USA Basketball Women's National Team Training Camp Set To Tip-Off Sunday
Times used to be much simpler for the USA Basketball Women’s National Team in its quest to win an Olympic gold medal.
The players did not have commitments to their WNBA and European teams. The team, together, could train often. It could play numerous exhibition games in an attempt to galvanize team chemistry.
Those times are a thing of the distant past. The training periods are scarce now. So, too, are exhibition games. Yet, through it all, the U.S. has continuously proven to be the best in the world in women’s basketball.
The USA National Team, which has won five straight Olympic gold medals, will begin a three-day training camp Sunday at the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center on the campus of the University of Connecticut. It will mark the first time that the team will meet in more than four months.
"You get nervous sometimes, looking on the outside now, because you know that teams that play together there’s chemistry and adjusting on the fly,’’ said Katie Smith, winner of three Olympic gold medals and a member of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee. "And I know that’s why. Continuity, whether it’s coaches being around longer and then with USA Basketball we have continuity with a lot of players playing multiple Olympics. All of that helps to kind of form some continuity, but it does speak to the commitment of the players and the unselfishness and basically the priority of the main goal which is to win a gold medal.’’
The USA trained and played four games (4-0) during a European tour of Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic last Oct. 2-10. From there, many players tended to their individual commitments overseas.
Led by USA National Team head coach Geno Auriemma, there will be 16 players in camp in the coming days. The list is highlighted by three-time Olympic gold medalists Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi (2004, 2008, 2012); two-time gold medalist Seimone Augustus; and 2012 Olympians Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen.
Practice sessions will be held Sunday and Monday at 11 a.m. Tuesday will begin at 10 a.m. Each session is expected to run approximately two hours.
"I don’t know if this is going to be a make-or-break three days, like you just cost yourself a spot on the Olympic team,’’ Auriemma said. "We’ve got Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles and Candace Parker that were on the (2012) Olympic team that aren’t here (because they are competing in China). So what do you punish them for not being here? I don’t know. I don’t know that that’s the key why it’s important. I think it’s important because you need to make a commitment to USA Basketball, and you unless you have a good reason not to be here you need to be here. And if you want to be on the team, either this year or next time, then you need to show that you can make that commitment. And that’s as important as anything else we’re doing.’’
This will represent the final training camp before the 12-player Olympic roster is finalized this spring. The next time the team reconvenes will be in July to begin final preparation for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro Aug. 5-21.
"Obviously, (three days) is not enough,’’ Auriemma said. 'But it’ll be enough to get done what we need to get done. Offensively, what are some of the things that we’re going it try to do. Is it going to be just a continuation of what we were doing before? Is it going to be some new things? There’s going to be some new faces and how do they blend in? Are they part of the offense? Do they understand? Do they mix well with others? It’s just get a feel basically more than anything.’’
Aside from the accomplished veterans in camp, there are numerous players seeking to realize their goal of landing a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team for the first time. Reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player Elena Delle Donne and 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner are two of these notable players, along with University of Connecticut senior All-American Breanna Stewart.
Stewart is the lone college player among the list of finalists. However, she averaged 7.8 points and 4.5 rebounds during the European Tour last fall and was a member of the 2014 USA World Championship team that won the gold medal in Turkey.
"What I hope to accomplish is just to come in there and play really well, have confidence,’’ Stewart said. "Obviously, things aren’t always going to go your way. But you’re playing against the best people in the world and nobody else is experiencing that except me. And just realizing that and kind of really taking pride in that, but also going and doing as much as I can there. You just want to make sure you leave with nothing left on the plate.’’
University of Connecticut associate head coach Chris Dailey, University of Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti and Dallas Wings coach Fred Williams will be assisting Auriemma as court coaches during the training camp.
"It’s not boot camp. It’s not us wanting to weed out anybody,’’ Auriemma said. "We’re coming here to get acclimated to some of the things that we’ve been doing. A lot of these guys have played for me already in the Olympics and in World Championships. So it’s just adding to some of the stuff that we’ve already done. This is the last time we’ll get together before July. So it’s going to be kind of important.’’