One Year Out …
Just like the old Jerry Reed tune, ‘East Bound And Down,’ otherwise known as the theme song to Smokey and the Bandit, said: we’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
One year from today – October 5, 2014 – two teams will take to the court in Turkey to battle it out for the FIBA World Championship gold medal. Due to the nearly year-round schedule that most women’s basketball players keep, the USA National Team will have about 10-14 days to train over the next year. There’s tomorrow, possibly a few days in the spring and at best one to two weeks prior to the World Championship tip-off on Sept. 27, 2014.
That’s not much time to gel as a team.
However, unlike the Bandit, the USA Basketball Women’s National Team has made this run before.
Since the historic 1995-96 USA Basketball Women’s National Team compiled an overall 60-0 record and captured the Olympic gold medal, the USA National Team’s preparation time has gotten shorter and shorter. Because of that, the athletes understand the importance mini-camps like the one going on this weekend in Las Vegas play in the overall success of the USA National Team program. After all, despite the limited training time, the USA has posted an 80-1 record in major international competitions from 1996 through 2012, striking gold at five-straight Olympics, two FIBA World Championships and one FIBA Americas Championship. The only blip on the radar was in 2006 when the USA fell to Russia 75-68 in the semifinal, but rallied to earn bronze with a 99-59 dismantling of host Brazil.
Because they look at each day of training together as a step toward the top of the podium next summer, players remained confident that the lack of training time won’t hinder their success in Turkey next summer. Not only does the USA have a wealth of professional talent from which to choose, there are some highly talented young collegiate athletes in the pipeline, six of whom are in Las Vegas this weekend to work alongside and learn from seasoned veterans.
USA Basketball spoke with USA head coach Geno Auriemma; USA National Team veterans Jayne Appel, Sue Bird, Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi; and four-time USA junior team member Nneka Ogwumike about the training camp, next year’s FIBA World Championship and the college athletes attending the USA’s Oct. 4-6 mini-camp.
USA head coach Geno Auriemma (University of Connecticut)
What kind of progression have you seen from yesterday to today?
So much progress was made in one day. It seems to me that the players really embraced what we did yesterday. They came back today, retained a lot of the stuff. They were competitive. They did the two things I think are really important. They tried to assert themselves individually with the understanding that this is one team and trying to play under the team concept. I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I think tomorrow is going to be an even better day than today.
Today marks one year before the 2014 FIBA World Championship gold medal game. You have tomorrow, maybe a few days next spring and possibly about a week prior to the start of the World Championship.
Yeah, we don’t have a lot of time, 365 days seems like a long time, but it’s not. So, we made some progress the last couple of days. We’ll cut it down a little bit for the spring, we’ll have a training camp. I know the WNBA is working really hard to try to adjust their season so that we have some time before the World Championship, but again we deal with that all the time with USA Basketball. It’s nothing that we haven’t had to do in the past.
I feel really, really, really good about where we are. I feel good about our options. There seemed to be last go-round, very limited options. Like, ‘oh my gosh, we don’t have so-and-so, so-and-so and so-and-so.’ Right now we’ve got five players who aren’t here, who are playing in the WNBA Finals. And yet, if that had happened in the past, you would look around and go, ‘what’s the point?’ But we looked around and said that for whatever reason, even if those five players weren’t available to us, we feel pretty good about it. Obviously we’d feel really good if those five were here. But, that shows the progress that we’ve made as a program.
Jayne Appel (San Antonio Silver Stars)
As an observer (shoulder injury), you have a different perspective in that you’re able to watch the entire practice. That said, what do you think about all the talent on the court out here?
It’s great. Today was a lot more competitive. People were kind of getting into the flow of things, relaxing a little bit and playing basketball. You can see some groups who are really starting to work well together, which is good to see.
How important is it for the future of USA Basketball to have some collegiate athletes out here?
It’s awesome. They’re doing really well. They’ve come out and held their own, and then some. They’re seeing how it’s done from players like (Tamika) Catchings, players who have been in their shoes before, who have worked their way up, they’re kind of learning that method and the way it works for USA Basketball.
Today marks one year before the 2014 FIBA World Championship gold medal game. What does it take to win that gold medal?
Everything, everyone filling in the right roles. Realizing you’re either going to win or lose as a team is the most important thing. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters – going out and giving 110 percent effort because there’s no going back to yesterday.
Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks)
How have the last two days gone for you?
It’s great. It’s a privilege to be invited to this. I’m really excited to be able to see some of my former USA Basketball teammates, some of my LA Sparks teammates, some Stanford teammates, and even people I’ve played against. It’s always good to collaborate and work together with an amazing coach and the best players who are playing right now.
What have you been doing to make yourself standout?
Just do what I do, mostly just try to play as hard as I can. I just try to play every possession as hard as I can. I don’t want to have any regrets when I step off the court. I want to say that I gave it all I could and I learn with everything; I know that I don’t do everything perfect, but I want them to know that I’m playing hard and going out there and doing whatever a team player needs to do.
After playing against Geno Auriemma in college, what’s it like now being coached by him?
It’s great. To play under a coach who obviously coaches a team that you’ve had such a serious rivalry with over the years is great. He’s very accomplished, very decorated as a coach and it’s an honor to be able to play under him. He knows what he’s doing and he makes us feel comfortable out there, he makes me feel comfortable out there at least, but I’m sure I’m speaking for everybody else also. I learn a lot when he’s out there. He doesn’t confuse anyone, which is great. It’s definitely very exciting to be able to play under him.
Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks)
How have the last two days been?
It’s been good. A lot of people have showed what they’re capable of. A lot of people have come here and surprised some people. Obviously we have a lot of new faces, a lot of young talent. Overall, these last two days have been great.
Who surprised you or stood out?
There have been a lot of young players. Kayla McBride, she’s played extremely well. She’s knocking down the shot. I didn’t realize how strong and how much of a pro body she has already. Obviously (Breanna) Stewart has played amazing. Those are two of the young players that have really stood out.
As someone who came out and played with the USA National Team while still in college, how important is it for these college athletes to be out here and gain this kind of experience?
I think it’s great for young guys to get out, get this experience and be able to play at the highest level with the national team. It’s a lot of fun because this is what you dream of doing, ever since you were younger, it’s to come out and play with the senior national team, try to get on the Olympic team and win a gold medal.
Today marks one year before the 2014 FIBA World Championship gold medal game. How important would it be for you to be playing for that 365 days from now?
It would definitely mean a lot. That’s one of the things I haven’t done yet, haven’t been able to do yet. We fell short in 2006 and then I was hurt in 2010, so I’m excited and working hard to hopefully achieve that.