Additional Quotes: U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team 101, Spain 72 (8/20/16)
USA head coach Geno Auriemma
Obviously, it was an incredible tournament for us. From the very first game that we played to today, with very few exceptions I thought we played basketball at a really high level. I can’t say enough about our players. How quickly they’ve come together, how much they’ve been able to accomplish in less than a month that we’ve been together. It wasn’t as easy as sometimes it looked. These last two games especially with France and today against Spain. These are very good teams that we’re playing, and you could see that it wasn’t just a cake walk, that it was a struggle. Then finally, because of our depth and because of the experience on our team, we were able to separate ourselves. But the way we played, we respected our opponents and we respected the game itself, we earned a lot of respect from a lot of people around the world, and I’m really proud of that.
On Elena Delle Donne:
Going in, everybody knew that Elena is one of the most talented players in the WNBA. In fact she was MVP last year. But, she had never really played international basketball at this level. She had played one tour with us for about 10 days in Spain and that was really her only time playing at this level with the (USA) National Team. We talked a lot about the expectation level and that we wanted to obviously be able to trust her, that’s a big thing on this team. And from the beginning she fit right in, she blended right in with the other players. Obviously you can see her talent. She got better and better every game. We really challenged her to do some things that maybe she doesn’t have to do on her team, which is the case for everybody here. But, when Elena gets it going on the offensive end. Especially, you’re bringing her off the bench, people are already worn out a little bit, and here she comes, and you’ve got to deal with something a little different. She’s a unique talent. You don’t see players 6-5 that can do what she can do, and she is only going to get better. She’s probably in the same situation that Sue was talking about. Elena, Stewie (Breanna Stewart), B.G. (Brittney Griner), they’re part of the future and I hope they paid attention and learned from Sue, Tamika and Diana and even bigger the things that Sue and D and Tamika do off the court. I hope they were paying attention. On the court, they’re not going to have any issues, none whatsoever.
Could you put into words what Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Tamika have meant to the program?
It’s hard. It’s hard to quantify it with words because there are some things they do that you can’t even describe. Some of it is the commitment that they’ve had … their willingness to do it whenever they’re asked to do it. Their passion for the game, their passion for USA Basketball, the way they were content as Sue was saying in Athens to just wait their turn. And even in some cases when they have been good enough to play … a lot, they knew they had to pay their dues somewhat. But they set an example that today, I think a lot of it is missing … there is a lot of entitlement out there in sports today and you’ve got three hall of fame players, Sue, Diana and Tamika Catchings, that don’t think they’re really entitled to anything and they feel like they have to work really hard every day and earn it. No matter what they’ve done, they feel they have to earn it every day. That’s how they show up. That’s how they practice. That’s how they prepare. In addition to all the wins and all the gold medals, I think the attitude and the example that they set is probably one that the next group is going to benefit from more than anything else.
How helpful was it to have four Lynx teammates and their head coach as one of your assistants for the Olympics?
It was interesting because we had four from Minnesota, two from Phoenix and two from Seattle. So that’s pretty good when you consider that. Every little bit helps when you have a limited practice schedule. For sure, having four players that play together every day in Minnesota and having Cheryl be here was incredibly helpful and incredibly important to the whole success of what we did these past two weeks. I kind of like Cheryl being here because I love Lindsey Whalen and I love Seimone and I love Syl. I just love listening to Cheryl get all upset at Maya about whatever she wasn’t doing so I could say to myself, ‘hmm, well things haven’t changed that much.’ So I got a kick of watching how she interacted with Maya and knowing that I had the same experience. How great it is to work with a player that great. Coaches are picked sometimes for the wrong reasons to represent a particular country, a lot of politics involved. Cheryl was here because she’s a great coach, a great, great coach … as good a coach as we have in America and she kind of proved it these last two weeks.
Why do you think the gap between the USA and the rest of the world has widened?
