USA Head Coach Anne Donovan
Val Ackerman: (opening statement)
Before I make it official, let me just say very briefly that, and I've said it for 10 years - it's very hard not to remain both excited and impressed by everything that continues to happen in women's basketball. Things are happening in this sport that simply aren't happening elsewhere. We have great young players that are coming up. Those of us that have kids who are playing basketball know what is out there. We have a high school and college game that continues to cement its foundation. I was watching the UConn vs. Tennesee game last weekend and saw 25,000 people in Thompson-Boling Arena. It just keeps happening there. The women's Final Four is around the corner, the WNBA will be celebrating its 10th year this year with a lot of fanfare, and deservedly so. And of course, last but not least, our Women's Senior National Team Program which has a long and proud history is turned into, in my judgement, one of the greatest dynasties, if not the greatest dynasty in women's sports. We had a great result in Athens, but it wasn't the first gold medal we've had in a while. After a couple of bumps in the road in the early 90's, for those of you who have been following it and know them, we have really gotten it together in a big way. We have had gold medals in not one, not two, but five consecutive major events beginning with the Atlanta Olympics and continuing through Athens, including three Olympic golds and two World Championship golds. There are a lot of reasons for the success, not the least of which have been great players, who have stuck with it, over in some cases the course of a couple of events. We have had great coaches involved from both the college ranks and the WNBA. We have had great management of the program through Carol and others. And I can tell you that while the competition remains very fierce at this level, as those of you who cover the WNBA know, with great international players coming in every year, they are going back and representing their home countries in these events. But we think we can keep it going and are very determined to do so.
Since Athens, we at USA Basketball have been hard at work planning out the next three years which will culminate in 2008 in Beijing. Our next event up is this year with the 2006 FIBA World Championship, which will be held in mid-September in Brazil. It will feature the world's best players on 16 teams. The event is in effect an Olympic qualifier for us. If we win it, we get the gold medal there. So not only would we get six consecutive gold medals which would be nice, we would qualify for Beijing and eliminate the need for a separate zone-qualifying tournament in '07, which is nice to have. So, there are quite a lot of things to play for.
So today, what we have is the first public announcement with respect to our planning for the next three years. It is a critical one and one I am very, very proud to be participating in - and that is the identity of our head coach for the Senior Women's program, not just for '06 but for the next three years, which includes the World Championship and ultimately culminating in Beijing.
It is hard to imagine anybody more well-suited for this task than she. With the women's basketball commitment from day one, she has succeeded as a player at the collegiate level and the Olympic level. She has been a coach at the collegiate level, a very successful coach at the professional level, and I was very proud to hand her a WNBA championship trophy in 2004. She has been there as a contributor to the National Team Program in a variety of capacities, including most recently as the assistant coach in 2002 and 2004 behind Van Chancellor. She is a professional in every sense of the word. She understands that when you represent your country, it is just something different - a different ballgame. And looking back over the last 10 years and more, there are few who have been as passionate and as powerful an ambassador for the great game of women's basketball. So, for all those reasons she has been selected as the Head Coach for the Senior Women's National Team Program for 2005-2008. And I am very happy now to introduce her now to you, Anne Donovan, head coach of the Seattle Storm. Annie, congratulations on the assignment. We are all greatly looking forward to working with you over the next couple of years. And without any further adieu I would like to turn things over to you to make a couple of comments.
Anne Donovan: Thanks Val. Jim and Carol are all in the room and I just want to say once again how excited I am for this opportunity and my thanks for the confidence to put me in place to take over this program which I don't think I ever dreamed I would be involved with, USA Basketball for the number of years that I have. But it has been certainly a highlight of my career both as a player and a coach. And now moving forward with this National Team title, I just can't speak to how proud and honored I am to take over the reigns. This program has been a great source of pride for everybody in women's basketball. Our teams have competed and succeeded at the highest level, and we've carried golds with us for a number of years. That challenge, as many of us know, has become more and more of a challenge over the years with many countries literally trying to breathe down our necks. I am excited to continue this program and excited to know this sport and the great players that are committed to it, that we will continue on our winning ways. So I am very excited to be here and very excited to take it over.
