News & Notes: USA National Team Camp Day 1
University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley is a go-getter. That should come as no surprise.
Just hours after arriving back in Columbia, South Carolina, from South Carolina’s win over the University of Alabama on Thursday night, Staley was on the court to coach her other team – the USA Basketball Women’s National Team. While the pool of 22 players arrived in Columbia on Thursday, Staley was quick to welcome her team Friday morning.
Two of those greetings were to former Gamecock players of Staley’s, Allisha Gray (Dallas Wings) and Tiffany Mitchell (Indiana Fever).
“When our players decide that they want to come to South Carolina, they give us all these goals and dreams that they have to be a part of a goal outside of college, on this level,” Staley said. “I’m proud. I’m like a proud mom out here.”
But, she still was straight to the point. No time was wasted once the group hit the floor. The introductory hello huddle at midcourt kicked things off, followed by a short, offensive walk-through.
“This is the most layups I’ve ever had in my life,” said veteran point guard Sue Bird (Seattle Storm). She laughed.
Minutes later, while reaching down to touch the floor during the team stretch, Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx). joked, “Oh yeah, that’s the test if you can still play professional basketball.”
And then, some more laughs. Everyone looked around trying to figure out who messed up the crescendo clap. It was repeated until done correctly.
Practice was focused and productive and a collective feel of happiness and camaraderie was in the air.
“It’s definitely good to see everybody, touch base,” said Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve, who is serving as a court coach with USA Basketball for the training camp. “And for USA Basketball, they only have couple of chances together before we get ready for the World Cup. It was valuable – really, really valuable time, and it will be for the next couple of days.”
“We’re here with many more of the veterans,” said Layshia Clarendon (Atlanta Dream). “Seeing Diana (Taurasi) to me is super emotional – like, this is legit. And, of course Sue (Bird) was at the first camp (in September 2017). You know it’s a really high-caliber camp with players like Elena (Delle Donne), Brittney (Griner), Maya (Moore) here, so those veterans are here really setting the tone for the camp.”
Clarendon’s Atlanta teammate, Elizabeth Williams, who is a Women’s National Team pool hopeful, was particularly pleased to be back in the red practice garments of the USA Women’s National Team with several of her Dream teammates and USA Basketball veterans.
“To be able to have this much talent and this much basketball knowledge on the court, it’s fun to play with and it’s really just fun to be a part of,” said Williams.
“It’s not their first rodeo. They know what it takes to win gold; they’ve done it multiple times. The coaches as well. They’ve been around USA Basketball for a long time. It means a lot to try and learn from them, try to take as much advice as I can, ask questions, those types of things.”
I Got Energy, Got A Lot of Energy (this is a song lyric)
Clarendon, Reeve, Staley and Williams all agreed. The team’s energy was impressive, despite what was a lengthy travel day on Thursday for those returning from Europe or Asia.
“I thought they came out and played like pros,” Staley said.
“The energy was really, really high, enthusiasm, listening to what’s being asked of them,” said Reeve. “As the day wore on, we’re getting a little more comfortable with the execution part. Kind of making sure that you are marrying the two – your effort and energy, and the idea that execution goes along with that.”
“I thought it was great,” said Clarendon. “When everybody was playing live, you saw a lot of turnovers and a little rust. I think the coaches know that. Once you start playing live, the ball seems like it flies everywhere. We’ll clean that up tomorrow, but the energy was really awesome.”
Dunk You Very Much
While the Gamecocks’ women’s basketball team stood to the side, waiting to step on the hardwood for a practice of its own, Griner convinced South Carolina senior and fellow USA Women’s National Team pool athlete A’ja Wilson to a friendly dunk-off, to the delight of nearly every cell phone in the building.
Wilson rimmed-out two dunk attempts before Griner nonchalantly hammered one home, but a brief “that’s cool” moment developed between the up-and-comer and the veteran. Surely, Griner will hand over her finest dunking tips in due time.