Things go in cycles. It’s very difficult to stay at a real high level for a long, long time. We happen to have an organization in the United States that’s committed in so many ways, both emotionally and financially. There is a tremendous commitment to winning gold medals. That probably accounts for a lot of our success. We have a system of college basketball that helps players grown during their four years. We don’t dominate nearly as much at the 17-, 18-year-old level. The foreign players are way further advanced than our American players are at that age, way further advanced. But then the college experience really helps them prepare and then going overseas and all the other stuff. So, for every Brazil that isn’t as good, Canada is way better. For ever Russia that is not as dominant, now Spain was in the finals of the World Championship and they were in the finals today. For every maybe Australia struggles, Serbia, such a small country, has their men and their women playing in the (medal round). Those other countries will come back. The Russian 18-year olds were phenomenal, they were great this year. They won the world championship I think at that age. There is a cycle that you go through. Right now we’re at a right high level. We’re at a real high level that maybe no one has ever seen before. That’s not because necessarily they’ve gotten weaker. I think it’s because women’s basketball just keeps getting stronger, stronger and stronger in the US. But with this tournament, if you watch all the games, how many overtime games, how many close games, the fact that Australia is the number two team in the world and they got knocked out. France played in the gold medal game in 2012 and they lost to Serbia today. So a lot of good stuff is happening. If you just took us out of the tournament, this would be an amazing tournament but unfortunately we’re not going anywhere.
On winning gold:
Very emotional process. Coach kind of brought to light today that it hasn’t even been a month since our team was assembled. We got together on the 23rd (July), and it has kind of been a whirl-wind trying to get 12 of the top players from the U.S. together to win a gold medal. Now we’re standing here, we fulfilled our goal, our dreams. A lot of players got their first gold medal today. We got our third today. We’re just thankful to be in this position.
I’m just really happy. We just did something that’s pretty incredible. When you get together as a team and you know you only have a month to do something, it’s remarkable in so many ways that we were able to put this together and do it in a fashion that leaves no question marks. This put us on the map as arguable one of the best teams, and we had fun doing it. Not only that, you can talk about the 100-point games or the margin of victory, but we played our butts off. We really did. I don’t think I’ve ever been around a group that’s this talented and also played this hard. Again, I’m just super happy. I’m proud of my teammates. I’m proud I’m part of this group. I’m happy for coach Auriemma and the rest of the staff, and it’s just a really fun day today.
Reflect on Athens in 2004 when you began this Olympic journey:
It seems like a really long time ago and in some ways it is. We knew the three of us were on that team to learn, to see what it meant to represent the United States at an Olympic event and to take the torch and run with it. We were really lucky to have the older players, the veteran players on that team, show us. Both with their play and with their words. We saw Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Dawn Staley, Tina Thompson, these are Hall of Fame players, we saw them not care about points, not care about rebounds, not care about any stat on the state sheet and only care about the gold medal. And we learned from that. I think hopefully we’ve done them proud as well, because that’s exactly how we played in each of the Olympics that we’ve been in. We just go out there and try to win.
When did you know you would be playing today? What do you think about the future of USA Basketball?
Yesterday at practice, I was able to do pretty much everything with minimal pain so yeah I knew at that point I was playing. There was no question mark. I figure on this team, all I have to do is dribble it up and pass it. I don’t have to do much anyway so I could probably do that on half of a leg. As far as the future goes, I feel really confident about it. I really do. I understand there are some question marks with the point guard spot and things like that. But I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. There is plenty of time to get it figured out and you look at the talent: the three youngsters on this team and there is the second-timers and we just have such a large amount of talent in our country. We push each other every summer in the WNBA and we show each other what it takes. I think that talent is going to speak for itself.
Is there a bit of bittersweet that this may be your last Olympics?
I’m just happy right now. I’m not really thinking about it to be honest. I know that’s probably the answer you’re looking for. I’m just going to enjoy this. No better time than the present.
Thoughts on the future of USA Basketball?
As far as the future goes, I firmly believe that things have changed in women’s basketball as far as preparation for international experience and if you rewind to 2002 or 2004, people weren’t really going overseas the way they are now. We would go into those tournaments, 2002, 2004, and not know a thing about these players, not know about the teams, not even know how to pronounce their names. Now we’re in practice with the scout team talking about Palau, she’s lefty, she does this, she does that. We know everything about these players and what that comes a certain confidence to play against this style that even if you haven’t been on the national team, it doesn’t mean … I knew in 2004, I recognized quickly that I need to get my butt overseas or else I’m going to struggle with this. Now, everybody goes overseas so there is no element of surprise which is something you might see with our men’s team. They’re not used to these referees. They’re not used to this. For us, it’s normal. Now there is a difference I will say … just because you’ve seen the international style doesn’t mean you know how to play with the US National Team. There is something different that comes with that especially I think at the point guard spot. You do have to be willing to manage, to serve others, to make sure everyone is in the right spot regardless of your own play. So there is something different with that but I don’t know Lindsay Whalen, look at her … she didn’t start USA Basketball until 2010 I believe. That was her first international experience in terms of the national team but she had been playing overseas four or five years prior to that and it prepped her pretty well I think. It remains to be seen obviously but I don’t feel as dramatic as some of you guys might.
