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Bryant, USA win Gold over Gasol’s Spain

We followed the gold medal game between Kobe Bryant’s Team USA and Pau Gasol’s Spain on Sunday morning from London, detailing how the two Lakers contributed to what was ultimately a hard-earned 107-100 gold medal victory for the Americans.

10:00 So key for Team USA in the 2008 gold medal game in Beijing, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to go with six assists, Kobe Bryant opened this one with a pretty dish to a diving Tyson Chandler off pick and roll to get a layup. His LAL counterpart opened Spain’s effort with a slick, left-handed baseline hook over Chandler.

7:00 The triples started to fall for both teams, with Juan Carlos Navarro hitting twice for Spain (the second on a Gasol dish) and Kobe answering with two triples of his own to put the U.S. up 15-12. Bryant had been on fire from distance in the medal round*, nailing six in the second half of the quarters against Australia, and three in the semi’s against Argentina. As a team, the USA was at an impressive 45 percent from deep in the tourney.
*Hard not to notice his play improving as the games went on, helped perhaps by Lakers team physical therapist Dr. Judy Seto heading over to work with him in London.

0:00 Carmelo Anthony checked in for Team USA, going small with LeBron guarding Pau, and promptly scored eight points (two triples and a pull-up banker) to put the U.S. up 25-16 before Gasol could even touch the ball inside (resulting in two free throws when he finally did.) Gasol then flashed the high-low action we might see between him and Dwight Howard for the Lakers, this time with Serge Ibaka, allowing the OKC forward consecutive trips to the foul line before Gasol hit a pull-up J to keep Spain within seven.

8:30: Gasol, yet to rest, opened the second with a driving finger roll lay up, scoring easily around Kevin Love, and his brother Marc got the Spaniards within a single point (37-36) moments later with a lofted turnaround J.

3:01 Spain hung tough throughout the second, playing a ton better than they did when the teams met prior to the tournament and Portugal’s Iberian peninsula neighbor played in general in the Olympics, almost playing possum for the Americans, down only four as Gasol swatted LeBron on one and and JCN scored on the other. Meanwhile, we saw a cut shot of Gasol’s girlfriend in the stands (just an FYI).

0:00 Bryant again rested for the final five minutes of the quarter – as has been typical with Coach Mike Krzyzewski giving the oldest U.S. player extra rest – as Rudy Fernandez drew a slew of fouls (tossing his body around a bit) and converted free throws to bring Spain within a point (59-58) at the break.

7:52 Gasol continued to play excellent ball for his country, scoring three consecutive buckets – plus the foul on the first – with his running dunk then up-and-under around Love to put the Spaniards up 67-64. His brother Marc, meanwhile, was sitting with four fouls picked up in the first half in a choppy yet high-scoring game, with naturalized Spaniard Ibaka (from Congo but played professionally in Spain #loophole) in.

5:02 Memo to the USA coaching staff: Love can’t guard Gasol 1-on-1. For the fifth consecutive trip, Gasol either scored (this time an and-1) or drew a foul, his 13 points outscoring USA’s 11 in the quarter, giving Spain a 71-70 lead … only to be taken back by Kobe’s third triple.

0:00 Olympics hoops analyst Doug Collins has been calling Gasol the tournament’s best big man throughout, and he certainly proved it in the third, scoring 15 points to keep Spain within one (83-82) heading into a fourth quarter that would decide what color medal each nation would sport. Bryant picked his spots, with the Americans having much more balance as he, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe.

7:40 Having asked to guard Navarro, Bryant showed why in shutting the streaky Spaniard down after that early-game barrage, with Chris Paul (excellent in crunch time as usual) scoring five straight points to make it 90-84. The only thing that sat Gasol on the bench was an inadvertent hand to the face from LeBron, drawing blood that needed tending to on the sideline.

6:00 Time for two big fourth quarter plays from Kobe: 1) Remember when Rudy Fernandez fouled Bryant on a game-sealing three-pointer in China in 2008? Here he did so again, though Bryant missed only his second free throw of the tourney before hitting the second and third (15 points) to make it 95-86; 2) An offensive rebound off Melo’s missed three, which he stuck back in off glass to make it a 10-point lead.

