Red, White and Basketball

by Tzvi Twersky | @ttwersky

When Lauren Cheney takes to the pitch, the US women’s national soccer team member lines up at midfield or forward—positions where she’s best known for an offensive prowess that enabled her to break UCLA’s all-time scoring record. When she finds herself on the basketball court, though, the 5-10 Cheney reverts back to her defensive point guard ways that were honed as an All-County high school player in Indianapolis. Not too long ago, while training for the 2012 Summer Olympics, Cheney took some time to speak with SLAM about her favorite sports and the PG she considers No.1 in the NBA, her boyfriend Jrue Holiday.

SLAM: In high school, you lettered in both basketball and soccer?

Lauren Cheney: I did. I played varsity basketball my freshman through junior year, and then I quit playing basketball to pursue the national team in soccer. I had made the Women’s National Team my senior year of high school, so I chose to continue with that.

SLAM: Was it difficult splitting your time and playing both sports at a high level?

LC: It’s funny. In high school, when I was going to have to leave basketball practice early to go to soccer practice, my coach would make me run. But soccer running compared to basketball running is so different, so it was almost not like a punishment, because the running was so easy for me. I remember having to do that all through high school. I just loved both sports so much that it didn’t really matter. I had done it my whole life, and I just continued to do it.

SLAM: How did you get into hoops?

LC: [Laughs] I’m from Indiana.

SLAM: So that means you have a good jumper?

LC: I would say I had to develop my jumper. My forte is definitely defense.

SLAM: When you gave up basketball to pursue the national team and the soccer team at UCLA, did you miss it at all?

LC: Yeah! I played all the time at UCLA. I had friends on the girls’ team there, so I played a lot with them. I also played intramurals, and I’d find football players or some stragglers in the Wooden Center and play pickup.

SLAM: So your game is still nice, then?

LC: [Laughs] I haven’t played in a while, but I can hang. I think I can hang.

SLAM: You played in the World Cup this past summer, so you’re used to playing in front of large crowds. When you go and watch Jrue and the Sixers play, or when you go to any NBA game, do you sort of feel like you know what it’s like being the one down on the court?

LC: Yeah, I feel like I know how they’re feeling, and I like being a spectator. I love watching Jrue play. I know the excitement. I know what it takes to get ready to play in a game like that. But I also just enjoy seeing Jrue smile, or just seeing the smiles on their faces. I like to see people at that top level still just enjoy the game.

SLAM: What does it feel like when you see someone wearing your US soccer kit or Jrue’s Sixers jersey?

LC: It’s really cool. I find myself looking around, and I see more and more Jrue Holiday t-shirts in front of me. I think it’s a good thing, because I know how great of a guy he is. It makes me proud of him; it makes me happy that they recognize not only his game, but I’m sure they follow him because of the person he is, too.