Are you soaking up this moment?
I am. It’s been quite the journey – shed some tears earlier. This is just an amazing group of ladies. I had such a good time, getting to know them and playing with them, to the practices to the games. It’s just been fun.
Were you reflecting on the medal stand about all the sacrifices you made?
Yes, and I’m not finished yet. At the beginning of the season, we talked about what the end of the season would look like and how those emotions would kind of flow. Now, the Olympics have come and gone, and now we get back to reality. I feel like I’ve been kind of floating the last month being here and being a part of this team and just really having a good time.
Can you put into words being the one of only five women basketball players to have four gold medals?
Not many people have an opportunity to play in the Olympics, one, let alone two, three and four. To be among that group, select individuals that have represented the game so well on and off the court, and to be one of those, I’m blessed for all the opportunities I’ve had and all the lives that I’ve been able to impact by using the platform of basketball. And, all the places I’ve gone. I was thinking about that earlier today and am just thankful for the opportunity.
On winning gold:
It’s a blessing to be in this position and have this gold medal around my neck. I don’t take it for granted, being on this team. I’m happy to be a part of bringing the USA a sixth straight gold medal in women’s basketball.
Elena Delle Donne
Does it feel easy when you win games by these margins?
That’s something I learned being a part of this, because it does look easy from afar. That’s kind of what I always thought watching it from afar, but being a part of it, it’s tough. It’s really tough. It’s demanding, and you have to be at your greatest self every single day for this team. It was pretty awesome.
What is it about USA women at this Olympics that we’ve seen such success? Is it Title IX?
Title IX for sure has had a big part in that. Being able to compete on the college level. We’ve got some fierce women. And what I think is so awesome is, each Olympics it feels like there are more and more stories told about these incredible women, and hopefully we’ll continue to see some more.
How long do you think the USA Women’s basketball dominance will continue?
Hopefully as long as I’m suited up for USA Basketball. I plan to continue this. Like I said, it’s been really hard. It’s not easy at all. We’ve got some great players who are extremely motivated.
It’s been quite a journey…. how do you feel?
I’m kind of sad it’s over, but if it had to end this is the right way for it to end.
Can you believe it’s I believe 66 out of 69 wins now since going back to 1976?
It’s crazy. It’s just the excellence over the years is so impressive, and you know you have to credit the older players who just kind of show you the ropes and teach you the way of USA Basketball. Now it’s going to be our turn to do it.
What are you going to take away the most from this experience in Rio and the Olympics?
Just the relationships with my teammates. I thought I knew everyone before this experience, but going through it together build bonds that I never even thought would exist, so this was so special.
Tell me about the feeling of being a part of this team, winning the gold medal and just being able to be a part of this entire experience.
This experience has been awesome, and not just the basketball part, but just the relationships and bonds that have been built with my teammates. It’s been really special, and I’m super sad it’s over, but if it had to end it ended the right way, and I’m so glad we could share this one together.
How are you feeling? How does it feel to won gold?
It was great. I never would have thought I would actually tear up. Out of all my medals this is the first time that I teared up. I think a lot of it I just have to put to the coaches and all the hard work they did to get us here, and our captains just coming back for the fourth one. So, it was very emotional today.
I saw you biting on the gold, how did it taste?
It tastes great. I want more gold.
How does it feel to win gold?
I’m just overwhelmed right now with excitement. I’m just really overwhelmed. I knew I was going to cry, but I didn’t know what moment I was going to cry but when we were standing there and our flag was going up and they played the national anthem, I got teary-eyed. That’s what got me. That’s what choked me up.
Winning a fourth gold medal:
Just to be in the group, just to be able to be on bench and to be able to win gold with players who have won four is just amazing. It’s an honor to be on the court with them, to share the court with them. I’m just super excited right now. I just won my first gold.
This was your first gold medal, what are you going to pass on to the next group of rookies on the team?
No, no, no. I’m not leading. I’m still a baby, and there are definitely women who are ahead of me, and so I’m still learning and we’re just going to keep it going, keep the legacy going and how we conduct ourselves on and off the court, every day in practice, we’re just going to keep it going.
First gold medal, first Olympic – it probably ended the way you would expect it. Tell me what your feeling right now and how excited you are.
