Already Qualified for Tokyo, U.S. Women Will Not Rest in 2019
The year before an Olympic year always seems busier for USA Basketball Women’s National Team director Carol Callan, and 2019 figures to fit that mold.
Callan oversees the USA Basketball women’s program with important tournaments and opportunities at every level this year. Among the biggest opportunities will be in navigating the Olympic qualifying process, which has seen some significant changes.
The U.S. women already have secured a spot in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo after winning the 2018 FIBA World Cup, but the USA will play in qualifying tournaments anyway in 2019, giving coach Dawn Staley (South Carolina) competitive games in which to try out lineups and get players international experience.
“One of the good byproducts of this system is instead of us always trying to manufacture training camps and practice, we now have competitions where there is a purpose for coming together,” Callan said. “We think that will be much better for our players, rather than trying to find two or three practice days a couple times a year.”
FIBA instituted changes to Olympic qualifying in response to concerns over expenses and competitiveness in tournaments in the previous system.
While sites and dates have yet to be determined, the U.S. women will participate in a tournament in September, with other tournaments around the world happening simultaneously.
The top eight teams from each of those tournaments will then advance to the first round of Olympic qualifying in November. At that time, all domestic leagues around the world will break for 10 days and players will join their national teams at to-be-determined sites for four-team, mini-tournaments in eight different zones.
The top two teams from each zone will advance to the second round of qualifying in February, when another 10-day break arrives and those 16 teams face off in another four mini-tournaments. The top three teams from each of those tournaments will advance to form the 12-team Olympic tournament field.
“We like it, and I think a lot of teams really like it,” Callan said. “There are several advantages. Number one, your national team gets to be seen at home. Number two, you get to host and partner, in our case, with WNBA teams, because when we usually have exhibition games in the summer or right before the World Cup, they’re busy and they can’t host.
“And then, selfishly for us at USA Basketball, we’re actually going to get our players together several times with meaningful competition and not just manufactured competition.”
Callan said she anticipates the team will pull from a pool of as many as 35 players to compete in the process. She said there will likely be a core group of six-to-eight players, with others rotating in to see who meshes well and gives the U.S. the best chance at winning a seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal in 2020.
While that process unfolds for the national team, several other USA Basketball teams at age-group levels will be competing, too.
The FIBA U19 World Cup is scheduled for July 20-26 in Bangkok, Thailand. The U.S. qualified for the tournament by winning the 2018 FIBA Americas U18 Championship. The U19 World Cup has been held every two years since 2005, and the U.S. had won six consecutive titles before falling to Russia in the 2017 gold medal game.
Callan was at that game and said it was one of the most thrilling basketball games she has ever witnessed because of the fierce competitiveness and the U.S. winning streak. She acknowledged that it will feel different to not be the defending champ this time around, but that also provides opportunity.
“It’s a little unusual, but I think it’s also good,” Callan said. “We can internally plan and try and do things, and many times in our country people go, ‘You guys just dominate and it’s boring, You guys win, win, win, win.’ Well, other countries are pretty good. I’m encouraged that Russia is going to get back on the world stage, because, at the senior level, they’ve been missing for a while.”
USA Basketball also will send a team to the FIBA Americas U16 Championship which will be held June 16-22 in Aysen, Chile, where the USA will have a chance to qualify for the 2020 U17 World Cup. A biennial event launched in 2009 and open to athletes 16 years old or younger, the FIBA Americas U16 Championship features eight national teams from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean. USA Basketball has claimed the gold medal in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2017, the bronze medal in 2015 and is 24-1 in FIBA Americas U16 championship action.
A team of college-age players likely will be selected for the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, in early August. Michigan State University head coach Suzy Merchant will lead the USA team. That trials selection process will be held May 16-20 at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and will likely include a field of players who haven’t quite risen to consideration for the national team but also have surpassed the U19 age group.
In addition to helping select the players and coaches for all of those teams, Callan will oversee USA Basketball's 3x3 national teams in FIBA competitions, which are becoming increasingly popular. The USA will field men's and women's 3x3 teams tol compete in the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup that will take place June 3-7 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Additionally, a USA 3x3 men's national team will contend for a medal at the FIBA 3x3 World Cup that is being held in Amsterdam, Netherlands, June 18-23.
“You mesh it all together, and it gets pretty busy,” Callan said.