Like many in President Obama’s crew, education secretary Arne Duncan is known for his skills on the basketball court. A captain of the Harvard basketball team (way pre-Jeremy Lin days) and surprise star at this year’s NBA Celebrity All-Star game, the 6'5" Duncan surprised fans and onlookers Sunday as a member of the practice squad that played against the women’s national team in a pre-Olympic training session at American University.
It’s normal practice for top women’s teams to use men in practice – they’re more likely to be the same size and closer to the strength of some of their opponents than many women’s players. Duncan was given good reviews by coach Geno Auriemma, who praised the secretary's behind-the-back passes and fashion sense (Duncan played in yellow sneakers).
“I like his shoes,” said Auriemma, the longtime University of Connecticut coach. “He‘s in the government service now, so he did the same thing on the court – he passed the ball. But I’ve always been a big fan of his, and he knows how to play.”
Added Maya Moore, one of team's stars, ""I didn't notice anybody being terrible today, so he fit right in." Center Sylvia Fowles said Duncan scored on her during a scrimmage (which happened during the closed portion of practice): "I was kind of embarrassed," she said.
Duncan gave the women a good review: "They're so tough, so smart and they've been working so hard," he said. "They've been together for two days and it looks like they've been playing together for two months."
Duncan said President Obama, a well-known fan of Auriemma's and women's sports, almost came out to the practice but ended up having a prior engagement. The commander-in-chief may attend Monday night's exhibition games at the Verizon Center where both the men and women's squads are taking on Brazil in a final tune-up before heading overseas (where they'll have three more exhibition games, against Great Britain, Argentina and Spain).
Asked if Auriemma gave him any coaching, Duncan laughed.
"He probably just said, 'Let the old guy shoot.'"