Sylvia Fowles Leading USA AmeriCup Team in Scoring, Rebounding … and Mentorship
The three-time Olympic gold medalist is using her wealth of experience to help guide young national team players.
As one of the core veterans on the USA Basketball Women’s National Team, Sylvia Fowles is focused on one objective: helping the Americans win a seventh straight Olympic gold medal next year in Tokyo.
That is why she and seven other veteran players committed to a year-long program aimed at making sure that objective is accomplished.
But there is another mission the 33-year-old and three-time Olympic gold medalist has: making sure the next generation of the USA National Team is ready to take the torch.
As such, Fowles, a 6-foot-6 center, has made sure her leadership with the roster for this week’s FIBA AmeriCup in San Juan, Puerto Rico, extends to more than just understanding the X’s and O’s. She takes her role as a mentor seriously, and it’s a position she has embraced.
“It's very important,” Fowles said. “That's what USA Basketball is about, not just giving all of yourself on the court but also off the court.”
Few can match Fowles’ resume on the court. She won Olympic gold with the USA in 2008, 2012 and 2016, plus a World Cup gold medal in 2010. After leading Louisiana State University to four Final Fours, Fowles was the No. 2 overall draft pick of the Chicago Sky in 2008. Since a trade to the Minnesota Lynx in 2015, Fowles has won two league MVPs and two WNBA titles.
Off the court, Fowles has earned the nickname “Mama Syl” for her mentorship efforts. She takes players out to dinner and offers them advice on a wide range of topics, with the younger ones following her around almost like baby ducklings.
“I can recall being in their shoes when I came to USA Basketball,” Fowles, whose first overseas trip with the national team was to Australia in April 2006, said. “I had older veterans who took me under their wing. (Three-time Olympic gold medalist) Katie Smith was my mentor when I first started, so I'm just trying to give back what somebody did for me and hopefully it trickles down and continues that tradition and builds the next generation as well.”
If her efforts on the court match what Fowles is doing on the court, the future of the national team will be very bright. Entering Sunday’s gold medal game against Canada in the AmeriCup, Fowles is averaging team bests of 14 points and 8 rebounds per game while shooting 76 percent from the field.
The Americans have already clinched a spot in the FIBA Americas Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament in November, but with the USA having already qualified for next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, the program is using the AmeriCup as an opportunity to get a look at different players and rotations with an eye on the Olympics. The Americans have rarely participated in the AmeriCup in recent years, with 2019 being the first time they have competed since winning the gold medal in 2007.
And while the AmeriCup serves as a tune-up for the USA, the experience gained by the younger players who might play more prominent roles in the coming years is invaluable, and Fowles is a huge part of that.
“She's definitely the one that everybody looks up to,” said Olivia Nelson-Ododa, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Connecticut who is learning more than just post moves from Fowles. “She has that kind of mother figure role and I think that's really important, especially for me as a young player, this is my first time doing it at such a high level.”
Fowles says the younger players tend to ask her more about the business end of basketball, whether it is managing finances or about playing overseas. One of the biggest pieces of advice Fowles tells the younger players is to take care of themselves and treat themselves well, something that can get lost when focused on a career.
“I think giving them that perspective from my end I think is very important,” Fowles said.