BEIJING (AP) Kara Lawson appears to be the answer the U.S. women's team has been trying to find since Dawn Staley retired four years ago after the 2004 Olympics.
The team has been on a national search trying to find a backup to starting point guard Sue Bird - who was Staley's backup - with the ability to lead and the temperament to follow when needed. Lawson fits the description perfectly and could be a vital link to the team's success in it's quest for a fourth straight gold medal.
In the opening victory against the Czech Republic on Saturday night, the U.S. found itself down 13-2 when coach Anne Donovan turned to Lawson to provide a spark. She delivered with a 3-pointer and a steal to help the U.S. take a lead they would never relinquish.
"Obviously we didn't start off great and we lacked a little bit of energy," Donovan said. "When Kara checked into the game it changed our defensive tone. Everyone plays off that energy she brings."
Lawson is a student of the game and doesn't mind her role as a backup. She uses her time on the bench to see where she can best help the team.
"Coming off the bench you have the advantage of seeing the flow of the game," Lawson said. "You can see what adjustments need to be made. You can see what is and isn't working."
Unlike a lot of players on the team, she hasn't been a starter for most of her WNBA career with Sacramento. In 185 WNBA career games, Lawson has started just 42 - and 25 of those have come this season.
"I know how to help a team whether I'm playing 10 minutes or 30 minutes," said Lawson, who is averaging a career-high 11.1 points for the Monarchs. "I think that gives me a unique skill set that not a lot of players on this team have because most of them have always started and always played 30 minutes. I know what it's like to be the seventh or eighth player on the team. This is an easy fit for me because I've played that role in my professional career."
On the court the role of the point guard is to be a coach on the floor. On a team like this with so much offensive talent, it becomes a juggling act to keep everyone happy and involved.
"It's the most important position for a lot of reasons," said Staley, now an assistant coach for the U.S. "You have a team full of players who are used to having the ball in their hands at the end of the game and getting a lot of touches. You have to be able to manage that and make everyone feel like they're going to get the ball and score, even though they're not."
Even when she's not on the court, Lawson finds other ways to contribute, rooting her teammates on from the bench. She's always one of the first off the bench to give a high-five to someone coming off the court.
"When I watch tape I have as much fun watching what's happening on the floor as Kara on the bench," Donovan said. "The energy she brings on the court is just as contagious when she's on the bench. That's when we talked about building this team having Kara Lawson was a must because she brings such a positive energy and it is contagious. You can't go wrong with a player like that."
To Lawson, her positive demeanor on the bench is just something she's been taught by all her former coaches.
"That's something that I've always been around, coaches that preached having good benches," Lawson said. "That's something (Tennessee) coach (Pat) Summitt always preached. You're a true teammate when really deep down inside you can be sincerely happy for someone else when they are on the court and succeeding."