USA National Team News & Notes: USA Training Camp Tips-Off With Youthful Start
Let’s Get It Started
The 2018 USA Basketball Women’s World Cup Team training camp tipped-off Monday in Columbia, South Carolina, with 18 athletes eager to earn a ticket to play for the USA at the FIBA World Cup later this month in Tenerife, Spain. But, before USA and South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley could start blowing whistles and running her team through drills, everyone had head shots and a group photo taken. Three-time Olympic and two-time World Cup gold medalist Katie Smith, part of the committee tasked with team selection, was among the people in the photo, as was two-time Olympic and two-time World Cup gold medalist Tina Charles (New York Liberty), a member of the USA National Team pool.
Before everyone spread out to begin warm-ups, USA Women’s National Team director Carol Callan spent a few minutes thanking the athletes for their time and commitment to USA Basketball. Then, she called out Smith and pointed out that her first USA Basketball team was in 1993. Next was Staley, who first donned a USA uniform in 1989, and carried the U.S. flag into the 2004 Olympic opening ceremony.
“It’s loyalty,” said Morgan Tuck (Connecticut Sun), who is a four-time gold medalist at the junior level and is 37-2 in games played in the red, white and blue. “Her pointing those people out and giving their background … to hear about Katie and Dawn, that’s a lot. She said it quick, like, ‘oh, she’s a three-time Olympian, she won two World Cup gold medals,’ but that’s over a lot of years, and a lot of time in practices and traveling. For us, it makes us feel that what we’re doing now, it’s nothing compared to what they did. So, hopefully we can be on their level one day.”
But the third ‘shout-out’ surprised even Charles, who on Sept. 6 is slated to receive the 2018 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Mannie Jackson - Human Spirit Award for her off-court efforts in her community and through Hopey’s Heart Foundation.
“I was very taken back by Miss Carol,” said Charles. “Miss Carol and I have always had a great relationship. She’s known me since I was 15, so she’s seen me when I was in my younger days. She sees me now when I’m older, and it’s really great that she recognizes things that I do off the court and what really means the most to me in trying to maximize the platform that I’m on to try and inspire others.”
Ladies in Red
Call it a rite of passage. When USA Basketball put together the historic 1995-96 USA National Team, one of the ways to distinguish the team would be to have them wear a red uniform instead of the traditional blue that all other USA Basketball teams wore. It quickly became one of the most coveted jerseys in the USA Basketball line-up.
Athletes rising through the junior ranks hoped that one day they’d be able to don a red USA jersey. For six athletes at camp, that day was today.
Diamond DeShields (Chicago Sky), Tyasha Harris (University of South Carolina), Ruthy Hebard (University of Oregon), Sabrina Ionescu (University of Oregon), Arike Ogunbowale (University of Notre Dame) and Jessica Shepard (University of Notre Dame) each proudly entered the gym in the iconic USA National Team uniform and the significance of the day was not lost on them.
“It was an amazing feeling, because I played on two younger USA Basketball teams, and they wear navy, of course,” beamed Harris. “And when I put the red on, and everybody is like, ‘Oh, first time wearing red!’ So, it was just an exciting feeling.”
“I think I played on just about every junior national team, so to have been a part of the pipeline of USA Basketball, and to have made it all the way through, I feel like I kind of graduated,” echoed DeShields. “I made it here.”
Prior to the practice, in the first huddle, immediately after USA head coach Dawn Staley talked about her expectations for the training camp, Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks) leaned in and, as one would expect from one of the veterans, gave a quick talk to her teammates. Ogwumike stressed to the younger athletes the importance of what they’re doing.
“It’s important for everyone to know, especially now, because we have a very unique group going into Worlds,” Ogwumike explained. “Since I’ve been with USA Basketball I’m not sure that we’ve been this young, this inexperienced. We have to roll with who we have, so it’s important for people to understand, yeah, you want to make the team, but you’re not going to do that doing things that you’ve never done before. I wanted people to understand that we’re all here for one goal, that’s to win a gold medal. So, do your best and take advantage of the opportunity. I can speak from experience, you always have to take advantage of your opportunity.”
Arike Ogunbowale (University of Notre Dame), who shot to sudden stardom after making two buzzer-beating shots in the 2018 NCAA semifinal and championship games, took what Ogwumike said to heart.
“She said that in February, Dawn (Staley) said the first practice was rough, so she wanted us to get after it and compete,” stated Ogunbowale. “We’re all here for the same reason, we’re all here to get better. So, that’s what she wanted us to do.”
Youth is Served
At one point during Monday’s live, five-on-five action, all six collegiate representatives were on court at the same time. Including A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces), who is only one year removed from school, seven of the 10 athletes running up and down were 23 years old or younger. Veteran guard and 2014 FIBA World Cup gold medalist Odyssey Sims (Los Angeles Sparks) took it upon herself to coach up her squad following the scrimmage.
“We do have a very young group, but that’s never an excuse,” said Sims. “Everyone is here competing for a spot, and some of these young one’s could make it – you never know. But, I’m here to go hard every day, be vocal, be a point guard and make sure I get everyone in the right spot.”
The USA will be in the hunt to earn a 10th World Cup gold medal at the 2018 FIBA World Cup Sept. 22-30 in Tenerife, Spain. Follow along on the team’s journey on usab.com and through USA Basketball’s social media as the team goes for gold.