2:40 Yet with LeBron on the bench in foul trouble, the U.S. then turned it over on back-to-back trips (Kobe then Anthony), giving Spain a chance to get within four when Gasol’s leaner in the paint rimmed out. Instead, LeBron’s driving dunk (Spain didn’t know whether to switch a pick) and pull-up three put the U.S. back up 11, sealing the deal.

0:00 The United States of America are Olympic gold medalists in basketball again. The final: 107-100. Bryant was taken out alongside James and Durant in the final minute to a rousing cheer. He could be seen getting emotional in his final Olympic experience, sharing hugs first with his USA teammates, then with Gasol, the two congratulating one another on a terrific game … and who knows, maybe sharing a knowing glance that they’d soon be playing alongside Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.

Bryant finished with 17 points on 5 of 10 shooting (3 of 7 from three) with two boards, two assists and a steal, while Gasol carried his country with 24 points (9 of 17 field goals), eight boards and five assists plus a steal while playing nearly the entire game.

So it’s silver for Pau, and gold for Kobe for the second straight Olympics in a spirited game between the two best basketball playing nations.

Team USA Blows Out Nigeria

Just three minutes into Thursday’s Olympic group play game between Team USA and Nigeria, Kobe Bryant had already hit a three, a pull-up J and two free throws for seven points in a 13-0 run from which the Americans didn’t come close to looking back, ultimately setting scoring records with a 156-73 win.

The most the Dream Team had ever scored was 127, the U.S. record was 133 and the Olympic record 138. See ya.

By the 4:20 mark, Kobe had added a turnaround jumper, a contested three-pointer and a breakaway two-handed reverse flush to score 14 points in a 25-10 start before taking a seat on the bench. He was well on pace to hit his season high from the NBA season, 48 against Phoenix, but of course wouldn’t get the minutes.

His teammates, particularly Carmelo Anthony — who finished with a U.S. Olympic record 37 points behind 10 of 12 shooting from three — picked up from where Kobe left off. The Knicks wing pushed a ridiculous first quarter scoring total to 49 points as the Americans nailed 11 triples. That is not a typo.

Bryant played five more minutes in the second quarter, totaling just 11 in the game as the team continues to save his legs, adding another bucket to finish with 16 points plus three boards and two assists. He helped Coach Krzyzewski’s team take a 78-45 lead into halftime.

Team USA’s bench, albeit full of NBA All-Stars, played even better defense in the second half, holding Nigeria to 17 and 11 points in the third and fourth quarters.

Bryant played the role of head cheerleader in the second half, just as he did in the team’s previous win against Tunisia, ahead of Saturday and Monday games against Lithuania and Argentina.

The Americans finished with an absurd 59 of 83 from the field (71.1 percent) and 29 of 46 from three (63 percent), holding Nigerian to 41.2 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from three. Team USA assisted on 38 field goals, swiped 12 steals and forced 24 turnovers while committing just seven.

Group A leader Team USA matched the 3-0 records of Spain and Russia in Group B, and boy did they do it in style.

Gasol Leads Spain (3-0) Over Great Britain

With NBC Olympic hoops analyst Doug Collins repeatedly calling Pau Gasol the “best post player” in London, the Spaniard captained his country to a 79-78 victory over Great Britain, who made a late, desperate charge that came up just short.

Gasol finished with 17 points on 6 of 14 field goals with four assists, two rebounds and two blocks in the win, after scoring at least 20 points in Spain’s first two victories.

When Gasol wore Lakers colors last season, he often played in the high post so that Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant could get more low post touches. Gasol still got his share of touches on the block, but perhaps not as consistently as they come with Spain, which on Thursday allowed him to show his wide array of spins, up-and-unders and pull-up jumpers that make him so difficult to defend.

Gasol flashed his passing skills out of the low block as well, highlighted by a gorgeous no-look pass over his shoulder to his brother Marc, resulting in a dunk and a double-digit lead in the third quarter. His fourth assist came as soon as he checked back in with six-plus minutes in the fourth, a kick out of a double that got Jose Calderon a wide-open three to put Spain up 64-52.

Behind Bulls All Star Luol Deng, Great Britain cut the lead to three with 3:19 to play, before four straight Gasol points and 1-of-2 free throws from Marc Gasol made it a six-point game. The Brits responded again, however, with back-to-back buckets to cut it to just a two-point game, but a turnover got Spain a layup and 73-69 lead with 44.6 to play.

