Back in the Red, White and Blue
Members of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team, after nearly a year-long hiatus, took to the court at the University of South Carolina on Feb. 4, 2021, for the USA’s first practice since the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend.
“It feels good being back on the court with my USA teammates,” said Brittney Griner, a 2016 Olympic and 2018 World Cup gold medalist. “We normally have to play against each other, but to come together and play for our country, it’s always a great time. There’s a lot of electrifying energy when we’re on the court.”
Due to health protocols, the team bus made three trips to the arena, and the first athlete off the first bus was USA Basketball veteran and three-time USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year Breanna Stewart. She and her bus mates looked around the arena that most had played in at one time or another during their collegiate careers, and immediately went to work.
Jewell Loyd was the first begin putting up shots, with USA 3x3 coach advisor Kara Lawson rebounding for her.
One by one the court began to fill with the 17 athletes in attendance – Napheesa Collier was delayed one day by this week’s storm and remained in quarantine, and Tiffany Mitchell, who plays in Israel, had not yet departed the Middle East due to COVID-related airport closures in that country.
Athletes and coaches gathered in small groups, shooting, dribbling and catching up in person after months spent catching up online.
The mood was light, especially with Diamond DeShields and Sylvia Fowles, who first started comparing their muscles at the 2019 FIBA AmeriCup after Fowles joked about DeShields’s skinny legs. So, they now pose together whenever gathering at a USA Basketball camp to show off their ‘guns’ and quads. It definitely makes for a comical photo with the 6-foot-6, 212-pound Fowles standing next to the 6-foot-1, 155-pound DeShields.
“My legs might be skinny, but they’re strong,” laughed DeShields.
After everyone had time to make their rounds to say hello to teammates old and new, it was time to get to work.
With USA head coach Dawn Staley away at Auburn with her University of South Carolina team, Cheryl Reeve took over as lead coach and Dan Hughes served as co-coach, just as they did in 2019-20 when the team trained during the NCAA season. Also assisting were USA court coach Vickie Johnson and Lawson.
Staley will be back on the court leading the USA National Team on Friday, and Reeve and Hughes will resume their normal assistant coaching duties at that time.
Kahleah Copper Making the Most of Her Opportunity
It’s unusual to have a 100% newcomer to USA Basketball at this level, where the roster is full of gold medalists, many of whom earned their first medals on junior teams. However, 2016 WNBA No. 7 draft pick Kahleah Copper is one of the few exceptions, and she approached her first USA Basketball opportunity with pride.
“It was exciting to play with the best. We’re the best at what we do. It was exciting to get out there and begin to learn. I’m just happy to be here.
“It was something that was always in the back of my head, wanting to play for USA Basketball,” said Copper. “I actually made plans with myself: I’m going to play in the Olympics, and then I’m going to have some kids and then … it’s funny, but that’s actually what my thought process was.
“The call came unexpectedly,” added Copper. “I didn’t expect to be here now. I’m just here and ready to work hard. I’m super grateful.”
Because three members of this year’s USA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Team, Stefanie Dolson, Allisha Gray and Kelsey Plum, are at camp, Lawson not only worked a little with them after practice on some set plays, but she also spent some time running through 3x3 drills during the five-on-five practice.
Asked what she thought about the possibility of taking up 3x3 and its 12-second shot clock on the world stage, Griner was quick to answer.
“Woah! I have a new respect for 3x3,” Griner said. “It’s not the 3x3 I remember growing up playing -- make it, take it. It’s definitely more fast paced, and it was good, but it was definitely not my cup of tea (laughs).”