WNBA players demonstrate Olympic-class commitment

WBNA 20in20nobylineFor 20 weeks, to commemorate the WNBA’s 20th season (the MSR having covered each season), the MSR sports section will feature a column or article on the W in our “20 in 20” series. This week: the W in Rio

The 2016 USA Women’s National Team begins its Olympic quest for gold Sunday against Senegal in Rio. Unlike their NBA brethren, some of whom find excuses not to accept the USA Basketball invitation, this isn’t the case as all 12 USA team members are WNBAers who gladly accepted their invites.

“I have been given a great opportunity to be on another Olympic team,” said Lindsay Whalen in an MSR interview before she, along with fellow Lynx teammates Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles, left to join their U.S. teammates to practice and play four exhibition games before leaving for Brazil August 2.

“I feel when you get the opportunity, and they ask you to do it, I will never say no,” added Whalen, who will play in her second Summer Olympics.

Lindsay Whalen
Lindsay Whalen Photo by Sophia Hantzes

Whalen (32), Fowles (30) and Augustus (32) are among six American players age 30 or older, along with Tamika Catchings (37), Sue Bird (35) and Diana Taurasi (34).

“When I first made the team in 2010, it was a real time in my career where I was able to work hard and continue to take my game to another level, and that was what I had to do to make the team,” continued Whalen. “I kept myself in good shape and worked a little harder on my weaknesses and on my strengths. Ever since then I’ve been part of the team, and it’s a lot of fun.”

The dedication of Whalen and her fellow USA teammates is why this year’s Olympics squad is veteran-laden as opposed to having a younger group, especially its guard corps — Whalen, Bird and Taurasi.

“Give me three guards that have separated themselves from everyone else in the WNBA, to put themselves at the same level as Sue, Diana, Lindsay Whalen. It took [Whalen] some time, but when she got it, she really got it,” explained USA Coach Geno Auriemma during an April media call that included the MSR.

Responding to a reporter’s question on why no younger backcourt mates, Auriemma said, “I think that’s a big question for USA Basketball: Who are the guards in the next two years that are going to rise up and say, ‘Yes, I’m different than every other guard in this league, and yes, I should be on that national team.’

Geno Auriemma
Geno Auriemma Photo by Sophia Hantzes

A similar question again was asked during the July 21 media call that included the MSR.  “Certainly the time is coming when there has to be an influx of young players,” noted the coach.  “These next two years those players are going to have to step up and commit themselves and give the time and the effort, and put themselves in a position to be on the team and do all the hard work that it takes to be on the Olympic team, and not just show up and say I want to be an Olympian.

“There’s a lot of hard work that goes into this, and Sue and D [Diana Taurasi] and Lindsay and Tamika Catchings and Seimone Augustus — these players do everything that you ask them to do in non-Olympic years…and that’s what allowed us to dominate for the last two years,” noted Auriemma.

Asked what concerns him the most in the short time the team has to prepare for Rio, Auriemma told the MSR, “The way the international teams play is so different than what ]the players] face every day in the WNBA,” giving as examples the no three second defensive rule and more zone defenses.

Finally, Coach Auriemma likes his USA squad — talented, multi-faceted, “but every one of them completely understands [their roles], and that’s why they’re able to come together so easily.”

“I’m looking forward to this month as well,” concluded Whalen.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.