Deng nailed a three with seven seconds left – Britain’s third in the final two minutes – but the Brits couldn’t get to Jose Calderon in time to foul before time ran out.

Up next for Spain is a tricky test on Saturday against Russia, also 3-0, ahead of a Monday matchup with Brazil, the Spaniards looking to win Group B to make it likely they wouldn’t have to face Kobe Bryant and Team USA until a potential gold medal game.

Podcast: Person on Princeton, Vegas

Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person occupied the head coach seat for the franchise’s summer league squad in Las Vegas, overseeing a group that ended up going 1-4.

As Person explained, winning may always be a goal, but it’s not the primary reason the Lakers send players to Vegas.

Among the major focal points in Sin City was putting in elements of the Princeton offense that Mike Brown and his staff could potentially implement for the senior squad when training camp starts in October.

“It was a set out of the Princeton that we tried to operate out of,” said Person, acknowledging that it took a while for the players to adjust. “Summer league is to test things out to see if it’s something you might want to do in the fall. There’s experimentation to possibly run that offense.”

We asked Person to provide a general overview of the Princeton offense.

“It’s a true read and react offense based on footwork, ball fakes, the way the defense is guarding the offense,” Person explained. “It’s a lot of reads, and the reads for that offense have to happen in the moment. If you don’t react in the moment, you lose that timing to make the defense pay for their aggression and lack of positioning.”

In addition to Princeton chat, Person evaluated the individual performances from players like Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock and Christian Eyenga at summer league.

Take a listen by clicking the purple play button below:

Follow Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) on Twitter.

Gasol, Bryant Open Olympics with Wins

Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant started off their respective quests for Olympic basketball gold by helping their Spanish and America squads defeat China and France in affairs that were never truly in doubt.

Spain held a safe lead throughout before beating China 97-81, and the USA blew things open with a 30-15 second quarter en route to a 98-71 victory against an NBA-laden French side. Bryant needed to play only 12 minutes towards 10 points in the blow out, but Gasol was the key for Spain, scoring 21 points with 11 rebounds as the focal piece to his country’s offense.

The Spanish captain – not to mention flag bearer – made 9 of the 15 shots he took and also dished four assists, second only to his younger brother Marc’s five. Yi Jianlian kept the Chinese in the game for a while thanks to his 30 point on 13 of 19 shooting, but a 10-point edge in the second and 8-point advantage in the fourth quarter made the difference.

Gasol had his full offensive arsenal, so familiar to Lakers fans, going by connecting on low post spin or up and under moves, hitting baseline turnarounds and fadeaways, sinking a mid range jumper and even dropping a three-pointer.

Of the six field goal attempts Bryant took, five were three-pointers, of which he made two along with four free throws. Bryant, selected to an All-NBA team in 14 of his 16 seasons, played aggressively on defense while simply moving the ball along if not open at the other end. Coach Mike Krzyzewski stuck to his pattern from the exhibition games of limiting Bryant’s minutes (at least until he’s needed, one would think) as Kobe did not play in the fourth quarter.

Up next for the Americans is a Tuesday tilt against Tunisia, while the Spaniards draw Australia on the other side of the bracket.

Laker Girls Final Auditions by Photo

On Thursday evening at the Lakers practice facility, 33 talented dancers gathered in pursuit of the same dream: to make the final cut and become a Laker Girl for the 2012-13 season.

There’s no hard number upon which Director Lisa Estrada settles in advance, but the squad has featured 22 members in the past few seasons and won’t be far off.

You’ll be able to watch how it all goes down thanks to Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Deportes, which documented the entire five-day audition process for a series that will air following production. Stay tuned for that, but for now we put together some photos from final auditions, with comments from Estrada to help define the process:

“Each one of you that’s here could definitely fit the Laker Girls mold and be in this position, because you’re all very talented and I could work with any one of you,” Estrada told the dancers before things got going.

The girls do the two routines that were taught at auditions — one novelty, one jazz/funk — in front of a smaller panel of judges than were at Saturday’s auditions. “Luckily there were no mess ups,” said Estrada. “The talent level was high, and the candidates proved to us why they made the finals.”

The girls have a few minutes to gather themselves, touch up some make up, grab or snack or what have you in between the jazz/funk and novelty routines. Meanwhile, the judges (and reporter) eat a variety of snacks (M&M’s, trail mix, licorice) provided by Estrada.

