Napheesa Collier and Arike Ogunbowale to See First Official National Team Action on USA AmeriCup Team
Fresh off standout rookie WNBA seasons, the duo is expected to play a big role for the USA in Puerto Rico.
Napheesa Collier and Arike Ogunbowale are no strangers to elite basketball.
After all, Collier was a two-time All-American at the University of Connecticut, where she can be found in the career top 10 in many stat categories, while Ogunbowale was one of the most dynamic college players during her final two years at the University of Notre Dame, including leading the Irish to the national title as a junior.
Both were high WNBA Draft choices (Ogunbowale went fifth to the Dallas Wings, while Collier went sixth to the Minnesota Lynx) and had very productive first seasons (Collier was Rookie of the Year and Ogunbowale made the All-Rookie team).
Now, they are getting a chance to be part of the best the U.S. has to offer. Collier and Ogunbowale made the 12-player roster that will represent USA Basketball at the FIBA AmeriCup for Women, one of the required tournaments the Americans must play in even though they have already qualified for next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
After wrapping up training camp in Miami on Thursday, the U.S. headed to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where it opens AmeriCup play Sunday against Paraguay. The Americans, coached by Dawn Staley, would have needed a top-eight finish in the 10-team tournament to advance to the FIBA Americas Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament in November if not already qualified for the 2020 games.
“I had my first go-round with USA Basketball when I was 16 and I've been blessed that they have invited me back year after year and have confidence in me,” Ogunbowale said. “So, it's always a blessing to be able to put that jersey on, to represent your country, play for something, you know, bigger than yourself, bigger than anything. You are representing really all of women's basketball, the whole country. So, definitely it's a blessing and honor.”
This tournament marks the first official event as the USA National Team embarks on a yearlong endeavor geared toward winning a seventh-straight Olympic gold medal in Tokyo. Several high-profile players have committed to be part of the next five segments, which will include exhibitions against college teams.
“It's been really good,” Collier said of training camp. “I think we're getting a lot of work done. Just kind of building our chemistry and things like that, but I think it's going well.”
Collier and Ogunbowale have taken the opportunity to tap into the experiences of the team leaders as they hope to make an impression in their bid to be on the Olympic team.
“I think probably Sue (Bird) and Diana (Taurasi) and Sylvia (Fowles),” Collier said. “Those are the best vets on the team right now and I'm just learning from them. They're great about, you know, giving us wisdom and always there if we need any help, or if we have any questions.”
While Bird and Taurasi are unable to play in this tournament due to injuries, they were at training camp to provide guidance.
“They're really good with coming up to you if they see anything you need to change or give just a little information that you might not know right now,” Ogunbowale said. “So, definitely just listening to them. Because obviously, they've been around the block a few times, they know exactly what they're talking about. They believed in what they've been in when they were in my position. So, I’m just trying to soak everything in.”
With such a talented roster, the younger players especially are looking to make an impression any way they can.
“I think just rebounding, all the hustle plays,” Collier said of what she is focused on. “Just anything they ask of me. I don't know exactly what they see me doing, but whatever they ask, I'll be happy to do it.”
Collier and Ogunbowale have had a small taste of national team competition. Collier was one of 16 finalists for the 2018 World Cup team, while Ogunbowale participated in three days of training camp and an intrasquad game.
Now, they are watching as the U.S. is hoping to put together a year to remember with the new training program.
“I think it's really good, especially in the Olympics, (other countries) play with each other year-round,” Ogunbowale said. “... The WNBA, people have their own things, theyhave overseas, they have their teams and stuff. So, definitely using this year to play with each other more often than usual is going to be helpful.”
Fans will be able to watch all the USA games live on ESPN+