2006 USA Basketball Women's World Championship Team Core Group Includes Eight Olympic Gold Medalists

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– ‘06 Squad Headlined By Three-Time Olympians Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes –

May 23, 2006 • Colorado Springs, Colorado

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Press Conference Transcript
Press Conference MP3 (43:32)

Tradition ...
The last time out, in fact in the last five majors, the USA Women's Senior National team has captured the big one. The U.S. owns a streak of five straight gold medals on the top international stage that dates back to the 1996 Olympics. (Photo: Getty/NBA Photos)

Continuing on its past success of building gold medal winning teams around a core group of internationally experienced players, USA Basketball, which has claimed gold at the last two FIBA World Championships and past three Olympic Games, announced today that three-time Olympic gold medalists Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks) and Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets), two-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Smith (Detroit Shock), 2000 Olympic gold medalist DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics), and 2004 Olympic gold medalists Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) and Tina Thompson (Houston Comets) have been selected as the first eight members of the 2006 USA Women's World Championship Team. The selections were made by the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team Committee and approved by the USA Basketball Executive Committee.

"USA Basketball's senior women's program has a proud history of success in international competition, including five consecutive gold medals over the past ten years," said USA Basketball President Val Ackerman. "The 2006 World Championship player roster once again represents an impressive blend of youth and veteran leadership, and with coach Donovan at the helm, we are in an outstanding position to continue our unparalled run and solidify the domination of American women in the sport of basketball,"

2006 FIBA World Championship Facts
Site: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Dates: Sept. 12-23, 2006
USA Head Coach: Anne Donovan, Seattle Storm
USA Assistant Coaches: Gail Goestenkors (Duke), Dawn Staley (Temple), Mike Thibault (Connecticut Sun)
USA Team: Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, Lisa Leslie, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Katie Smith, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Diana Taurasi, four Players TBD
Nations Qualified: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, France, Lithuania, Nigeria, Russia, Senegal, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, USA.
USA World Championship Record: 80-20
USA Medal Count: 7 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze
USA World Championship Winning Streak: 19 games
Defending FIBA World Champion: United States

"These eight players have contributed to the success of the USA Basketball women's program over the past two decades," said Committee chair and WNBA Chief of Basketball Operations and Player Relations Renee' Brown. "You not only have three- and two-time Olympians, but you have some talented young players who are hungry to compete alongside our veterans and help continue to build upon USA Basketball's past successes. Not only have all of them have competed together in international competitions, but the Committee also knows that they all have a respect for each other's games and they are willing to collectively come together to compete and win for the USA."

"This is a tremendous group of core players, with extensive experience in bringing home the gold," said USA and Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan. "With this group, I know we are assured of going to battle in the World Championship with our best and most proven veterans. These players understand the drive, preparation and commitment that we need to stay on top. I am confident that these experienced Olympians will set the pace for yet another gold."

The Donovan-led U.S. squad will look to defend its World Championship title at the 15th FIBA World Championship, scheduled to be played September 12-23 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Behind the play of 2002 FIBA World Championship MVP Leslie, as well as Bird, Catchings, Milton-Jones, Smith and Swoopes, the United States captured the ‘02 gold medal, successfully defending it's 1998 World Championship crown.

The U.S. owns a record seven gold medals, one silver and one bronze at the World Championship, while compiling an 80-20 (.800 winning percentage) record, including a 19-0 winning streak that dates back to the 1994 bronze medal game.

The Committee, chaired by WNBA Chief of Basketball Operations and Player Relations Reneé Brown, will use part of the WNBA season to evaluate players for the final four roster positions, which will be announced later this summer.

Donovan will be assisted on the sidelines by Connecticut Sun head coach Mike Thibault and collegiate head coaches Gail Goestenkors of Duke University (N.C.) and Dawn Staley of Temple University (Pa.).

Returning for more
Eight of the 12 members of the 2006 U.S. Olympic Team will be in Brazil to help the USA defend its World Championship title. Seven will be on the court, while Dawn Staley returns in her first stint as an assistant coach. (Photo: Getty / NBA Photos)

The eight core members possess a wealth of international experience having played in a combined 777 international games. Not only do they own 13 Olympic gold medals between them, they also have nine World Championship golds and a pair of World Championship bronze medals as Leslie and Smith were members of the 1998 USA World Championship Team; the pair teamed with Bird, Catchings, Milton-Jones and Swoopes in aiding the U.S. to gold in 2002; while Leslie and Swoopes were on the 1994 USA team that finished with the bronze medal. Further, in major international competitions, they boast a combined 35 golds, four silvers and three bronze medals. Underscoring their successful histories with the red, white and blue, USA teams with any of these eight players as a member have rolled to a striking 749-41 overall record for a 94.8 winning percentage.