One girl, unfortunately, didn’t strut her stuff like the pictured dancers, since she showed up 45 minutes late without calling. Estrada, though sad to lose someone, explained:

First off, we didn’t know why she wasn’t on time, and my worry was something happened – so I made sure I called my voicemail and checked my email. I didn’t see any messages after 5 p.m., so, we ultimately went forward and started the call back. When she came almost 45 minutes late, at that point there was no need to go through the rest of the process. I explained during the interviews that time management, scheduling at games and appearances and so on must be diligent, so obviously she would not be a candidate in this sense. She also happened to be 30 minutes late for her interview.

Small groups of dancers (usually five, sometimes four) performed the next routine before returning to the line. Estrada said her judges are looking at height, weight, body sizes and style in addition to, of course, dancing ability. “We try to figure out who is appealing out on the court,” she said. “That’s what the fans will be looking for, so that’s what we’re looking for.”
Continue reading ‘Laker Girls Final Auditions by Photo’

Jamison Joins the Lakers

L.A.’s Wednesday afternoon’s signing of 14-year NBA veteran Antawn Jamison provides an immediate boost to what was a problem area for the Lakers last season: punch off the pine.

In fact…

A: L.A.’s bench scored an NBA-low 20.5 points per game in 2011-12
B: Jamison is a career 19.5 points per game scorer who averaged 17.2 last season

We should acknowledge that one of the reasons L.A.’s reserves scored so little is that there were very few minutes actually spent on the floor, the subs combining for only 15.6, the second fewest in the league (Boston). Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant (27.9), Andrew Bynum (18.7) and Pau Gasol (17.4) scored so much that there weren’t many points left to be had.

Nonetheless, offensive help off the bench was an issue GM Mitch Kupchak and head coach Mike Brown wanted to address, and they feel like they’ve taken a step with Jamison.

Addl Jamison content:
Read the press release
Watch the press conference:
Part I | Part II
Comments from Mitch Kupchak

Jamison shot only 40.3 percent from the field (34.1 percent threes) last season, but wasn’t helped by a lack of other options to dissuade defensive attention. Indeed, with the exception of a two-month stint with LeBron James to conclude the 2009-10 season in Cleveland, Jamison hasn’t played with anybody who demanded a consistent double team since his year with Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas (2003-04). Last season, he still managed to productive with his combination of leaners, push shots and triples on a 21-45 Cavs team, along with 6.3 boards and 2.0 assists in 33.1 minutes.

“In the past, I’m probably the first or second option a coach is scheming against,” said Jamison. “In this situation, I might be the last guy (they) are even thinking about. I’m definitely eager for those scenarios to happen.”

“I think he’s going to get better looks,” added Kupchak. “I think teams will certainly prepare for him, but they’re going to prepare for Steve Nash, Kobe, Andrew and Pau. Maybe some teams will take him for granted a little bit.”

Jamison’s been a starter for nearly his entire career, coming off the bench only for that Dallas team — run by his new teammate Steve Nash — but is fully embracing his role-to-be this time around.

“(My job is) to come off the bench and add scoring and leadership,” he said. “I think it’s a perfect fit. I don’t have to come in and have everything on my shoulders, just come in and pretty much play my game. It’s gratifying to be with such great talent.”

Jamison can play either the three or the four, and has particularly embraced the role of a “stretch 4″ as his career has progressed.

“Having a stretch 4 creates so many more 1-on-1 opportunities in the paint where it’s not clogged up rather than having two 7-footers in there,” he explained. “It could also help Kobe out a lot with the attention that he receives … it’s a luxury you’re starting to see a lot of in this league (that’s) making it difficult for opponents to match up.”

Not known for his defense, and even drawing a laugh from Kupchak on the topic during his introductory presser, Jamison said he’s determined not to stand out in the wrong way.

“I definitely have improved and am not as much of a negative on the defensive end as I (was) early on in my career, (and) I understand the importance of not being a weak link,” he said. “I’m going to work hard, I’m going to give it my all. You won’t be able to say he’s the weak link to this puzzle where it’s offensively, defensively or in the locker room. I always have been able to get it done.”

Saying that the opportunity to compete for a championship after so many seasons in which 82 games were guaranteed at most, Jamison’s mental batteries are completely re-charged. That goal of winning it all is what ultimately made him decide to take less money than was offered elsewhere to don the purple and gold.

