Newcomers Join USA Basketball Legends on World Cup Team
The chance to play for a world title alongside childhood idols is not lost on the newest members of the national team playing in the World Cup.
The majority of phone calls Kelsey Plum has made to her mother, Katie, following basketball tryouts have been of the positive variety, with good news and congratulations.
That tends to be the case when you’re the NCAA’s career scoring leader.
Nothing is guaranteed when going for the top team in the country, though, and so tears flowed on both ends of the line this week when Plum called her mom from France with the news that she had earned a spot on the 2018 USA Basketball Women’s World Cup Team – alongside women she grew up idolizing such as Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi.
“I was like, ‘Mom, I’m going to Spain. You want to come?’ She was like, ‘Heck yeah, I want to come,’” said Plum, a guard for the Las Vegas Aces. “That was a pretty cool moment. … It’s just cool how, these opportunities, they’re rare. They don’t come often. So, it’s pretty special and something you just have to take in.”
Four of Plum’s new teammates enjoyed similar phone calls with their loved ones after earning a spot on a women’s national team roster for a senior-level competition for the first time.
Like Plum, Layshia Clarendon, Jewell Loyd, Morgan Tuck and A’ja Wilson have won gold medals in the past as members of USA Basketball junior teams. But, receiving the good news this time around qualified as a seismic event in their basketball journeys and a dream come true. Now, they hope to help lead the USA to a gold medal at the 2018 FIBA World Cup, which takes place Sept. 22-30 in Tenerife, Spain.
“It’s a great honor,” said Loyd, a guard for the WNBA champion Seattle Storm. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of USA Basketball. So having a chance to do that with this team means a lot. I’m excited for the opportunity and what we’re about to do.”
The newcomers had to endure multiple rounds of roster cuts, but the tryout process was a little more agonizing for Tuck, who, along with Connecticut Sun teammate Clarendon, was the last to make the roster.
“It’s definitely hard,” she said, “But I think at the same time, it makes you better and makes you play better, just because you know that each day and every time that you play it could be make or break for being on the team.”
When the team first convened on Sept. 3 in Columbia, South Carolina, there were 26 invitees competing for 12 roster spots, though some players were still competing in the WNBA playoffs.
The roster was trimmed four times, leaving just 15 players. Tuck went through a scrimmage Tuesday morning against Australia unsure of whether she would make the team. What she did know was that she was still being evaluated, so she made sure to maintain her focus and approach the scrimmage the same way she has the rest of training camp.
“I really just tried as much as I could to not think about being on the team or not, because I know everything isn’t always decided off one scrimmage,” she said. “My thing was just go out there and try to add something positive to what they’re already thinking about my game.”
Ultimately, Tuck believes her versatility won the day. She believes her ability to play both forward positions and guard just about any position defensively earned her a spot.
All three women said they have dreamed of playing for the national team, primarily in the Olympic Games, since they were young girls. Making this team is a hard-fought honor few get to enjoy, and it puts them in contention for a spot on the 2020 team that will compete in Tokyo.
While they’re acutely aware of that reality, they also are taskmasters who have trained themselves to take each step as they come.
“What can I bring to the team?” Loyd said of her approach to the World Cup. “I think I can bring defensive energy. You just realize that everyone’s job is a little different. You’re playing with USA Basketball, so everyone has great talent. You don’t need to force some shots or do anything outside your comfort zone. Just trust yourself, do what you’re asked to do and do it really well.”
For all three players, they say having the opportunity to spend time with Bird and Taurasi — two of the best players ever in women’s basketball — is invaluable to their future.
“I’m playing with some of my childhood idols,” Plum said. “I could just keep going and going about the MVPs and the types of people who are on this team. It’s pretty cool to look up and see who you’re passing to, or who you’re cutting by or sitting next to on the bus. It’s pretty special.”
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.