I’m overwhelmed with happiness. I got teary-eyed, I started to tear up when they played our national anthem and the flag was going up, that’s when the waterworks came. And, I knew it was, I just won gold and that means everything to me right now. It means everything to me and my family to represent my country and get this. I so excited right now.
It seems this team really focuses on how it represents itself, is that true?
Absolutely, it’s so important that we show our poise, humility. People may have a certain stereotype about us like, ‘Hey, they’re cocky,’ but we’re not. We love to have fun and work hard and play.
How does it feel to be a part of that winning streak?
That’s unreal. We need to be on a Wheaties box.
You’ve got a lot going on. You’re getting married; you’re opening up an ice cream store; you just got another gold medal. What are your thoughts when you think about all that?
Whew! Wow, I didn’t even think about it like that. But you know what? It’s a wonderful time, and I’m very happy and I’m very excited about everything. So it’s a good thing.
How did you think the team played against Spain?
I think we played very well. It was tough in the beginning like it has been the whole tournament but our key is our bench. Coming off the bench we don’t lose anything, and we’ve been able to wear teams down.
What’s it feel like to get this gold medal?
It feels great, it’s even better than the first.
Looking back at the tournament:
You play these eight games, and you want to win so bad. The one thing we didn’t do is we didn’t take any possessions off. We played every single game like it a gold medal game, and that’s why I think you see everyone is emotionally and physically spent right now. And that takes a certain character team and individuals. I’ve never been a part of anything like this.
It’s huge. It says a lot about the people that run USA Basketball. It says a lot about the youth in our country that when you put this jersey on, there’s a level, and it’s not necessarily just basketball, it’s a way to be a great teammate. We showed that in this tournament.
How are you feeling right now?
Just grateful. It’s just special. It’s one thing to do something unexpected, but it’s another thing to do what you’re expected to do – year after year, game after game, quarter after quarter. And, this team didn’t get complacent. I think that’s a sign of a true champion, someone who loves the game and plays for the right reasons. Every quarter that we stepped on the court, we respected the game, we respected each other and we did everything we needed to do to deserve this gold.
Has it sunk in yet?
Not yet. We went through this whole process from start to finish and now coming home with a gold medal from the Olympics. It is unbelievable.
Can you talk about your role of coming in and doing whatever it takes to win games?
That’s been my focus since the first day we started. Whenever it’s my turn, go in and do whatever I can. I tried to help as much as I could today.
How special is this group?
Unbelievable. It’s been a lot of fun, and I don’t think there could be another group like this. Just the way we bonded on and off the court. Everyone is unselfish – doesn’t matter about stats or anything like that as long as we’re going home with the gold.
You’ve won four NCAAs (title) – you’ve won a lot:
This is in a league of its own. This is a different kind of toughness to be able to win gold medal just because you come together with 11 other great players, best players in the world, and we had two weeks to prepare really. Then we got her and played well and acted like we been playing with each together for the entire year, and it was a lot of fun.
Looking back at the tournament:
You play these eight games and you want to win so bad. The one thing we didn’t do is we didn’t take any possessions off. We played every single game like it a gold medal game and that’s why I think you see everyone is emotionally and physically spent right now. And that takes a certain character team and individuals. I’ve never been a part of anything like this.
It’s huge. It says a lot about the people the run USA Basketball. It says a lot about the youth in our country that when you put this jersey on, there’s a level and it’s not necessarily just basketball, it’s a way to be a great teammate. We showed that in this tournament
Thoughts on the game:
Tonight was a good game. Spain is a tough team. They really pushed us. We worked hard this month to get to this point, really our whole lives to get here. We’re glad we played well tonight.
What were the keys to the game?
I thought that Spain played great. I thought that we were able to get a good run going to end the half. We got it going. In the second half, we had another great run, and it felt like we were able to get the momentum.
What is the secret of the USA team?
A lot of hard work, played as a team, a very unselfish team, lot of great players playing together very unselfishly. It is the way we play. We play really hard, and we play together as a team. That’s the main thing.
General comments about USA Basketball Women’s National Team’s successful tradition:
It’s great. You know you just want to keep working hard, because everybody that’s come before you has done that and played so well. Now this team can be a part of that, and that’s a pretty cool thing.
Do you think people appreciate what this team has done?
Yeah, yeah I do. And I know we’re happy it. We know what we’ve done, we know the hard work we’ve put in and all the unselfish players on the team. We play really hard, we play really well together, and I think that people appreciate that. I know our coaches, our families and our fans do, so it ended up being a really good tournament for us.