“He’s accomplished everything he wanted to in his life in terms of basketball (except) winning a championship,” said Kupchak. “He was in Italy about eight days ago when I called him and tried to talk him into coming here, and the thing he talked about was the one thing that was missing.”

Jamison called Nash the “best pure point guard since John Stockton” and Kobe “one of the best to ever play the game,” and said he’s feeling great physically thanks to understanding how to manage his body in the offseason … thanks in part to yoga.

But the bottom line, at the age of 37, the veteran who’s played for 12 coaches let it be known that he has never been more excited for training camp to begin.

“It’s a dream opportunity to play with a prestigious organization like the Lakers, with one of the greatest to ever play the game, to play with a front line like that,” concluded Jamison. “Who wouldn’t think this is the ideal situation to be a part of?”

Mitch Kupchak On Antawn Jamison Signing

Below is a transcription of Mitck Kupchak’s comments following the team’s press conference for the signing of Antawn Jamison:

Q: On Jamison potentially getting easier, open looks in L.A. while playing with so many players who demand attention as contrasted with his previous several seasons:
Kupchak: I think he’s going to get better looks. I think teams will certainly prepare for him, but they’re going to prepare for Steve Nash, Kobe (Bryant), Andrew (Bynum) and Pau (Gasol). Maybe some teams will take him for granted a little bit.

Q: On if he and ownership are looking to add further to the bench:
Kupchak: You can always get better. We still feel we have another roster spot or two to look at it. Maybe a back court player.

Q: On his stance of not looking to use the mini mid-level exception:
Kupchak: We look to add value. We have a mini mid-level still available but I think it’s unlikely we’d use it unless there’s an incredible value out there.

Q: On Jamison coming despite having offers for more money elsewhere:
Kupchak: He makes us a better team. We’re happy to have him on board. I didn’t think it was likely that he would agree to come here for the (veteran’s) minimum. As unlikely as it was for us to get a call from Steve Nash, it was just as unlikely (to get one from Jamison). We didn’t recruit him as much as you might think because I didn’t really think it was a possibility, but after several conversations with his representative, I started to say to myself, ‘I think this guy will do it,’ and at that point it happened quickly.

Q: On L.A. being a desirable destination:
Kupchak: L.A. has always been a good destination. We have a lot of advantages that other teams don’t have, fortunately. It’s a big city, a desirable place to play and live. I think we’ve always had that advantage and I think we always will. And stable ownership is certainly a big plus.

Q: On the pursuit of a championship:
Kupchak: I thought (Jamison) got his point across clearly that he had other opportunities, but he’s accomplished everything he wanted to accomplish in his life in terms of basketball (except) winning a championship. He was in Italy about eight days ago when I called him and tried to talk him into coming here, and the thing he talked about was the one thing that was missing. And that’s unusual. That’s rare.

Q: On if the Lakers ever need to put the brakes on in terms of looking around the league at free agents/trades:
Kupchak: Typically it slows down in August, but the brakes are never on.

Q: On if he’s spoken to Andrew Bynum’s agent:
Kupchak: I spoke to his representative today. I wouldn’t share with you what we spoke about, but we communicate regularly. (I’d characterize the conversation as) productive and positive.
*Editor’s note: Kupchak said that nothing is imminent in terms of an extension for Bynum. When asked if there would be something done before the start of the season, Kupchak answered: “Hopefully it will progress.”

Q: On his assessment of L.A.’s second round picks (Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre) from the Las Vegas Summer League:
Kupchak: They are unsigned. I haven’t really had conversations with their representatives. As we get closer to training camp, I will. The bottom line is they are players that were drafted in the 50′s, and they’re always considered long shots to make a team. But we like them both … we’ll see.

Bryant, Gasol Face off in Barcelona

The two best basketball-playing nations faced off on Tuesday afternoon in Barcelona in the final tune up to the Olympics for Kobe Bryant’s Team USA and Pau Gasol’s Spain, with the Americans blowing things open in the second half to win 100-78.

In a possible preview of a London Olympics medal game, Bryant played only 20 minutes towards six points, four assists and two boards, while Gasol led Spain with 19 points on six of eight shooting alongside five boards.

Team USA used its superior speed and athleticism to overcome Spain’s size, as coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team did throughout an undefeated 5-game warm up schedule, overcoming injuries to Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and LaMarcus Aldridge.

