USA Basketball Teleconference: 2017-20 USA Basketball Women’s National Team Pool Announcement
Dawn Staley, USA and South Carolina head coach
I’m excited to move into this phase with another training camp and to see the 29 players who have been selected as part of the USA National Team pool. You have a mixture of great, great experience and also some first timers when it comes to playing on the national team and playing in the World Cup or the Olympic Games. So, the amount of experience that’s going to be here in Columbia, South Carolina, is going to be great. I’m looking forward to working with the best players that our country that has to offer in the 29 players that are invited.
Also, I want to share this experience, being at South Carolina and having them come to see our campus, our university, our city, our state, and I’m quite sure they’ll find it very, very enjoyable outside of the work that we need to put in on the floor.
How important is the upcoming camp for the guard position?
I think the committee has put together a great pool of guards. Both with a lot of experience and some that don’t have a lot of experience with World Cup and Olympic games. So, to get them all under one roof playing with and against each other, it gives the committee a great opportunity to see a great pool of guards, whoever will make the team. Obviously when you have a Sue Bird, a Diana Taurasi and a Lindsay Whalen, all who have committed to playing in the next Olympic Games, they are experienced guards. But, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few years, so we need to get a number of guards in the pool, in training camp, so we can see where we are. We just want to be prepared no matter which direction the committee is going to go.
How difficult will it be to juggle the USA training camp with your program at South Carolina during that weekend in February?
We’re going to practice at a time that doesn’t conflict with our practice. If it does conflict with some prep time with our team, our staff has been together for a very long time and our preparation is pretty much routine. We know what to do when it comes to game time preparation. So, we’ll be prepared for then. Obviously, Geno (Auriemma) has the blueprint when it comes to being able to juggle both your team and the responsibility of the USA National Team. So, it’s been done before.
Will A’ja Wilson be able to be a part of the experience?
The practice times will more than likely be during the times in which she has class. But, if she doesn’t have class, I will want her to sit front and center to see how the Olympians, the two-, three-, four-time Olympians, how they operate, how they practice and how the approach things. It might not be a bad thing for our entire thing to witness, for them to see our country’s best athletes coming together and practicing and gear up to play.
On Kelsey Mitchell and A’ja Wilson, two of the top prospects in the 2018 WNBA Draft:
Both Kelsey and A’ja were in our training camp at the end of September, and although it was made up of younger players, I thought they fared well. To play with Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, I think it helped their cause. They saw the way they operated out there on the court, how they communicated, they were extremely helpful with helping those young players acclimate to playing at that level. So, any time that you can experience playing with two-, three-, four-time Olympians, I thought they did a great job. They looked like they belonged during the training camp. So, I think the WNBA future is in great hands with those players, along with some of the younger players that were there.
On making a stamp on the USA National Team program as a coach:
I think that everybody who comes into a USA Basketball training camp, they understand the culture that’s been created for a very long time. They come in with a workman type of attitude, and I think it’s the stamp of USA Basketball. I think coaches just come in and give you their philosophy as far as what they want as far as Xs and Os, which is half the battle. The other battle is the culture. That’s instilled in every player that comes in, and if they don’t have it, they pretty much stick out like a sore thumb. But for the most part, everyone comes in with the attitude of wanting to win a gold medal. That’s what they practice like every single day. So, it’s not surprising to see us be as successful as we’ve been, and I think a lot has to do with the culture.
Could you envision when you were playing for USA Basketball that South Carolina would be a destination for a USA training camp?
No, and I didn’t think South Carolina was a destination for me as a coach, either. But since it is, just living here for the past almost 10 years, it’s a beautiful thing to see unfold. The way that the fans have supported our program, I know they’re extremely biased towards our program, but I do know our fans are appreciative of great basketball. To bring the best that our country has to offer to Columbia, South Carolina, it says a lot. It says a lot about USA Basketball. It says a lot about how the sport has grown. It’s necessary that the training camp is here, because of the timing of it. But, if you look at the big picture, seeing women’s basketball grow as much as it has, to be in Columbia, South Carolina, to be amongst the greatest fans in the country, it’s only fitting that it’s here, that we can embrace what’s taken place here in women’s basketball.
Carol Callan, USA Basketball Women’s National Team director
We’re very excited about this group of athletes as the beginning of our journey to win a gold medal at the World Cup and beyond. I’d also like to thank the members of the selection committee for their work. I think sometimes people think that it’s easy to win gold medals all the time, and it isn’t. There are some tough decisions and some important decisions that affect the lives of athletes that the committee needs to make, and they do it. And they do it well.
And, thanks to the University of South Carolina for hosting us in February.
First, I’d like to say, what a great group of athletes. Our strength has always been that our best players play over and over. Our veteran players want to play, they appreciate representing our country and being a part of USA Basketball’s culture. As we’ve selected teams and as we’ve looked at pools, we’ve always selected athletes that are a good mix of young with the older players, that we cover each position well and that we make very thoughtful decisions as we go along. So, the first thing is that this is a great group of athletes.
The second thing is our process, because I think what you get is a little bit of a snapshot today, but you don’t understand or maybe know that this is a long-running movie. Our process began virtually a year ago as we put our selection committee together and started to talk about athletes and what we were looking for in our pool.