Not only are the core members familiar with one another on the court, they have all been coached by Donovan in the past. Donovan, an assistant coach for the 1998 and 2002 World Championship teams that featured Leslie, Milton-Jones and Smith in ‘98 and all but Thompson and Taurasi in ‘02, was also an assistant on the sidelines in Athens where all eight core members helped lead the U.S. to gold. Additionally, Bird has played for Donovan in Seattle since the 2003 WNBA season.

Most recently, Smith featured on all three rosters during the 2006 USA Basketball Women's National Team's spring training and exhibition tour, which was headed by Donovan, assisted by Thibault in all three segments and Staley in Australia. Bird, Milton-Jones and Taurasi joined Smith on the first tour, which saw the U.S. claim a 3-0 record in Europe Mar. 2-9; the second tour of Europe, Mar. 17-27, saw Swoopes and Smith give veteran leadership as the United States again went 3-0; while on the third training segment the USA posted a 4-1 record and won the April 7-12 Australia-hosted Opals World Challenge behind the play of Smith and Thompson.

FIBA World Championship
The World Championship has been contested essentially every four years since 1953. The United States captured the first two gold medals before the beginning of the Soviet domination of women's basketball at the 1959 World Championship. The former USSR put together a string of five straight golds (1959, 1964, 1967, 1971, 1975), before the United States reclaimed gold in 1979. The Soviet Union in 1983 earned its final World Championship crown as the USA went on to capture four of the next five World Championships (1986, 1990, 1998, 2002). The only other nation to break into the gold medal column at this event is Brazil, which defeated the USA in the 1994 semifinals and went on to take the top spot that year.

FIBA conducted on Jan. 31 the official draw to determine the four preliminary round groupings for the 2006 FIBA World Championship, and the United States was placed in Group C along with China, Nigeria and Russia. Preliminary round games are scheduled for Sept. 12-14, and the top three teams from each of the four preliminary round groups will advance to the second round for the right to advance to the medal round quarterfinals. Placed in Group A were Argentina, host Brazil, South Korea and Spain; Group B includes Australia, Canada, Lithuania and Senegal; while Group D consists of Cuba, Czech Republic, France and Chinese Taipei.

The 15th FIBA World Championship format will feature a round-robin competition in preliminary round play. The top three teams from each preliminary group advance to form two second round groups consisting of six teams each. Each team's results against advancing teams from its preliminary group carries over to the second round standings, and each team will play the other three teams in the second round group whom they have not faced previously. The top four teams from those two groups will advance to the medal round quarterfinals. The gold and bronze medal games will be played Sept. 23.

2006 will mark Brazil's fourth time hosting the FIBA World Championship: Rio de Janeiro played host in 1957, and Sao Paulo was the site for the 1971 and 1983 Worlds. In all, the United States had mixed success when playing a World Championship in Brazil. The 1957 squad took home the gold with an 8-1 slate, in 1971 the U.S. finished in eighth place with a 6-2 record and in 1983 the USA squad again went 6-2, but returned with the silver medal.

Sue Bird
Getting her first taste of USA Basketball in 2000, Bird has quickly risen through the USA Basketball ranks and has helped U.S. teams roll up a 44-1 record since donning the USA's red, white and blue jersey in 2000. While still at the University of Connecticut, Bird was on the 2000 USA R. William Jones Cup Team that posted a perfect 4-0 record and captured the gold medal in Taipei, Taiwan. Bird's sole loss in USA Basketball jersey came later that summer, but not in international competition. A member of the 2000 USA Select Team, Bird and a squad of collegians in an exhibition contest fell to the 2000 USA Women's Senior National Team that went on to capture Olympic gold in Sydney.

Following on the heels of her senior campaign at UConn, Bird joined the 2002 World Championship core group during its spring training and subsequently made the final 12-member roster. She went on to help the U.S. win the Australia-hosted Opals World Challenge title prior to arriving in China for the FIBA World Championship. Playing backup to then two-time Olympian Dawn Staley and eventual ‘02 All-Worlds selection Shannon Johnson, Bird helped the United States defend its title with a perfect 9-0 record and the gold medal.

Bird returned to the court as a core member of the 2004 USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team that put together a 16-0 record in pre-Olympic preparations. She then headed to Athens, where the United States earned the gold medal with an 8-0 record.

