HAINING (2008 FIBA Diamond Ball for Women) – Recently naturalized Becky Hammon of CSKA Moscow will appear for her new national team at the FIBA Diamond Ball for Women on Saturday in Haining against Latvia.
The South Dakota native has been the biggest story in the build-up to the Olympic women’s basketball tournament after deciding to become a Russian citizen with a view to playing at the Olympics.
On Saturday, she goes up against a Latvia side that only reached the Beijing Games via the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women in June.
Russia didn’t have Hammon when they beat the Latvians in the semi-finals of EuroBasket Women 2007 en route to the gold medal in Italy.
The biggest development for Latvia has been the recovery of forward Ieva Tare from the elbow injury she suffered at the qualifying event.
“She started having individual workouts with me three weeks ago and has been with the team for less than a week,” Latvia coach Ainars Zvirgzdins said on Saturday.
“We decided to take some time off after Madrid and that was good for us. We were fortunate to be able to come to the Diamond Ball.”
Latvia were invited to play after Japan, who failed to reach the Olympics at the qualifying event, decided to withdraw.
The Latvians, who by far were the best-supported team in Madrid, suffered injuries to star players Anete Jekabsone-Zogota and Gunta Basko in their semi-final last year but both are fully fit.
The three-time defending Olympic champions, the United States of America, are also in Group B and begin their tournament on Sunday against the Latvians.
The USA will be giving the world a good look at their emerging star Sylvia Fowles, a young center who excelled at the 2008 Beijing Basketball Test Event back in April.
Fowles and veteran Lisa Leslie, who is also in Haining warming up for the Olympics where she is hoping to win a fourth straight gold medal, give the US an mean one-two punch on the low blocks.
In Group A are deemed to be the biggest threats to America’s Olympic supremacy, 2006 FIBA World Championship winners Australia.
The Opals boast a star-studded team like the US, with Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor two of the best players in the world.
Also in Group B are Olympic hosts China and Mali, the teams who play in Saturday’s other game.