USA Basketball National Team Notebook
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FAREWELL? – Veteran Diana Taurasi was jokingly reminded this week that she is not ancient in terms of age like fellow three-time Olympic gold medalist Sue Bird. She quickly responded that she definitely does not want to be in that category.
The truth is Bird (35) and Taurasi (34) are one year apart in age. Both are likely preparing for what be their final appearance in the Olympic Games.
“It does feel weird because 12 years ago was my first one,” Taurasi said. “And when I see Dawn (Staley) coaching us … Dawn had a great line when we were in Athens (in 2004). I think we were practicing for like an hour and she told (head coach) Van Chancellor, ‘I have alarm clocks on these sneakers and they went off and practice was over.’ So (Thursday) I looked over at her and I was like, ‘I’ve got the alarm clocks on now.’ So that kind of tells you where I’m at.”
Taurasi was a member of the U.S. Olympic gold medal teams in 2004, 2008 and 2012. If she plays in all eight games in Rio next month she will tie the team record of 32 held by Teresa Edwards and Lisa Leslie.
Taurasi is also ranked fifth all-time in team Olympic history in points (254) and assists (50), seventh in 3-point shooting percentage (.396) and eighth in rebounding (79). Ultimately, she hopes to join Edwards and Leslie, along with 2016 teammates Bird and Tamika Catchings, as the only U.S. players in program history to win four gold medals.
“You never know so I’m going to treat this one like my first one,” Taurasi said. “I’m going to really enjoy it. I’m a realist. It probably is going to be my last one and I’m going to enjoy it. I’m going to go for it.”
DOUBLE TIME – There have been 10 coaches that have led the USA Basketball National Team at the Olympic Games. Geno Auriemma is only one that has done it twice.
The experience Auriemma gained in London in 2012 has been helpful during his second four-year term. However, facing the task of winning a second gold medal in Rio is not any easier that it was four years ago.
“I’ve got a feeling when we get down there that it’s going to be torture for me,” Auriemma said. “I want it to be easier. I want to be able to enjoy it more. I want all of those things. But by my nature, I worry about everything. I’m nervous about everything. Now I know what the pitfalls are so in some ways … The first time I went in with a sense of, ‘Of course, we’re going to win.’ Now it’s, ‘Oh my God. This team is really good, that team is really good.’ Let’s put it this way, when August 22 comes around, I want to be sitting there with a gold medal and be relaxed and let out a deep breath.”
Auriemma said he is not yet ready to entertain the possibility of returning for a third tour with the U.S. National Team. That will a conversation for a later date.
“Let’s put it this way… I hope that when we get back (from Rio) that I’m in a position that they really, really want me to do it and it’s my choice,” Auriemma said. “I don’t want to go down there and come back and it’s not my choice because we lost. We’ll worry about all of that down the road.”
Said Bird: “That’s up to him. Listen, four years is a lot of time. If memory serves, he wasn’t coming back for a second one right after London. Maybe we should wait until after Rio and see what he says. But, yeah, if he wants to do it I’m sure they would be open to it. It would be up to him.”
GROWTH SPURT – Auriemma coached against Angel McCoughtry numerous times during her All-American career at Louisville. He has coached her directly since she joined the USA National Team in 2009.
Over the years, McCoughtry has grown considerably both mentally and physically. And after watching her produce eight points, a game-high seven rebounds and two assists in 22:09 off the bench in Friday’s win over Canada, Auriemma praised her for her progression.
“There’s nobody like Angel,” Auriemma said. “She’s so unique. She’s so unbelievably explosive. Her personality’s kind of infectious. She loves the game. She loves to play. I can honestly say I don’t know that I’ve seen anybody change and anybody grow up and anybody mature more than – forget since Louisville, I’m talking even since she started with us in 2009 – there’s nobody that’s made the jump that she has made in a lot of areas, in a lot of ways.”
McCoughtry, a 6-foot-1 wing, believes that her intense passion for the game was misinterpreted as her having bad attitude. These days there is no misinterpretation. And her growth as an individual and as a player is the reason why.
“I used to take everything personally,” McCoughtry said. “I didn’t know to just play through things, through adversity. You don’t have to take anything personally. Before I would let stuff linger and hold it because I was so passionate about the game. And now I’ve grown up. I’m 30 years old. I know how to just shake that stuff off. And I’m glad that Geno has recognized my growth. And I’m going to do my best to continue to grow and please him and the team as much as possible.”
McCoughtry was second on the team in scoring in London in 2012 (10.9). She was first among all teams in field goal percentage (.620, 31-of-50) and second in steals (2.5).
McCoughtry also set team Olympic single-game records for field goal percentage (1.000, 8-of-8) against China and field goals made against Turkey (10).
Through the first three exhibition games this week, McCoughtry is averaging 8.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals.
“I’m very comfortable in my role,” McCoughtry said. “I know I don’t have to go out there and score. I went in (Friday) and got an offensive rebound and passed to Elena (Delle Donne) and the crowd cheered off that. So I realized like, ‘Wow, I don’t have to be a top scorer on this team.’ Just getting that offensive rebound I’m happy to dish it off to somebody and help. I want to be a player to help others get better. I’m appreciative of my role. I’m very excited to be here. I’m very humble. I don’t want to score 20 points. I’d rather get 20 rebounds or 20 steals or deflections. So those are things I’m looking to do to help the team.”