Las Vegas, Nevada
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After the final buzzer sounded, USA Basketball Women’s National Team head coach Geno Auriemma gathered his players around one last time before this week’s three-day mini-camp ended. There were several messages, but one of the most important was that the evaluations for the team that will compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, don’t end when they leave Las Vegas.
The five-member selection committee will have their eyes on players moving forward into the WNBA season and beyond as they look for the pieces that will best fit together to chase a sixth-straight Olympic gold medal.
“Give us a reason that we have to have you,” Auriemma told the group. “Not just want you here, but have to have you.”
Several of USA Basketball’s top players didn’t participate in this camp at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center, including Tamika Catchings, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi, though the latter was still in town cheering from the sidelines. Their absences gave more court time to players who could be big factors in the next wave of USA Basketball talent, though Auriemma emphasized that they don’t necessarily have to wait their turn.
Experience gives the veterans an advantage but they have to prove their worth the same as everyone else.
“You have to earn your way onto this team, and you’re going to make this team based on merit,” Auriemma said. “Because guess what, we’ve won Olympics and we’ve won World Championships with you and without you.”
Forward/center Breanna Stewart has a few USA Basketball gold medals already on her resume, including the 2014 FIBA World Championship, and next year could be her first shot at the Olympics. She still has another season to play for Auriemma at Connecticut but in the time Stewart has spent around USA Basketball her coach has seen her transform into a “completely different player.” The goal is for that to continue.
“If I can keep gaining experience and realizing what I need to get better at, then I can take that back to school and get better this summer and hopefully make another appearance at training camp at the end of fall,” Stewart said.
Getting another invite is the ideal
for scenario for each player who participated in this camp. Some won’t make it, and even many who do won’t make the final Olympic s roster.
It’s a reality of the system but the fate it still in the players’ hands, Auriemma said. What they do next matters, and then down the road the difficult job of paring the group down is the challenge for the group tasked with naming the final roster.
“I feel sorry for the committee,” said guard Skylar Diggins, “because picking 12 players is going to be tough with all this talent.”
Moore Only Knows One Speed
Auriemma had been a little worried about the players letting up or getting sloppy on the third and final day of mini-camp but outside of one lopsided scrimmage he was pleased with the results.
Overall he liked the group’s performance throughout camp. Players took great efforts to work within the team structure and not just be the stars they are for their regular teams. Well, most of them did.
“Everybody was trying to blend in, except Maya Moore,” he said. “Maya just dominates every situation she’s in.”
Bird Gets Social
It takes a while to cultivate team chemistry, and with only three days together it’s not the easiest thing to accomplish. In an attempt to make up for that, veteran guard Sue Bird said she tries to come out of her shell earlier and more often to create relationships within the group.
Bird is an expert on both USA Basketball and Auriemma, whom she played for at Connecticut, so she has a lot to offer as a leader. And when camp gets started she forces herself to provide some of those insights sooner than later so that by the time it’s done she’s been able to add some elements to the team’s chemistry.
“That kind of stuff usually needs a lot of time to develop and we don’t have a lot of time, so you want to get a jump start on it,” Bird said.