Devotion To Country And Basketball

Stanford's Wiggins is back as the Pan Am team goes for gold in Rio

July 17, 2007

By Jeff Lippman


Jeff Lippman

Jeff is's lead women's basketball writer.
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Candice Wiggins is a masochist.


Or maybe she has a bit of King Midas syndrome. Or it could just be that her last trip to Moscow, Russia left her craving a more exotic travel location.


Wiggins didn't proffer those explanations though. No, there is a simple reason why the rising Stanford senior accepted an offer to play for the United States Pan American Games team in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil days after winning a gold medal with the U21 FIBA World Championship team in Moscow.


"I live and breathe for basketball," Wiggins blurted out. "It is who I am. It is a huge part of my life and it has helped me become the person I am. I just love it."




"I am developing my game as a point guard at the international level," the 5-foot-11 San Diego native added. "Dawn Staley [coach of the Pam Am team], what better mentor could I have as a point guard? That was a big reason why I am on the U21 and Pan Am team."


Her coach in Moscow, Joanne P. McCallie, called her the co-team MVP after averaging more than 13 points a game in the gold medal effort and hitting on 42 percent of her three-point attempts.


"Candice has always been a leader on any team we've been on together," explained Stanford and Pan Am teammate Jayne Appel. "For her to come, after playing four weeks overseas, fly, and play the day she gets in, just shows the type of leadership she will provide for our team. That is just the type of player she is."


Her new coach, Staley, who also coaches at Temple, said the team has yet to decide on captains for the Pan Am games that open play for Team USA in Rio on Friday, July 20 against Colombia, but Wiggins will definitely be considered.


The Americans are looking to go 2-for-2 in gold medal attempts and will be the heavy favorites once play begins. With a roster loaded with not only great talents, but also great leadership, it is easy to predict another top finish.


The team's greatest and most vocal leaders both have an enormous amount of current experience at the championship level. The last time Matee Ajavon and Alexis Hornbuckle played in a college game, Hornbuckle's Tennessee Lady Vols defeated Ajavon's Rutgers Scarlet Knights for the national championship.


"They are both players who have played at the highest level," said their new coach, Staley. "They were in the national championship game. They led their teams to the championship. Cream rises and I think they are two of the best in our country to be vocal, and to back it up with their actions."


Wiggins agrees with her coach, calling Ajavon and Hornbuckle "natural leaders."


"They can score, they can pass, they can do everything," Wiggins said proudly. "They are the best that we have in our game in college and just to play with them and having an opportunity to be around players like that will help my game a lot."


With Wiggins, Hornbuckle and Ajavon this team will not be short on leadership. Or scoring. Or three-point shooting. Or passing.


But they aren't the only three talented athletes on the squad. 


While the U21 team had its superstars like Courtney Paris and Crystal Langhorne, the Pan Am team boasts those players who play the game right, make few mental mistakes and all serve a purpose, making this the most complete Team USA roster to date.


"Overall speed and athleticism," Staley said when asked about her team's strengths. "We have some players who can create their own shots. Every player on this team is capable of scoring a lot of points. We know that on any given night that we will have somebody to go to.


"We have depth. We can put in anybody and feel comfortable that we can get it done. And it doesn't always have to look the same way. We can slow it down, we can go faster and we can go even faster than that with the type of personnel that we have. No matter what style our opponent plays, we are going to be able to play it with them."


If there is one advantage that the Pan Am team is lacking, it can only be in the height category, where they don't have a single player over 6-foot-4. At that height, Appel and Tennessee's Nicky Anosike are more big body banging forwards, although they are listed as centers.


No matter; as Staley said, this team has depth. With Anosike and Appel, along with UNC's Erlana Larkins, UConn's Charde Houston and Georgia's Tasha Humphrey, they can rebound and score with any team they'll face in Brazil.


Staley mentioned speed and athleticism, two words used to describe two players who will play a do-everything role for Team USA. Maryland's Marissa Coleman and Louisville's Angel McCoughtry are both 6-foot-1 forwards with guard-like skills. They can rebound, score and add to the depth of a team that is already incredibly stacked with players who can do it all.


And that is precisely how coach Staley likes it. If they play their cards right, there might even be time for some fun in one of the world's most beautiful cities.


"You have got to have some fun," Staley conceded. "When it is time to have fun, there will be blocks of time when we get to have fun and get to know Rio a little bit.


"But we are there to win gold, nothing else is going to be our focus. When it is time to play, we're gonna play and we will be very serious about playing."