Tamika Catchings
A 2004 Olympic and 2002 World Championship gold medalist, Catchings is the only U.S. athlete to own golds from both the junior- and senior-level Worlds after helping the United States capture gold at the 1997 Junior FIBA World Championship. Additionally, Catchings helped the USA team earn a gold medal at the 1998 R. William Jones Cup and a silver at the 1996 COPABA Junior World Championship Qualifying Tournament. During her stint in a USA Basketball uniform Catchings has aided squads not only to four golds and a silver medal, but she has also piled up a 55-3 record with her last USA Basketball loss coming against Australia in the second game of the 1997 FIBA Junior World Championship.

This is the second USA Basketball Senior National Team to list Catchings as a member of the core group. She was a hopeful during spring training for the ‘02 Worlds and her stellar play led to a nod as a member of the 2004 USA Senior National Team core group. A proven international winner, Catchings has averaged 9.0 ppg. and 5.3 rpg. in her USA Basketball career.

Lisa Leslie
Leslie has been a staple of USA Basketball teams since she began playing for her country in high school at the 1989 FIBA Junior World Championship. Since that time she has collected nine golds and one bronze medal, most notably three Olympic and two World Championship golds. In addition to being a member of the historic 1995-96 USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team and 1996 Olympic gold medal winning team, Leslie captured golds in 2000 and 2004. Competing on her third USA World Championship Team in 2002, Leslie powered the United States to gold and was named MVP of the Worlds in the process. She was also an integral part of the 1998 USA World Championship squad that earned gold and played in her first Worlds in 1994 as a member of the USA's bronze medal winning team.

The three-time USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year (1993, 1998, 2002), Leslie owns an all-time 16.0 point per game scoring average in the 201 games in which statistics are available for USA Basketball, and has never posted less than 9.0 ppg. at a tournament. She also has produced lifetime international numbers of 6.9 rpg., 1.4 apg., 1.2 bpg. and 1.3 spg., while shooting 56.5 from the field and 74.8 from the charity stripe. In all, USA teams with Leslie on the roster have produced a 205-10 won-loss record.

DeLisha Milton-Jones
Named to the 2004 USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team, Milton-Jones was sidelined after only four days of training. She suffered a torn ACL in her right knee in Jacksonville, Fla., the day before the squad was slated to travel to Cuba. After being cleared to play in the WNBA season, Milton-Jones re-injured the same knee and was forced to withdraw from the team prior to its pre-Olympic training in August.

A member of the gold medal winning 2000 U.S. Olympic and 1998 and 2002 USA World Championship squads, Milton-Jones has helped USA Basketball teams earn a total of six gold medals - the only color of medal she has ever known.

Involved in USA Basketball since the ‘94 U.S. Olympic Festival, Milton-Jones has been a member of various USA Senior National Teams, including the 1999-00 squad that compiled a 38-2 record and earned the 1999 U.S. Olympic Cup and the USA Basketball International Invitational titles prior to Sydney, the 1999 USA Senior National Team that compiled a 4-1 record during its Winter European Tour, the 1998 USA Senior National Team that rebounded to win its final two games and finish with a 2-3 record against host Australia, and in 1997 Milton-Jones helped the U.S. capture the USA Basketball Women's International Invitational title.

In all, she has posted USA Basketball averages of 6.7 ppg. and 3.9 rpg., while teams with Milton-Jones on the roster have produced a 98-9 overall record.

Katie Smith
Starting USA Basketball play in 1993, the summer following her freshman year at Ohio State University, Smith has competed for her country almost every year since, averaging 7.7 ppg. for the United States. A two-time Olympic and two-time World Championship gold medalist, Smith has also earned golds at the 1999 U.S. Olympic Cup, 1996 R. William Jones Cup and 1994 Goodwill Games, and took home silver medals from the 1997 World Championship Qualifying Tournament and 1995 World University Games. Additionally, Smith was a finalist for the 1996 U.S. Women's Olympic Team.

Most recently Smith was on hand for all 11 of the USA's 2006 spring training exhibition games, aiding the U.S. to a 10-1 slate and the Opals World Challenge title and now owns a 157-14 overall record as a member of a USA Basketball team.

Sheryl Swoopes
A three-time Olympic gold medalist, Swoopes competed on her second USA World Championship Team in 2002, helping the U.S. bring back the gold medal from China. Named to the 1989 U.S. Olympic Festival South Team, Swoopes was injured and unable to compete. Three years later, as a rising senior at Texas Tech University, Swoopes tried out for the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team. While she didn't make that squad, Swoopes returned in 1994 to help the United States finish with a bronze medal at the FIBA World Championship and then collected a gold medal as a member of the 1994 USA Goodwill Games Team.

