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WNBA All-Stars ready to entertain in Phoenix Saturday

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For one afternoon, a combination of 18 Olympic gold medals, five Finals MVPs, five MVP awards, and 10 No.1 draft picks will share the same court at US Airways Center for the WNBA All-Star Game, which tips off at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

On the eve of the event, the world’s premier collection of women’s basketball players, ranging from nine-time All-Star Tamika Catchings to rookies Chiney Ogwumike and Shoni Schimmel, entertained fans with an open practice session.

While Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson dunked, Diana Taurasi was displaying her acrobatic passes and hitting half-court shots.

The Western Conference is coming off a 102-98 win over the East last year in Connecticut, of which Candace Parker was named MVP with a double-double.

“If the East can win that will be the big difference,” said three-time All-Star Tina Charles of the New York Liberty. “Shoni Schimmel and Chiney Ogwumike, I look forward to playing with them, it’s always fun, it’s not really anything crazy, but it’s always fun, great talent. I’m happy for everybody, everybody who’s here definitely deserves it.”

While the West is 8-3 in All-Star Games, this is only the third time it has hosted the event, beginning with Phoenix in 2000. That was two years before eight-time All-Star Sue Bird transitioned from the University of Connecticut to the Seattle Storm.

“It’s the first one on the West Coast since I’ve been an All-Star,” Bird said. “It’s always been on the East Coast, it got to San Antonio once (2011), so it’s cool. In my career, it’s always been in New York or DC or Connecticut, so the fans of the Northeast have always gotten to enjoy it, so it’s nice for the rest of the country to come down and experience it.”

Along with Charles, Taurasi and Maya Moore, Bird is one of four UConn alumna playing Saturday. After sitting out all of last season with a knee injury, Bird is averaging 10.6 points and 4.3 assists for the Storm.

“Just to enjoy it, it’s an honor, and you want to embrace that,” she said would be her advice to the younger players. “When you get out on the court, just have a good time, it’s a chance to put on a good show for the crowd. You’re usually enemies to some degree, so it’s a chance to just enjoy it. They’re very deserving, it’s fun, you know I was able to make it as a rookie, so you’re a little in awe of things and if you’re new, you don’t know what to expect, so that’s why I say have fun. The flip side is, you never really know if you’re going to be back, so just take it for what it is and enjoy it.”

Bird was just named a replacement for the injured Seimone Augustus this week, although Augustus did practice Friday, just as Ivory Latta was inserted for Elena Delle Donne on the East roster. Erika de Souza of the Atlanta Dream will start at center for Delle Donne.

This will be the second All-Star Game for Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike. The 2012 No. 1 overall draft choice is posting 15.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and will match up against her sister Chiney, selected first overall by the Sun in April.

“Chiney is definitely deserving of this,” Nneka said. “It’s all so exciting, I’ve been through this, it’s always fun, but to see her enjoy it makes it very special. Being an All-Star is something everybody wants to be, and when you’re named one, it doesn’t really click. Being able to share this moment with my teammates, my friends, and Chiney, it’s going to be fun, and we always want this weekend to be a memorable weekend.”

Being honored as one of the top of one’s field never gets old, even for Tamika Catchings, who ties Tina Thompson with her record ninth selection this season.

“One thing I would say is having different players and having the opportunity to play with the younger players, being a part of that and this whole experience,” Catchings said of what would make this experience memorable.

Turning 35 on Monday, Catchings is averaging 19 points per game for the Fever, which would be the second-highest of her career, and she is grabbing 7.5 rebounds per contest.

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