Q: What is your first priority? I know Jerry Colangelo is interviewing players on the men's side, who are you looking at right now?
Donovan: The Women's Program and the game are a lot different than the Men's Program, so we have the Committee that's been in place and has selected the teams throughout the years for all these gold medals. So the committee is certainly very good at what they do.
The continuity and the dedication that our players have shown to our teams throughout the years makes it a little bit easier than going through an in-depth interview process with each player. The continuities to make it a little bit easier on the women's side than it has been on the men's side.
Q: Dawn (Staley), Lisa (Leslie) and Sheryl (Swoopes) have been the core of the last three Olympics. Obviously Dawn won't be back as a player, but have you heard or gotten any sense about Lisa and Sheryl at this point?
Ackerman: I think it's a little too early to say, but we have gotten pretty positive signals from many of the players who were in Athens, including Lisa and Sheryl, that they would like to continue on with the older players sort of (inaudible). But I think it's safe to say that we're going to be able to keep together the core group of players who have been with us for the last few competitions, and we'll have the ideal mix of the veteran players who have been there, particularly at the Olympic and World Championship levels as well as the younger players who we really have to get worked in so that we can begin the planning for beyond 2008. And part of the whole process is grooming the whole next generation of players, so that those who are following us for 2010 and 2012 aren't sort of just starting from scratch. I think the message is that the interest and commitment levels remain very high among the women's players, and I think you will see a lot of the same faces on the 2006 team that you saw in Athens.
Q: Looking back at your long career, do you have a number one Olympic memory?
Donovan: I think as a player I go back to 1988 and having been a part of both the 1980 and the 1984 teams that were affected by the boycott. Knowing in 1988 that we beat the best to get that gold medal, as a player stands out. And as a coach, certainly Athens, working with Van (Chancellor) at the World Championships leading up to Athens in 2004 as a coach was just tremendous to be involved at that level.
Q: When will you name your staff, your assistants?
Ackerman: Our expectations it that within the next six weeks we will likely name the assistants, and there will be three. We expect to name one WNBA assistant as we did in Athens and two from the women's college level. That has been consistent with past practice and has worked well. We will also identify within that time period, that core group of players that will become the heart of the team for 2006, with additions to come in the months that follow.
Q: Will that staff be the staff all the way through?
Ackerman: I think they will be formally named only for 2006, but again, past practice, the notion would be to ideally keep the staff together through the whole three-year period.
Q: Is Dawn Staley on the short list for assistants?
Ackerman: She is on the short list for sure. Like Annie, she has played, and she has been cutting her teeth for the last few years at the college coaching level. Yes, for Dawn, the answer is yes, she's on the short list.
Q: If you had a wish list of needs for the team in terms of the positions, what would those be? What are the needs going forward for the U.S. team?
Donovan: Our needs are to continue to maintain the concentration and the focus on staying ahead. I think that comes with experienced players. We need to continue the commitment from our top players, who have competed internationally, who understand internationally how important it is to stay the task. At the top of my list is maintaining the continuity of the program, which I know is at the top of USA Basketball's list. We have had great well-rounded teams in the past, with a ton of athleticism and great character. It is not just a group of All-Stars going over there trying to defend. We have had great players that form a team and we will continue to identify the players to try and fit that mold.
Q: With Staley you have had one retirement from the people who formed the 1996 team. Do you see, as with (Diana) Taurasi, any prospects among collegiate players to fill needs going forward.
Donovan: There are great players out there and the committee will continue to look at the young talent and see if they are ready. And USA Basketball will continue to evaluate them and see if they are ready to be put in the mix. You have great players out there like (Seimone) Augustus at LSU and (Sylvia) Fowles also has proven herself as a sophomore. (Cappie) Pondexter is a great point guard - there is some great young talent out there.
Again, it will be evaluated. We have depth in the WNBA and are starting
to develop more and more depth in the collegiate ranks, so all players
will be considered, especially knowing that this process will carry us
for three years, for this gold medal at the World Championship and through
Beijing and beyond. We are looking to build the program for the future,
finding players who can continue to carry the torch as we move.