teammates who can show out on an All-Star stage.
“I wanted to get versatile players that can kind of do it all,” she said. “Definitely wanted to get some Lynx players, because we need to get the home crowd behind us. But also players that I have great relationships with, we’re friends and have a good rapport. You get one 30-minute practice. You kind of just have to know each other’s games and be able to play ball.”
That half hour tune-up was viewed by an enthusiastic crowd. In between “real” practicing – consisting of running plays and shooting drills – there was a half-court shot contest and an underhanded game of lightning that kept things light. Post-practice dance contests were then the icing on the cake.
“I’m already having so much fun just hanging out,” said Wings center Liz Cambage, who received a big ovation for her dance moves at center court. “We’re always playing against each other, being mad on the court. It’s so nice to be in a relaxed setting where we can really get to know each other away from (the seriousness of) basketball.”
Setting a star-studded stage
Team Delle Donne took to the court first, which included Storm forward and point guard Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird, respectively, as well as Mercury guard Diana Taurasi.
For Stewart, who many consider the frontrunner for league MVP, this weekend is an opportunity to see all the talent that surrounds her. The strength of her competition is not lost on her.
“It makes it really special,” she said. “To be at a point where I’m playing really well and having confidence, it’s nice and it’s nice to have these people around me at the All-Star week.”
At the same time, Stewart realizes the game isn’t true competition.
“Honestly, it’s just a fun weekend,” she said. “I think it’s a nice break from the Storm, take a little break from the seriousness of the WNBA that we’re in right now, and just enjoy it.”
Bird is making a record 11th All-Star Game appearance after becoming the league’s all-time games-played leader just before the break, marking her 501st contest.
“There’s no fancy story about it, it’s not some – in my mind – great accomplishment,” she said. “But then at times, mostly when I’m asked questions about it, I do take a step back and I’m like, ‘OK. I’ve played in 500 games, which just recently broke the record. Why haven’t other people done that? I’m in my 11th All-Star Game. Why had nobody done that before?’
“While I’m doing it, I don’t necessarily think I’m doing anything special. I’m just kind of trying to stay as healthy as I can so I can play as long as I can. But then in those moments of retrospect and putting things into perspective, I’m like, ‘OK, I guess it is pretty unique and cool that I am the first to play in 11.’”
Taurasi is excited about the mix of players on hand.
“Each one is special in its own way. No matter what, this collection of players will never be together again,” she said. “I think it’s some of the best players in the world to ever play. We’ve got the older crop, we got the guys that have been in the league for six, seven years, we’ve got the rookies. It’s going to be a great game.”
One of those All-Star Game rookies is Jewell Loyd, a second-year guard with Seattle. The timing was perfect for her first selection.
“I’m excited to be in Minnesota. My family lives here, so I get to see my nieces and nephews. I’m super excited about that,” she said. “You see the greats in the form of Diana (Taurasi) to us, being here for the first time. We’re just excited, trying to take it all in.”
Loyd practiced with Team Parker, joining Skylar Diggins-Smith, Cambage and the hometown favorite Moore.
For Cambage, who broke the league’s single-game scoring record last week with 53 points, it is special to see who she’s lining up alongside with.
“It’s an honor. It’s a big honor,” she said. “But I’ve said it a couple of times now: That record could be broken next week. There’s so much talent in this league. It’s nice to have it at the moment, but I don’t know how long I’ll be holding onto it for.”
When Team Delle Donne and Team Parker tip off at 2:30 p.m. CT tomorrow, the highlight reels won’t be far behind. The competitive nature might trail by a bit more, but Taurasi said it will show.
“It’s a game for the fans. You want to have fun, and you want to play hard because you want it to be a good show,” she said. “There’s always a moment, there’s always a moment where something happens and it gets really competitive, really quick. We’ll see when that moment comes.”