While we know the players are excellent in either their WNBA play or their college play, our committee wants to see them in our environment and in our training camps and former competitions. So, we build this body of work with our athletes. So, the members that you see today on this list of 29 are players who were in the pool last quad, from 2013-16, who want to continue. As you know, Tamika Catchings has retired, but the other 11 Olympians are all interested in continuing on by being a part of this pool. The other thing is that if someone has never been involved with our national team program, then even if they were involved with a younger player on perhaps a U19 World Cup, or another junior program, we want to see them in our training camps and have the committee observe and evaluate what they can do with the other players who are in our pool. We pretty much want someone to attend a training camp before we move them into a pool. So, that then leads to the necessity to have as many training camps that we can within the parameters that we work. So, for instance, this past fall we had a training camp at the end of September, the first couple days of October, and it overlapped the WNBA Finals. So, clearly anybody who was involved in the WNBA Finals was not able to come to a training camp.
Our next training camp is going to be in February. Players arrive on Feb. 8, they’ll practice Feb. 9-11 in Columbia, at Dawn’s university. Then as we get other players to come to that training camp, perhaps players we haven’t seen before, then we will continue to keep our pool fluid and perhaps add players to our national team as the months go along.
So, this is not an end result today that you see, the 29 players. This is, again a first step. I would imagine that there will be other players who will be added once they are able to attend a training camp.
So, that’s pretty much the process. We definitely will have our camp in February, then we’re looking to have a camp perhaps at the end of April, prior to the WNBA season starting. Because, if you think about it, this camp in February works because the EuroLeague breaks their season, but the leagues in Asia don’t break their season in February. So, April for sure is a time when players playing in Asia could be available, but then the players in the EuroLeague wouldn’t be available. So, we try to piece together as many training camps as we can to give the athletes the chance to show our selection committee what they can do, and then also work with Dawn to make sure that when we get to September and start training for the World Cup, that the players are familiar with what Dawn wants to do.
How important is the upcoming camp for the guard position and are there any other guards, such as Chelsea Gray, you see joining this list?
Obviously, if you look at the numbers, we’re guard-heavy in this group for the very reason that several years ago when we were talking about the roster for the Olympic team, it was noted that our guards were very veteran. So, yes. We want to have a younger mix coming in to look at. Chelsea’s (Gray) situation, she was not in the pool in the last four years, and in September she was playing with the Sparks in the WNBA Finals. So, that would be a situation I was describing earlier that our committee, before adding someone to the pool, they would like to observe them. I would anticipate that she will be involved in the future. She just was not available in September.
What’s the process for some of the younger big players, such as Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan and Baylor’s Kalani Brown, who are still juniors?
As you look at some of the bigs that are out there at the younger ages, we did have a U23 team this past summer, and Kalani was on that team. So, there are some steps before throwing them right into this group of players. Certainly, both of those players and other post players will be considered moving forward. There’s no hurry. It’s been pretty rare when a college player plays in the World Cup with (remaining) college eligibility. I believe Maya Moore (2010) and Breanna Stewart (2014) are the only ones who have done it in recent history. So, I think there’s a recognition that you want to cultivate players, but also be realistic at some point when they move into this pool. So, the short answer is yes, we will continue to watch players in the WNBA and college ranks and monitor their abilities. But again, it would be a similar comment that at some point we would want them to come to a training camp and be able to be evaluated before completely missing that step and simply putting them into the pool.
Are you concerned with having a bunch of players potentially being in the WNBA Finals and maybe only joining the team a couple days prior to the World Cup?
Yes. We’re always concerned about preparation time. This is no different. We feel that the pool is big enough. Obviously, you want your best players out of your pool, if you were to prioritize them, to be available. Four years ago, I looked back and it was interesting because it was a sweep in three games, so our players came to us a lot quicker. I think that’s why having these training camps when we have them is so critical. If you take any player from the Sparks or the Lynx, if you want to use this as an example, any player that was involved there, also in a year is playing in the finals again, it really puts it at risk for our preparation and for their preparation. So, that’s why these training camps are as important as they are.
We don’t know exactly when the WNBA is going to finish their season in September. Once we know, we’ll look at it and try and figure out what that looks like. And then, much like four years ago where we picked the team two days before we played the first game. What we have to do is to look at who are the two teams in the finals and then determine how we’re going to put a team together. So, we will bring in initially at the beginning of our training camp as many of the pool that’s available. And then train with them domestically over a period of time, then try to determine based on who is in the playoffs, as well as what we have, as well as how much time we have, what 12-member team we’ll put together. If that makes Dawn nervous, it should. Because, Geno was nervous over the past two World Cups for that reason. You’re always a little bit on edge. But, I think it can also be a strength for us because understand that when they come to our training camps it means business, and there’s no messing around, there’s no waste of time.
On Kelsey Mitchell and A’ja Wilson, two of the top prospects in the 2018 WNBA Draft:
These players have all played with us. Kelsey played this past summer on our U23 team, A’ja has played on multiple teams in the past, and they were always the leaders on their teams. And when they come to this kind of a training camp, all of a sudden, they’re not the leaders and they all of a sudden see that you have to step up your game quite a bit. So, when I look at our training camps, not only is it a chance for us to evaluate players, it’s also a chance for players to evaluate themselves and perhaps get better simply because they didn’t realize how competitive it would be.
On Dawn Staley making a stamp on the USA National Team program as a coach:
Having been involved since Dawn was a player in ’96, that just makes both of us in the elder set (laughs). But, Dawn’s stamp is all over this program, because of what she did as a player and the culture that she instilled from ’96 on. So, I think it’s interesting that she and Anne Donovan have been players that have become head coaches and it’s such a long piece of work that Dawn has put to this program from being a player to now being a coach, and she reinforces that daily. It’s not just enough to talk about her mark as a coach, I think her mark as a player is equally valuable.