Hammon to join Russia for Games

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Becky Hammon hopes that the Olympics will be a little less stressful for her.

Hammon will once again play for the Russian women's basketball team at the games this summer in London. She created a stir in 2008 when she first played for Russia in the Beijing Olympics. She helped guide that team to a bronze medal.

"It's old news," Hammon about her decision to play for Russia. "I played with them in the world championship, European championship, hopefully I'll enjoy it a lot more. By far it was one of the best decisions I ever made and I stand by that, and really look forward to doing it again."

When Hammon, who was raised in South Dakota and played to Colorado State, initially decided to play for Russia in 2008 it ignited a media firestorm with people questioning her patriotism, including 2008 U.S. Olympic coach Anne Donovan.

Every time Hammon went on the road with the San Antonio Silver Stars she had reporters waiting to talk to her about her decision to play for Russia.

It got to be a bit much.

"I had reporters from all over the world asking me questions," Hammon said. "Everywhere I went that's all anyone wanted to talk about. It's nice that this time people seem to be focused on other things. It seems almost every team now has one or two players with foreign passports playing for them. It goes back to the whole `it's Russia'. If it was a country no one heard of, no one really would have cared. That's the society we live in."

Now no one seems to notice anymore.

"It's played through once," Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes said. "The reality of it is we've been through it one time already and Becky is an example of what I think a lot of teams that the U.S. will face. There are a lot of players in our league that are now on other teams and going to be part of the Olympic experience."

The 35-year-old point guard plays for a Russian club team during the winter and became a naturalized citizen. Because she hadn't played for the United States in any major FIBA-sanctioned international events, she was allowed to compete for Russia in the Beijing Olympics.

While Hammon is happy that the firestorm seems to have died down this time around, she also is proud that her Russian has improved over the past few years.

"I understand a little bit, it's a lot better than 2008, put it that way," she said laughing.

While Hammon had to miss a few games for the Silver Stars in the past to train with Russia, she won't join the national team until the WNBA takes its month-long break in the middle of July.

"I won't be missing any Silver Stars games and that's important to me," Hammon said.

Hammon is excited to once again march in the opening ceremonies and take part in the games.

"It's the Olympics, it should be fun a great time I think. It will be my first time in London for any length of time," Hammon said. "I'm looking forward to be in London. Get back together with the girls from the team, hopefully make a great run."

One player that Hammon won't be playing with this time around is center Maria Stepanova. The 6-foot-8 star, who has played in the last four Olympics, tore her anterior cruciate ligament at the Euroleague final eight in late March.

"She's been the face of the franchise, so that's a tough loss for us," Hammon said. "There's some young kids that are very talented post players coming up, too. Someone of her caliber you're going to miss, no way around that. But it's also another opportunity for someone else to step up and prove that they belong at the highest level."

She hopes that even without Stepanova, the Russians can make another run at a medal. They are in the same pool as Australia and wouldn't have to face the heavily-favored U.S. team until the elimination rounds.

"At the end of the day it's been a really cool journey and unique journey no one has ever done," she said.