Special thanks to Don Povia of HHR Media Group for arranging the interview!
New York, NY- Capital One announced the inception of the inaugural Capital One Cup, which honors athletic programs for excellence in 13 different sports. Points will be awarded based on top 10 finishes–with an emphasis on national championships–and the top men’s and women’s program will receive a trophy and $200,000 in scholarships.
In creating this award, chief marketing officer Bill McDonald conveyed that Capital One is on a mission to change the way college athletics are perceived. The company wants to draw attention to sports other than football and basketball, which generally dominate the headlines and ratings. McDonald believes the award will make strides in boosting the profile of sports such as soccer, as well as foster a sense of community among the various sports on a college campus. Five former stars in college will serve as ambassadors for the award. They include: Doug Flutie (Boston College), Brandi Chastain (Santa Clara), Lisa Leslie (USC), Robin Ventura (Oklahoma State), and Clark Kellog (Ohio State).
After the press conference, I had a chance to conduct a phone interview with USC alumnus and retired WNBA superstar Lisa Leslie.
Q: What made you get behind this award? Did you feel that attaching the USC name to the award was important?
Lisa Leslie: I am very proud of our university. I think that aside from this being a new, prestigious award, I think that USC is a very prestigious university to have attended. I’m very partial and biased to the Trojan family and this is a great opportunity when you talk about the Capital One Cup and the possibility for one of those trophies to sit on the USC campus.
Q: How quickly do you think USC will be able to contend for a Capital One Cup?
LL: I would really need to look over all of our sports. The beautiful thing about the Capital One Cup is that it even has caused me to be interested in what happened last year. How many championships did we win on the men and women’s side? This is what its about. Being on the advisory board, my job is to educate the fans and the media. In order to do that, I have to first educate myself on exactly what did all of our sports do. I would like to find out how many championships we won last year so I can get a good sense of how possible it is. I know Stanford has been the most dominant. Stanford’s women’s team, if this Cup had existed last year, would have won it so they are probably our biggest competition right now.
Q: Pat Haden has come in as the athletic director and has shown this affinity for women’s athletics as well as men’s. Do you like the direction he is taking?
LL: Absolutely. I think Pat Haden is a refreshing addition to our athletic department just with the fact that he is cognizant of the women’s sports and is really inclusive. That’s something we may have missed before. Not that Mike Garret didn’t include the women, but I don’t know how much he truly cared about the women. It’ refreshing to see that [Haden] recognizes them. Even for Capital One, the way it is run with this new award for these Division I athletic programs is really also going to benefit the smaller programs–the lacrosse, tennis, soccer, and sports that don’t get as much attention as they deserve. Pat’s going to do a great job and I am hoping when it is all said and done I am sincere in my hopes that the Capital One Cup will be sitting somewhere in Heritage Hall.
Q: You played for Michael Cooper with the Los Angeles Sparks and he is now the head coach here at USC. What are your thoughts on the direction of the program under him?
LL: I like it. I have had an opportunity to come up and talk to the girls two or three times this summer already. I’m excited about the turnaround, and obviously the team started off very well last year and then hit some bumps on the road. They really fell flat at Stanford and it was tough for them in the [conference] tournament to really get far but overall they have improved with new recruits and they are going to continue to get better. It’s going to take Coop a few years just to get the recruits in that he needs and the commitments that he wants. The summer camps that they’ve had on campus were very successful, and I’ve talked to a few other athletes that are interested coming out of high school. USC will have a chance and there are opportunities to get better and better every year.
Q: You seem pretty involved still. Would you have any interest in joining the coaching staff at USC?
LL: Yes, that’s something coach Cooper and I have discussed, and I decided not to do it right now since I have another small baby at home. I have two small children, one is three and one is four months. I don’t think it was the right timing for me. I believe the girls at the university deserve 100% of your time and effort when it comes to coaching and giving them all that they need and I felt I couldn’t do that just yet.
Q: Back to Michael Cooper. He stirred up the pot with UCLA when he used an expletive talking about them. What do you think of his reaction and how do you feel about UCLA?
LL: UCLA gives us great motivation to win and try to be the best in our shared city. I’ve always used them as motivation. When you face the Bruins there is an added incentive to win, but I do think coach Cooper went a little far with the things he said about UCLA. It’s important to always keep it professional and at the end of the day we recognize that you are a Bruin for four years but a Trojan for life.
Q: You grew up in this area and attended USC. How connected do you still feel to the university?
LL: I’m really passionate about USC. Growing up in LA I always grew up aspiring to attend a university, and once I honed my skills enough to have the opportunity I really took full advantage of it. For the most part, I had a great experience at USC. There were some rough years. Going into my senior year my head coach was fired, and that was the toughest part of my life on campus. Overall, I still have love for the school and I’m happy to be an alumnus. I try to give back as much as possible, including helping out with the women’s basketball team.
Q: Are you expecting your children to be Trojans?
To learn more about the Capital One Cup and to follow the standings, be sure to check out capitalonecup.com throughout the year.