There is less than 100 days until the 2016 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team takes on the world in Rio in August. The team’s Olympic record is 58-3.
All 12 players are WNBAers, including four Minnesota Lynx players: Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen, along with Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart (Seattle); Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix); Tamika Catchings (Indiana); Tina Charles (New York); Elena Delle Donne (Chicago) and Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta).
“The fact that you have four players from the Minnesota Lynx on the team, that’s not a coincidence,” said USA Coach Geno Auriemma to the MSR, when asked during the April 27 USA Basketball media teleconference if team chemistry was a high premium when selecting the squad.
“When you look at our team, in addition to the four from Minnesota, Brittney and Diana in Phoenix, Tamika has won a WNBA championship in Indianapolis. Sue has won two of them in Seattle. You’re talking about players that are used to winning, and they are used to winning at every level that they have been at.
“And the other thing I think that’s important is their ability to play with each other. It’s not a coincidence that players that won a lot of championships tend to find their way onto the Olympic team.”
Whether or not this had to do with why Candace Parker — the Los Angeles Sparks forward who as of yet doesn’t have a pro championship on her stellar resume — was left off the 12-player roster, USA Basketball Team Director Carol Callan replied, “Candace is a great player. We don’t get into specifics, speaking about each player publicly. There are a lot of deliberations. Every player has an advocate, and it’s not just one person who is making a decision. We have a committee for a reason.” The head coach or the assistants are not committee members.
I compare the Parker omission to Isiah Thomas being left off the U.S. Men’s Dream Team, in favor of Christian Laettner, reportedly because Michael Jordan didn’t want Thomas as a teammate.
In this case, Breanna Stewart is Laettner, and like him, she is the only player on the U.S. Women’s team without current pro experience. Laettner also was a rookie while the other men players were at the time current NBA players or former players.
“We have 10 Olympians from 2012,” said Callan. “We have incredible depth on this team.” However, all but Parker got their names called.
“We appreciate Candace,” continued Callan. “It’s not an easy call to make. It’s not an easy call to hear. We are trying to do pick a team collectively that we feel has the best chance to win the gold medal, and we think we’ve done that.”
If indeed Parker got caught in a numbers game simply because her position, the 3-4 is heavily stacked, then so be it. If indeed it’s chemistry, as Auriemma earlier referenced, then so be it as well.
But if it was political as some suggest — Auriemma coaches UConn; Stewart, Bird, Taurasi and Moore all once played for him in college, and Parker is a Tennessee grad and a once hated rival of Connecticut during her years there — then that is something altogether different. However, no one’s talking.
Augustus and Fowles are both two-time Olympians (2008, 2012), and both Moore and Whalen are making their second Olympic appearance. “I’m one of the older players on this team, so I can add that veteran leadership and that bond,” said Augustus.
Said Fowles, “I think that this year I can be more vocal and just go out there and lead by example. I’m just excited that I am one of these 12 to be named.”
“It’s not a very complicated recipe for leadership on this team,” said Moore.
“I feel pretty lucky just to be part of USA Basketball again,” added Whalen.
The MSR also asked Auriemma about any concerns that he or the players have over the Zika virus, which can be transmitted by mosquitoes.
“It’s something that’s on people minds,” stated the coach. “Obviously it’s out there. The players have been made well aware of what the situation is. I haven’t heard any one player comment on the fact that they are worried about it or have apprehension about going there [to Rio].
“They know that it’s there, but their focus is on winning a gold medal right now. The people at USA Basketball and the U.S. Olympic Committee have assured the players that everything will be done to protect them, and the players are very confident in that.”
Finally, with all the Parker talk, USA Basketball, especially on the women’s side of things is showing “a very positive progress in our national team program… It was a difficult decision” to decide on who makes the ’16 Olympic squad, said Callan.
“There are a lot of excellent athletes in our pool, and the committee selected what we feel is the team that will give us the best chance to win our sixth straight gold medal in Rio.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-