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LOVE AND BASKETBALL

About The Game (Continued)
Woodard, who was cast as Camille Wright, Monica's very traditional homemaker mother, first heard about the script when producer Spike Lee, who had directed her in Crooklyn, called her and asked her to read it. Says Woodard, "It was something I hadn't read before. I loved the way it moved and I loved what it was about. I was a jock growing up in Oklahoma, and one of the things I think is wonderful about sports for women, especially young girls, is that once you realize your physical strength, your quickness and your ability to reason on the move, nothing that society is saying to you can hold you back.

"It wasn't thrilling to be the mom — Camille is in the kitchen the whole time, away from the action. I wouldn't be that kind of mother, but I figured I could find the reality of that kind of character."

"Although Monica and her mother are completely at odds," she adds, "that almost forms a stronger relationship than if you're in sync. It means there's something there to fight for."

Debbi Morgan, cast as Nona McCall, Quincy's beautiful and protective mother, starred opposite Denzel Washington in The Hurricane and in the thriller Asunder. Morgan received an IFP Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress for her standout performance as Mozelle in the critically acclaimed Eve's Bayou. She is also an Emmy Award-winning actress for her work on the daytime drama "All My Children."

Thirteen-year-old actress Kyla Pratt, who recently co-starred as Eddie Murphy's studious daughter in Dr. Dolittle, was cast as the young Monica. Pratt's other film credits include One Night Stand, Barney: The Great Adventure, Mad City and The Baby Sitters Club.

Pratt had caught Prince-Bythewood's attention in her sassy, scene-stealing Nike ads with WNBA players Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes. Says Prince-Bythewood: "Kyla was another actress I had in mind while I was writing it. When the time came, she was up for my movie and another movie, and both of us really wanted her. I was actually begging this eleven-year-old: 'Take the part!"'

Besides showing off her playing style, Pratt also had to film her first kiss, ("over and over again!" groans the young actress). Fortunately, she and her thirteen- year-old love interest, Glendon Chatman (Eraser), were friends, having appeared together in television's "Moesha."

Also joining the cast was a who's who from the Los Angeles sports community, including cameo appearances by LA Laker analysts Chick Heam and Stu Lantz, ESPN commentator Dick Vitale and SportsCenter co-host Robin Roberts, two-time NBA all-star Terry Cummings, members of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks and Washington Mystics and former UCLA standout, turned-pro player Charles O'Bannon. Even the director got into the act briefly, playing an opponent who takes on Monica while going after a loose ball.

Preparation for the basketball side of the film began two months prior to production. Basketball advisors Colleen Matsuhara, the assistant coach of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks who had given Sanaa Lathan her intensive training, and Steve Spencer, an assistant coach with the UCLA men's basketball team, supervised practice sessions with principal cast members.

"I worked at it two hours a day for about two months," says Omar Epps, whose natural athletic ability enabled him to make the transition from what he now calls "park ball" to the real thing. "It's really about the practice that you do off the court, how you just get natural with the ball. But after being on the court I don't want to play in the park anymore, because that's not basketball -- it's about elbows and knees.

Sanaa Lathan's training

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