USA Basketball Veterans Sylvia Fowles and Nneka Ogwumike Excited to be Back on the Court
As the world begins to cautiously move forward with hopes of eventually putting the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview mirror, so too does the USA Basketball Women’s National Team. The squad has congregated this week in Columbia, South Carolina, for its first training camp of 2021, with one eye on winning a seventh-consecutive Olympic gold medal at this summer’s Tokyo Games and the other on putting the disappointment of a lost 2020 in the past.
“I was looking forward to this camp and seeing all the girls again,” center Sylvia Fowles said. “We just have to have the right attitude and positive mindset that we’re going to make the best of whatever time we have together.”
The team settled in at its hotel Monday night as players prepared to “get the band back together” for the camp, which will be held Feb. 4-7 at the University of South Carolina. It’s been a long process just to get to this point. Players attending the camp had to come up negative on three separate COVID-19 tests to make the trip to Columbia, with additional protocols in place at the camp to guard against any outbreaks during the time that players and staff are together.
Guardedly optimistic about the process of restarting the march towards Tokyo, Fowles said, “You definitely get that urge that this thing is starting to ramp back up, and that is a good feeling.”
Another member of the USA frontcourt, forward Nneka Ogwumike, also is excited to be donning the red, white and blue with her teammates. For her, the layoff from national team involvement has been about maintaining her readiness for the hoped-for trip to Tokyo, even though it has been delayed for a year.
“The last time we were together as Team USA was last February, so for us to pick back up now provides a lot of comfort but also a lot of hope that things are slowly getting back to normal,” she said. “After 2020, nothing really surprises me anymore. My perspective is just to stay ready no matter what happens.”
Unlike Fowles, who seeks her fourth Olympic gold medal with the U.S., Ogwumike, a two-time FIBA World Cup gold medalist, is in search of her first trip to the top of the Olympic medal stand with her USA teammates. Since her last on-court action as a member of the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA “wubble” at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, this past summer, Ogwumike largely has been working out on her own. The training camp offers a chance to get back on the court playing the game she loves.
“I’m excited to be in a team setting. It’s nice to be doing something with teammates, doing something that we’re used to doing, developing camaraderie and chemistry,” she said. “It’s just fun to be at camp, and I am excited about this one.”
While Ogwumike got in as close to a full season as possible with the Sparks during the WNBA bubble, Fowles saw her 2020 campaign with the Minnesota Lynx cut short by a right calf injury suffered in August. Her training regimen in the time since has been focused on rehabbing her calf and building overall strength. The camp provides her the opportunity to put the calf to work in an on-court setting for the first time in several months.
“I had to start from scratch, just rehabbing and rehabbing with very basic training,” she said. “I had to forgo practice and anything on the court, but the calf is doing great now, and it’s going to be fun for me to be back on the court.”
While Fowles and Ogwumike share in their excitedness to be resuming on-court duties with USA Basketball, their perspectives differ in their concerns that 2021 could still turn out to be another 2020. In no small part due to their differences in age — Fowles is 35, Ogwumike 30 — the former feels a greater urgency to see that Tokyo 2021 doesn’t turn into Tokyo 2022, or is canceled altogether.
“Gold medal No. 4 is something I definitely want to cross off the bucket list, and there is a fear that I may not be able to accomplish that because I am getting older,” Fowles said. “Losing a year is a big deal for someone that has been around as long as I have, and there is a fear that the Olympics could be postponed again. You don’t want to go through the process again only to be held back.”
While Ogwumike admits it was a disappointment to put in the preparation for Tokyo 2020 only to have the games postponed, she takes the one-year delay of a hoped-for Olympic debut in stride.
“While the Olympics were not going to happen in 2020, it wasn’t going to be canceled,” she said. “It gave me the perspective that we face challenges and obstacles. I had to keep in mind the goal to be selected for a team that was going for a gold medal — but just not when I initially expected.”
Both players are more than ready to begin the process this week and looking forward to seeing their USA teammates once again and sharing the dream of working toward Olympic glory together.
“This camp is an opportunity to build on the last time that we met, and that’s something I’m excited about,” Ogwumike said.
Tom Carothers is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.