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Originally published Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Storm | Bird, eight others named to U.S. Olympic team

Back then, first-time Olympian Sue Bird was part of the "X-factor" on the bench. Teammate Yolanda Griffith gathered the reserves together...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Today

Houston @ Storm, 6 p.m.

Back then, first-time Olympian Sue Bird was part of the "X-factor" on the bench.

Teammate Yolanda Griffith gathered the reserves together to remind them to stay ready for their opportunity during the 2004 Athens Games and closed the pep talk with "Go X!" Only the chance rarely came for Bird, who averaged 12.9 minutes in the Americans' eight-game run. Instead, she would take her position on the bench, watching three-time Olympians Sheryl Swoopes, Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie lead the Americans to gold.

In two months, Bird will step to the forefront.

The native New Yorker who calls Seattle home was part of nine players named to the 2008 Olympic roster Saturday. It's a changing of the guard as Staley, Swoopes and Griffith, a two-time Olympian, are not representing their nation in China.

Staley, USA's longtime point guard, will serve as an assistant coach, however.

"I've had some good experiences and I feel ready," Bird said.

Swoopes and Griffith, both plagued by injuries since winning gold over the Australians, decided to turn their focus to one last run in the WNBA. They left teams they were synonymous with in Houston and Sacramento, respectfully, to help Bird in Seattle.

Tonight it's Swoopes' turn for a reunion as the winless Comets, a team she helped win four WNBA titles, travels to KeyArena. Swoopes was Houston's first player in 1997.

And she's not regretting either change — Olympic or Comets.

Swoopes said Renee Brown, the USA Basketball women's national-team committee chair, contacted her in May to confirm that Swoopes wouldn't be selected for the 2008 squad. Swoopes, 37, underwent back surgery in October and did not participate in any of the national-team games this offseason.

Her last appearance was in Brazil for the 2006 World Championships where the Americans lost to Russia, failing to earn the automatic berth to the Beijing Games.

"She [Brown] told me they were at a point where they decided they were going to move on without me," said Swoopes, who is averaging 6.6 points and 4.0 rebounds in Seattle. "I said to her that I wasn't really surprised. And I'm not disappointed because I don't think it was something that I was going to do. My focus was to come in here, get healthy and have a really good WNBA season. I'm getting where I want to be.

"There are so many great players out there that don't get an opportunity to represent their country and me not being there is a wonderful opportunity for some of the younger players to experience things that I've done."

Leslie (Los Angeles), Tina Thompson (Houston), Seimone Augustus (Minnesota), Katie Smith (Detroit), Candace Parker (Los Angeles), Sylvia Fowles (Chicago), Diana Tuarasi (Phoenix) and Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix) were the other players named.

Three spots remain and one is being held for Indiana forward Tamika Catchings, who has yet to return from foot injuries.

According to Brown, Catchings is a critical piece to the team, but USA Basketball needs her to be healthy. Catchings has pegged this month as her return date with the Fever. She averaged 6.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals as a starter in the 2004 Games.

One significant name not mentioned was Storm forward Swin Cash. The 6-foot-1 Olympian had scattered production in Detroit due to role changes and skirmishes with coach Bill Laimbeer. But Swoopes said a lack of solid defenders led to the World Championships loss and noted there aren't any notable defenders among the first nine named.

Swoopes and Storm coach Brian Agler said Cash, who is averaging 15.6 points and 6.4 rebounds in Seattle, should be on the team. Others being considered among the pool of 29 are forward Cheryl Ford (Detroit) and guards Candice Wiggins (Minnesota) and Lindsay Whalen (Connecticut).

"I really feel like in order for the U.S. to win the gold medal, they've got to have Tamika Catchings on the team if she's healthy," Swoopes said. "The ones named, it's a lot of offense. When you get to that level, you've got to have players who are willing to sacrifice some of their offense and want to play and can play defense.

"I don't know why it couldn't be Tamika and Swin. Swin right now is having an incredible season on both ends of the floor. Hopefully she'll get that opportunity because my concern is on the perimeter."

When asked about a multitude of players, Brown said a player's full body of work would be considered in the final decision.

Former Storm coach Anne Donovan, the Olympic coach, is part of the selection committee.

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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