Copper Making Most of Women's National Team Competitive Debut
Kahleah Copper didn’t make 2020 USA Women's Olympic Team, which ultimately won gold last summer in Tokyo, despite being a veteran WNBA player. A two-time WNBA All-Star and 2021 WNBA Finals champion, Copper had never represented the U.S. on a world stage until she made her debut at the 2022 FIBA Women's World Cup last week.
“I just accepted it and just kept pushing,” said Copper of not having made previous national teams. “I just put my head down and kept grinding. I think it was important for me to not miss a beat after (not making the Olympic Team) and continue to be me, compete and when the opportunity comes around again, I can take advantage of it.”
A fire sparked within Copper after not going to the Olympics. Her inner competitor rose to the occasion and she went to work. Finally, all the blood, sweat and tears paid off when Copper earned the opportunity to compete at the 2022 World Cup.
USA head coach Cheryl Reeve immediately noticed a difference in Copper when she arrived in Sydney for training camp following the conclusion of the Chicago Sky's season.
“She got off the plane differently than the last time she was with USAB and didn't make the team,” Reeve said. “She clearly over the last couple years has grown, certainly in the WNBA we've seen, so she got off the plane with this level of confidence that she has kept and so that's been really fun to see. She's been absolutely pivotal to not only penetration that we get, but her defense.”
On the court, Copper’s energy is contagious. She plays with a sense of urgency and her speed demands attention. Watching her, you would never know this is her first experience in a USA jersey.
On Monday, Copper scored 11 points with five rebounds and two steals in just nine minutes during the 145-69 victory over Korea. Copper’s performance helped the U.S. set the FIBA World Cup scoring record (previously 143 points by Brazil in 1990).
“Kah’s very versatile, she plays hard for 40 minutes and I think that's great,” said A’ja Wilson. “We use the spark off the bench from her. She's just going 100% through and through and I think you need a type of player like that… I think for her to be a rookie and come in and instantly understand her role is a huge breadth.”
Copper has seized the opportunity she worked so hard to earn. Last Thursday, in her first game with the USA, she had 11 points and three steals as the U.S. opened play with an 87-72 triumph over Belgium. On Friday, she contributed 16 points, the second-most on the team, in the 106-42 win over Puerto Rico. In four games, Copper has averages of 11.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 steals in 20.9 minutes.
“Any disappointment or any failure in your life motivates you to want to be better and to want to be that competitor,” said Copper.
The USA is back in action to close Group A play vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Tuesday at 2 p.m. Sydney time/midnight ET on ESPNU and ESPN+.
Sarah Lounsbury is a contributor to USAB.com as part of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.