Flexibility Gives Strength To USA Women’s National Team
The path for the USA Basketball Women’s National Team to an eventual 12-member roster for the 2014 FIBA World Championship is not a straight line. Nor is it a matter of one or two rounds of roster reductions. Instead, it is a journey that evolves as circumstances change.
Back in January, the USA Women’s National Team pool of hopefuls included 33 of the nation’s best players who were possible invitees to the team’s September training camp. By the time training camp was set to open on Sept. 8 in Annapolis, Maryland, the roster, which is determined by the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee, included 24 players in contention for a spot on the 2014 USA World Championship Team.
With seven of those players still tied up in the WNBA playoffs, 17 took the court and began the USA’s preparations. A few days later, on Sept. 14, just prior to the USA’s first international friendly against Canada, the 17 players became 13 athletes – along with the seven still in the playoffs.
And just as those 13 players arrived in Paris, France, on Sept. 17, they were joined by WNBA champions with the Phoenix Mercury and USA Basketball veterans Candice Dupree and Diana Taurasi on Sept. 18. While the team still awaits news on whether Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury) will be able to play due to an injury, the roster currently sits at 15 players vying for 12 spots.
That may seem like a lot to keep up with, but it’s nothing new for USA Basketball, its players or for USA head coach Geno Auriemma (University of Connecticut), who dealt with a similar scenario prior to the 2010 FIBA World Championship, when the final team was named the day before the first game.
“Obviously you’ve got two players coming in that have a tremendous amount of confidence right now after the kind of season that they had and winning the WNBA Championship,” Auriemma said. “You’ve got two of the best offensive players in the WNBA. Diana’s had so much international experience at World Championships and Olympics, Candice was with us in the 2010 World Championship and played great. So, I think we have a great group and our group just got a lot better.”
For the players, the strategy overwhelmingly seems to be to do your best and let the rest play itself out.
They all will get their chance to impress the staff in the near future, and not only in twice-daily practices. The USA has three exhibition games lined up in Paris, including Australia on Sept. 19, China on Sept. 20 and France on Sept. 21, as well as a contest against Czech Republic in Prague, Czech Republic, on Sept. 23.
“The ones who are here, we are excited,” said Odyssey Sims (Tulsa Shock), who hopes to make her first senior-level 12-member roster. “We are ready to play on Friday. Whatever happens after this weekend – if I don’t make it, if I do make it – it’s still a great experience. The guys that are here, we are still working hard. I don’t think anybody is worried about what is coming up this weekend, because nothing else really matters except playing hard. Everybody brings something different to the team, so we are all just focused on doing what we do best.”
For the more recent additions, they hope to ride the momentum of tremendous WNBA seasons right into a USA jersey.
“I’m trying to be a fast learner, so I don’t hold up the team,” Dupree said. “But usually after seeing it once, I pick it up pretty quickly, and they are doing a great job of communicating. So, that always helps.”
And despite the little time they had off for rest, neither Dupree nor Taurasi said they had any doubt about reporting to training camp for USA Basketball.
“It’s just always fun coming back, seeing everyone,” Taurasi said. “This group has been together for a while now – a couple of newcomers, but we all get along really well. We all enjoy playing with each other. I took a couple of days, and now it feels good to be back with everyone.”
“There was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to come here, regardless of the outcome of the WNBA season,” said Dupree. “It was just a matter of when I would get here. It’s always nice to win a championship, and next is a medal at the World Championship.”