Playing for the opposition is Australia’s own, Erin Phillips. The diminutive guard is returning for just her second game since tearing her meniscus in May. Phillips is the first player off the bench for the Fever on this night, and although she missed the team’s first eleven games, she plays as if she never left. .
She’ll finish the night with 12-points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists, and afterwards the affable Phillips sat with us in the locker room - her right knee covered with an bag of ice – to talk about life in the WNBA, and of course the Australian national team.
Basketball Australia: Firstly, how’s your health?
Erin Philips: My knee itself feels really good. I’m very happy where it’s at, I think the next 4-6 weeks we’ll really work on [getting] my strength and power [back]. It’s been difficult to kind of work on that stuff when you’re limited on the court. But, I’m happy just to be back out there.
BA: Has the injury affected your game? Do you find yourself doing things differently?
EP: Yeah, definitely. I definitely feel I’ve got a little less explosive power, but I’m at a point now where I can really start working on that, rather than just rehab the knee I can kind of crank things up there. We’re not even halfway [through the WNBA season], so I’ve got time. I’m very happy where I’m at right now.
BA: Are you on any minute restrictions since you’ve been back?
EP: Yeah. The coach is trying to get me 4-5 minute bursts and get me out just to make sure I’m not playing under too much fatigue two games back. They’re doing their job, trying to look after me, monitor me personally but also trying to win a game.
BA: Do you find it hard to get back into game shape in-season?
EP: Definitely. I’ve spent many, many, hours on a bike since my surgery and scope and there’s no replacement for game fitness. [Being on a bike] definitely helps, but you definitely need to be on the court running up-and-down to get that [game] shape. It’ll take me a couple more games and I’ll start feeling really good.
BA: Look back to last year (winning an WNBA championship with the Fever) for a minute. What was that experience like?
EP: It was incredible. It was the first championship for all us who played – we’re such a close team – we talk about it now, and it’s still very surreal. It was a magical series, [we] played so well. We played without ‘thought,’ it was just all heart.
BA: Onto this season, the Fever are below .500 (5-8), is this the result of a ‘championship hangover’?
EP: Definitely not. I think injury has been our biggest thing. You’ve got Katie Douglas, Jeanette Pohlen, myself. Three 3-point shooters – you take them off the court and it puts a lot of pressure on our bigs inside because you get shooters on the court it opens everything up.
We’re only half a game out of the four [playoff spots] so we’re close. Hopefully from now until the All-Star break we can get a few wins and just hang around.
BA: You’ve been playing Poland during the WNBA off-season. What do take from the European game that you apply to the WNBA, and vice-versa?
EP: The really good thing about playing in Europe – especially playing in the Euro League – is that you play against so many styles - a Russian team, a Spanish team, a Turkish team. The Spanish are quicker [for example] so you’re playing against all different types of people so when you come to the WNBA, you’ve been playing a fast game [or] a half-court [slower] game, so you learn tons of variety.
You really grow up and mature [in Europe]. You don’t have the luxury of having amazing medical things that we do here so you have to learn about your body. You got to look after your body. When you go back there from here, you take back how hard we work here and you try to be a leader and show them 1) not only how the Americans do it, and 2) how the Aussies do it. [Laughs].
BA: Any plans to come back to the WNBL? You haven’t played there for some years now.
EP: It’s definitely something I’d love to do. I’m [taking it] one season at a time, but I’ll definitely retire playing in the WNBL. I might jump into a season, either pre or post, Olympics, just to recover because it’s a lot different playing in Europe than it is Australia –-
BA: I imagine it’s more physical in Europe?
EP: Yeah. You play more games and practice more. It’d be a good ‘break-up’ season to go back to Australia. And, it’s Australia. It’s the best country in the world! [Laughs].
BA: You mentioned the Olympics. The Opals are playing New Zealand in August. What can we expect from that series?
EP: Unfortunately I won’t be able to get down there to play. I’ll be here [but] Lizzie (Liz Cambage) is playing. One of the exciting things is Lauren [Jackson] is getting healthy, so if we can have her back in the mix (healthy), plus some young talent coming though, we hope to smack New Zealand (hopefully).
It’s always a good series. I’d love to play in it, but unfortunately it’s too hard and complicated [to get away]. But, hopefully we get some good crowds down there and get a couple of good wins.
By Nick Metallinos in New York