Dawn Of A New Era Starts Today For USA Women’s National Team
The quest to winning gold at the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup (Sept. 22-30, 2018) begins this weekend for the USA Basketball Women’s National Team. With a total of 17 invitees on its roster, the USA Women’s National Team’s training camp will tip-off Saturday, Sept. 30, and will conclude Monday, Oct. 1.
Making her USA National Team head coaching debut is University of South Carolina mentor Dawn Staley, who has been involved with coaching on the national team level since 2006 after playing on USA Basketball teams from 1989-2004.
Having worked her way up to the forefront of the USA Basketball ladder, Staley is ready to embrace the challenging journey that lies ahead.
“With it being the first training camp, I think the biggest thing we have to formulate is chemistry,” she said. “From the staff to the players [we must develop chemistry] knowing that we don’t have a lot of time to prep. It’s good that I’ve worked with Jeff [Walz], Jen [Rizzotti]; I haven’t worked with Sue [Semrau], but we’ve played against each other so much and I’ve seen her on the recruiting trail that I don’t think it will be tough to develop that chemistry amongst the staff.
“It’s the players [that are the biggest challenge] because you’ve got a mix of young players and WNBA vets that have been All-Stars, yet have never been a part of a training camp like this. I’m excited about the challenge. We have so many players here with so much experience that it’s just different.”
In addition to having the opportunity to compete alongside some of the nation’s top talent and have a chance to represent their country, players participating in the camp may potentially be selected to become a part of the USA’s pursuit of a historic milestone.
At stake for the USA Women’s National Team is the opportunity to win a FIBA World Cup gold medal for a record third consecutive time. Despite past opportunities to do so after striking gold in back-to-back four-year spans three times (’53 & ’57, ’86 & ’90, ’98 & ’02); it is a feat that has never been achieved by the USA. Yet the challenge has reemerged after earning gold in the FIBA World Cup in both 2010 and 2014.
Although the three-peat is not something Staley is thinking about -- she is focused on earning the country its 10th FIBA World Cup first, then looking ahead to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics -- it is an achievement that Staley and staff are aware of.
“There’s pressure in itself to win gold medals in all the competitions that we play,” she said. “We don’t really want to put more pressure on us. I just think we really need to prep like we’ve done to put us in this situation to win the prior two World Cups. I don’t think you change the approach to it. I think what we’ve done has provided us to be successful, I don’t think we change that formula.
“Everyone at this level is so competitive, and we don’t want to lose sight of that element. When you’re as competitive as this group lumped together, you just have to play. They want to win just because there’s competition.”
Nine gold medals and a 103-12 all-time record in 16 FIBA World Cup appearances reflect the imprint the USA Women’s National team has made over the span of more than half a century.
But perhaps even more telling of the USA’s World Cup dominance, the American women are a gaudy 63-2 in the eight FIBA World Cups held since 1986.
During this time, the consistency and dominance of the USA Basketball Women’s National team has placed it in a tier of its own, one that has developed into an international dynasty.
Helping mold such success as both a player and a coach has been Staley. She put in her due time both on and off the court, gradually working her way up from the sidelines as an assistant coach and has amassed a career total of 17 gold medals.
Included in that tally are Olympic gold medals from 1996, 2000, 2004 as an athlete and 2008 and 2016 as an assistant coach, and two FIBA World Cup gold medals as an athlete and one more as a coach.
Staley’s head coaching role may differ from most past USA coaches due to her having the opportunity to share her experiences of being both a national team athlete and coach.
Tasked with the job of leading the women’s national team through 2020, Staley is at the helm of a diverse group of talent consisting of a core of five collegiate athletes, USA Basketball veterans such as Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, newcomers and players with experience as 2016 USA Select Team members and previous USA national team finalists.
As one of only 10 players to earn an Olympic gold, FIBA World Cup gold medal, WNBA title and NCAA championship, Bird’s leadership will serve as a pivotal tool in her floor general position.
“When you have veterans around, the way I look at it, I try to put myself in those younger players’ shoes, because obviously at one point I was that younger player,” Bird stated. “When I looked around and I saw Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie, there’s a calming effect there that a veteran can bring. There’s a comfort level and a calming effect. More than anything, it’s going to be a lot of learning. Everyone’s got to be on their toes. You also want to kind of provide an environment where everyone can be themselves and hopefully as the veteran, I can show them the ropes in that way.”
With multiple players that possess an assortment of skillsets, assessing the role of each athlete will be a challenge that coach Staley anticipates heading into camp.
“I think you have to take into consideration what their contributions are to their respective teams,” Staley explained. “But you also have to look at how they fit into what we like to run, the system we’re going to run. We’ll figure that out over the next practice or two to see where they fit in. Then we start formulating roles, but we can’t really formulate roles until the number gets down into a place in which we know who’s going to be on the team. But we’re going to treat everybody [equally], give everybody the same information and see how they process it and what kind of production they can create out there on the floor.”
The three-day training camp will be used to evaluate and assess which players shall be selected to the USA Basketball Women’s National Team to play at the 2018 FIBA World Cup. The duration of the camp is a time restraint that doesn’t allow the national team to fully execute the new system of play it will utilize under Staley’s tutelage, but its staff and players will manage to adjust.
“We want to play fast. We want to utilize our players’ ability to play fast,” she said. “The WNBA and international play are extremely fast, that’s how they naturally play, so we want to just continue that. I want to push the ball up the floor and create advantages. I like a four out-one in to avoid not clogging up the paint. We just want to get the most out of everybody’s skillset.”
It’s evident that the buzz surrounding Staley’s presence at the helm is welcomed by each invitee and will make for an exciting weekend of USA Basketball for Staley and the 17 athletes.