In 1995 Swoopes was named to the USA Pan American Games Team, however the competition was canceled by COPAN after too few teams entered. Less than three months after having faced the disappointment of not competing at the Pan American Games, Swoopes, already well known in basketball circles for helping Texas Tech to the 1993 NCAA title, made the final cut for the historical 1995-96 USA Basketball Women's National Team that posted a 52-0 record, and eventually upped that to 60-0 during the 1996 Olympic Games.

Swoopes was also a member of the1999 USA Basketball Women's Winter European Tour Team that compiled a 4-1 record, while leading the team in scoring (13.4 ppg.).

After aiding the 2006 USA Women's Senior National Team to a 3-0 slate in its second European Tour, Swoopes now boasts averages of 12.4 ppg. and 2.6 apg. in a USA Basketball uniform. Additionally, teams with Swoopes on the roster have rolled up an impressive 129-2 slate.

Diana Taurasi
The youngest player on the 2004 U.S. Olympic squad, Taurasi joined the 2004 USA Senior Team less than 48 hours after winning her third NCAA title with the University of Connecticut. Following a single practice on April 8, against Japan on April 9 Taurasi was credited with 13 points, four rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots in the USA's victory. She went on to post impressive numbers in Athens, averaging 8.5 ppg. off the bench.

Before her senior team debut in ‘04, Taurasi in 2001 was a member of the USA Junior World Championship Team that posted a 6-1 record and earned the bronze medal. After leading the United States in scoring, averaging 19.3 ppg., and passing off for a team high 2.7 apg., she was selected to the five-member 2001 All-FIBA Junior World Championship Team. Her efforts also earned Taurasi USA Basketball's Female Athlete of the Month honors for July 2001. Prior to the Junior Worlds, Taurasi averaged 13.8 ppg. and 4.0 apg. in helping the U.S. women capture the USA Basketball International Invitational with a 4-0 record against Brazil, China and Japan. Taurasi got her international start as a member of the 2000 USA Basketball Women's Junior World Championship Qualifying Team that recorded a 5-0 record, earned the gold medal and received a berth in the 2001 Junior Worlds.

More recently, Taurasi joined in on the 2006 USA spring training for the first European Tour and in aiding the United States to a 3-0 mark averaged 6.7 ppg. and 3.3 apg.

In all, she has averaged 11.5 ppg. and 2.8 apg. as USA Basketball teams have secured a 32-1 mark with Taurasi on the squad.

Tina Thompson
Thompson, who helped pace the U.S. to the 2006 Opals World Challenge title and was named to the All-Opals World Challenge Team in the process, finally realized her dream of winning an Olympic gold medal in 2004 in Athens after missing out on the 2000 Olympics and 1998 and 2002 World Championship teams.

A 2000 U.S. Women's Olympic Team alternate, Thompson was selected to compete in the 1998 World Championship, but injured her knee during the USA's pre-World Championship training and was forced to withdraw. Prior to being injured, Thompson had helped the U.S. squad to a 6-1 pre-World Championship record. Four years later she was selected for the 2002 USA World Championship Team, but again was sidelined by injury.

Stepping onto the court in a USA Basketball uniform for the first time in five years, Thompson did not miss a beat and aided the ‘04 USA National Team to a 16-0 record while preparing for the USA's 8-0 gold medal run in Greece.

A member of four USA Senior National teams since 1997, Thompson participated in the USA Senior National Team's 1999 spring training camp after competing on the 1999 USA Winter European Tour Team, which saw the U.S. claim a 4-1 record. In September 1998, Thompson traveled to Australia with a USA squad that rebounded to win its final two of five games against Australia; and in helping the United States notch top honors at the 1997 USA Basketball Women's International Invitational Tournament, she was named to the all-tournament team.

Thompson first donned the red, white and blue in 1994 as a member of the 1994 USA Select Team that toured Israel and France and finished with a 3-1 record. She followed that up with a silver medal performance at the 1995 World University Games and collected a gold medal with the 1996 USA R. William Jones Cup Team.

In all, teams with Thompson on the roster have amassed a 59-8 record, while Thompson has averaged 11.5 ppg. and 5.7 rpg. throughout her USA Basketball career and since rejoining the USA in 2004, her numbers have risen to 15.3 ppg. and 6.0 rpg. to go with a 28-1 record.

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