With Pau’s brother Marc Gasol out favoring a shoulder injury in this one, “naturalized citizen” Serge Ibaka* was everywhere early, making his first six buckets to put the Spaniards up 23-14.
*Each nation is allowed one such player, Ibaka qualifying as he lived in Spain while playing professionally as a teenager.

The U.S., however, responded behind a scorching hot Carmelo Anthony, whose 23 points in the first half had the U.S. up 48-40 after Melo buried his fifth three-pointer in the final minutes of the second quarter.

Bryant’s first highlight play came on a huge baseline dunk in the final minutes of the first half, as he exploded over a Spanish defender to finish with two hands, looking like the Kobe that wore No. 8 (if you’re keeping track, he wears 24 for the Lakers and 10 for Team USA).

He was content with facilitating on offense, however, moving the ball quickly and making the extra pass, taking only three shots in his 20 minutes. Gasol was Spain’s best player, scoring with ease inside particularly when matched up against Kevin Love, with the better defender Tyson Chandler in foul trouble.

Laker Girls Auditions Progress

After a full day of dancing, a group of 500 prospective Laker Girls was cut all the way down to 34.

That’s the number of finalists selected by the group of 10 judges that report to Laker Girls Director Lisa Estrada in advance of individual interviews on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The first cut took the number from 500 to 140, with the remaining ladies being taught a routine to perform, leading to the next cut down to 87. Then comes another routine, after which the number was trimmed to 48. At that point, each of the 48 girls introduced themselves to the judges and subsequently performed a solo, with 34 making it through to interviews.

Still with us?

We caught up with Estrada on Tuesday afternoon to see how the process is coming along:

Q: On how things went on Saturday:
Estrada: Everything went very quickly, actually. However, I was really impressed with the talent this year. I think the caliber was higher, for whatever reason, which was great. At the end of the day I ended up with 34 finalists, all very talented young ladies. Unfortunately, I found out that two returners from last season’s squad did not make it to that point, but I think everyone understands that it’s difficult.

Q: On how no spots are guaranteed for returning dancers:
Estrada: It just depends on so many things: how the day goes; how they perform the combinations that are taught to them; and the other talent around them, the competition.

Q: On how the process goes in cutting down the spots round by round:
Estrada: It’s all up to the judges, of which I have 10 including the choreographer, who whittle the numbers down one by one. The dancers are being evaluated on general dance ability, showmanship and fitness. I tell the judges to look out for how the first combination goes, and if they mess up, they can catch back on at the next combination. Now, that next combination really has to be a “yes” or a “no”. When it’s down to 48 comes the solos, at which point the ladies introduce themselves, which is big for the judges because these women represent the Lakers in the community. It’s very important that they’re able to have a presence and carry on a conversation.

Q: On if it’s most difficult getting down to the final 34:
Estrada: It’s actually pretty clear, because we are tallying as we go, and we will look at the scores and establish a hard line. If someone is on the fence, there may be dialogue about bringing someone else to the finals, but I don’t question the judgments because I’d prefer to stay out of it. There’s a reason that I brought the judges in, even if it makes me sad to see many of the dancers go. In fact, there are a lot of participants that leave throughout the day where I say, ‘Aw, I really liked her,’ but for whatever reason she got cut – the judges didn’t vote for her. I’m OK with it because I trust the judges, but I’m sad because I would have liked to have met that individual. But by all means I can’t pull anybody through myself.

Q: On the interview process:
Estrada: Currently, as I’m conducting the interviews, I do get to have a say so. I get to learn about this person, this number, this girl who would like to be a part of the organization. I want to see if they are people persons. I want to see how they speak – they have to be articulate, intelligent, be able to carry a conversation with somebody as they will with all the events they will participate in. And it’s fun, because it’s new people and new faces, new energy. What I really like about it is that they tell you why they want to be a Laker Girl, and you just go, ‘Wow, you live in Georgia!’ It’s very flattering for the organization to reach out to other places. This year we have finalists from Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, northern California and I’m still meeting more.

Q: On the number of returners still left, and the final desired number who will actually make the team:
Estrada: We have 11 of the 13 returners who auditioned remaining, and we’ll likely shoot for 22. That’s how many we’ve had on the team in the past few seasons, but it’s not a definitive number.