- The Washington Times - Monday, August 11, 2008

BEIJING | First full season starting in the WNBA. Married in mid-April. An increasing role as an ESPN analyst and sideline reporter. A spot on the U.S. Olympic basketball team.

Just one of those would qualify 2008 a success for a person. But that’s just Kara Lawson’s year.

And it could get even better in two weeks if the favored Americans win a gold medal. The United States rolled over the Czech Republic 97-57 on Saturday. It plays China today.

“This is the highest honor you can have as an athlete,” said Lawson, who attended West Springfield High School before starring at Tennessee. “This is icing on the cake. I’ve been with USA Basketball since I was 17, and my goal has always been to make this team and play in the Olympics.”

While she is starting for the Sacramento Monarchs, Lawson’s role is as a reserve point guard on the U.S. team. In the opener, she played 19 minutes and had three points, three assists and two steals.

When coach Anne Donovan selected Lawson to join the team, her message to the Alexandria native was to provide energy whenever she’s on the floor.

“Kara is one of my favorites,” Donovan said. “Her energy more than anything is contagious to all of us, and her passion and how hard she plays and how enthusiastic she is if she makes a play or a teammate makes the play is contagious.”

Said teammate Cappie Pondexter: “The good thing is I don’t have to play against her for two-and-a-half weeks. Always a fierce competitor.”

Lawson was one of the final three players chosen to the team. The first nine were named May 31; Lawson had to wait until July 10.

Because she was in the middle of the WNBA season, it was easy for her not to fret about whether she was Beijing-bound. Not so for her family.

“You have the ability when you compete to focus on trying to win games,” she said. “Of course your family is calling and wants to know - that was definitely hard to try and block out.”

Lawson’s husband, mother, sister, sister-in-law, cousin and two aunts have made the trip to China. Kara returns to the D.C. area several times a year: for ESPN, holidays and once with the Monarchs.

In addition to being an in-studio commentator for the network’s coverage of the NCAA women’s tournament, Lawson also does sideline reporting on NBA games and pre- and postgame work for the Sacramento Kings.

During shootarounds and practices, Lawson talks to players for the broadcast while simultaneously making mental notes on ways she can improve her game.

“That’s helped me a lot,” she said. “I always say a lot of the time that I use the access I get for TV to help me improve as a player because I talk to coaches and other players that have certain qualities of their games that I admire. I talk to them about how they work out, how they work on a certain type of shot, what their practices are like. There’s a lot of basketball knowledge I have access to.”

Lawson said Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton of the Detroit Pistons have been particularly helpful.

“I talk with Rip about running off screens because that’s something I do a lot trying to get open for my shot, and I talk to Chauncey about using his strength as a point guard because I think that’s one of my advantages,” she said.

Lawson, 27, has started all 25 Sacramento contests this season and is averaging 11.1 points and 2.3 assists a game.

Because she’s been a reserve, Lawson doesn’t have a big transition to her current role.

“She’s the most excited of these 12 to be on the Olympic team,” Donovan said. “She isn’t taking this opportunity for granted. Adding her to this team was a key because of her passion. Sometimes, the best players tend to be cool cats and take it all in. Kara has unbridled energy.”

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