Intensity On the Rise In Day 2 Of Women's National Team Mini-Camp
Las Vegas, Nevada
• VIDEO: Maya Moore Feature
• GALLERY: Day 2 Action
There are only so many roster spots available on the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team final roster — 12, to be exact — so while everyone at this week’s three-day USA Basketball Women’s National Team mini-camp is on the same team in a general sense it’s in the back of their minds that cuts have to be made next year for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Those decisions from the selection committee start with impressions made during camps like this one and days like Tuesday, when head coach Geno Auriemma turned up the intensity to create an environment with more stakes that’s meant to bring out the players’ best.
“They want to show off to each other that, ‘Hey, I’m better than you so let’s get matched up.’ I think that’s part of their DNA,” Auriemma said. “These guys are competitors so we put them in situations where every little thing we do there’s a winner and a loser.”
Many of the drills at the camp, held at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center, are designed simply to test fitness levels. However, the scrimmages and mini-games, which took place over the majority of day two’s practice, are meant to test the players’ ability to prove their worth by winning individual battles and doing whatever’s necessary to come out on top.
“That’s by far the best part, when we get to play and compete,” said wing Elena Delle Donne. “Everyone’s so competitive and fierce that it’s a lot of fun when we’re keeping score and there’s something to win here.”
Winning doesn’t mean just scoring, either. Finding a role that makes those around you better is a desired asset when it comes to putting together the best team, something South Carolina junior Tiffany Mitchell has taken to heart in her first camp with the organization’s top team.
“Just seeing if you can create for other people and make them better instead of trying to show what you can do, I think that’s what they’re looking for the most,” Mitchell said.
Some of the veterans shoulder larger responsibilities than what’s expected of the younger group but many of the ideals are the same. The best way to make sure the culture remains at the level needed to chase a sixth-straight Olympic gold medal next year is to not hold anything back when given opportunities like this week.
“It’s good to come here and compete for the same cause but you better everyone else when you go hard against each other,” said forward/center Candace Parker. “Everyone raises their level.”
Veteran Guards Not Letting Up
Eventually it happens to every player, even the elite ones. One day their bodies just don’t respond the same way and in a group as competitive as the one assembled in Las Vegas there are plenty of candidates ready and willing to take those available minutes.
Seimone Augustus and Sue Bird, with nine gold medals in the Olympics andFIBA World Championships between them, aren’t ready to give up their spots and move aside just yet.
“You’re always thinking to yourself, ‘At what point does Seimone slow down and doesn’t have it anymore?’ Well, it’s not happening,” Auriemma said. “She’s not slowing down, she still has it and she’s still way better than 90 percent of the guys out here. At what
one point does someone like Sue slow down? She’s still the best point guard out here.”
Injury in 2014 Pushes Delle Donne
The USA Women’s National Team’s last mini-camp in Las Vegas was in Oct. 2013 and Delle Donne was one of the first-time participants with her eyes on the 2014 FIBA World Championship. Then that time came, and a back injury suffered during the WNBA Finals forced her to the sidelines.
With another opportunity this time around, Delle Donne wants to make sure she does everything she can to make sure, outside of another injury, she’s involved in next year’s Olympics.
“It’s always hard when you have an injury that won’t let you do something that you’ve been looking to do your entire life,” she said. “It’s something that’s really motivated me in this camp to make my mark as best as I can.”