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After a year away, Dales-Schuman is thrilled to be back in WNBA

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TORONTO (CP) - Stacey Dales-Schuman prefers not to call it a comeback - in her heart she never really left the game.

After a year away from the WNBA, the former all-star guard from Brockville, Ont., will be back playing basketball in the women's pro league this spring, after she was selected by the new Chicago Sky in an expansion draft.

"I've never let the thought of playing to dwindle, to be erased from my life," said Dales-Schuman.

The 26-year-old, who led the University of Oklahoma to the NCAA final in her senior year, left the WNBA's Washington Mystics after three seasons to concentrate on her broadcasting career.

While on the road covering college sports for ESPN, Dales-Schuman and her colleagues would spend their down time playing basketball. Suffice it to say, she more than held her own.

"We were playing one day, and one of my colleagues said, 'God, you should still play, you can still shoot the ball,' " she recalled from her home in Destin, Fla. "I said, 'You know, I've been thinking about it.'

"I thought, 'My legs are still good enough where I can run around a little bit, and I can still shoot the ball, I've stayed in shape.' So I pondered it in my mind, I didn't tell anybody about it, didn't mention it to my husband (Chris), or my parents, my friends, kept it concealed."

Officials with the Chicago team somehow caught wind of her wishes and gave her a call.

"We found out in a roundabout way that she was interested in un-retiring," Sky coach and NBA Hall of Famer Dave Cowens told reporters on the day of the expansion draft.

"She's got the goods."

The six-foot guard averaged 9.3 points and 2.9 assists in three seasons with Mystics but wasn't happy playing there. Chicago presents an exciting opportunity, she said, because it's a new team of relatively unknown players - there are no superstars.

"That's the way I want to operate, that's the kind of team I want to be a part of," she said.

Tammy Sutton-Brown of Markham, Ont., a forward for the Charlotte Sting, is the only other Canadian playing in the WNBA, which opens its 10th season in May.

Dales-Schuman plans to move to Chicago sometime over the next few weeks to begin training, but isn't worried about the physical rigours of practice. While she hasn't played much, she says she was in the best shape of her life this past summer, running five days a week, lifting weights, and shooting hoops at an elementary school near her Florida home.

"I feel good physically, I just have to get the game shape back, the timing," said Dales-Schuman, whose brother Burke is a kicker for the Calgary Stampeders. "When you come off the pick for instance, you come full speed, your legs are tired, you have to take that shot."

She'd also love to suit up for Canada again if her schedule permits and has kept in contact with Canadian team coach Allison McNeill. Canada's women's team will play in the world championships next summer in Brazil.

"Even if I didn't play in the WNBA I would still consider playing for Canada," said Dales-Schuman. "Even though there's no money, even though there's little support comparatively, I love the women that play for Canada, I love the coach and I love the idea of playing for my nation. Any athlete will tell you that, but it's true," said Dales-Schuman.

"Especially when you grow up with the sport, when I see people like (University of Utah star) Kim Smith who is just emerging, I would love to play with her, I would love that opportunity."

Her longterm future is definitely in broadcasting - she covered football and men's basketball for ESPN and she's an analyst for women's college basketball. And she's not shy in the spotlight, listing "being a regular on Saturday Night Live" as one of her dreams in her bio on the Sky website.

"Being a player, you're performing on the stage. For me broadcasting is you're bringing those performances to life for people," said Dales-Schuman.

"I love doing sports broadcasting because I love broadening the scope of the game for people out there, I love analyzing women's basketball because maybe I can tell people something unique about the women's game and really make them remember a player I that I talked about.

"It's not about you, it's about the game."

The Sky open training camp in April and will play their home games at the UIC Pavilion on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

© The Canadian Press, 2005

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