Thursday, February 25th, 2021

USA Basketball: Olympic roster makeup is one “that will give us the best chance to win”

Published on April 27, 2016


2016 U.S. Olympic Team. Image: USA Basketball.

2016 U.S. Olympic Team. Image: USA Basketball.

Carol Callan, the chair of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee, and team head coach Geno Auriemma fielded questions from the media Wednesday on the makeup of the 2016 U.S. Olympic team. The final 12-player roster for the Rio Games was announced this morning on NBC’s Today Show as part of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s “100 Day’ countdown celebration.

The team, which will vie for a sixth-straight gold medal, does not include two-time Olympian Candace Parker, a 30-year-old celebrated forward considered a shoo-in for the team until she revealed earlier this week that she was not on the roster.

“It’s a great day to celebrate the 12?member team that we have,” said Callan. “It was an incredibly difficult decision for our selection committee, yet, also a very positive progress in our national team program to the point where it was a difficult decision. 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.”

When asked about the omission of Parker by ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel, Callan gave a vague reply.

“Yeah, I appreciate your question, because Candace is a great player,” said Callan. “She’s a two?time Olympian. She’s done a lot for us in the past, since she was in high school. As a committee, we don’t get into specifics speaking about each player publically. Needless to say, there are a lot of deliberations. We have a committee for a reason. Every player has an advocate, and in that case, it’s not just one person who is making a decision.”

“So, I may not be able to satisfy your question with an answer specifically of why or why not, but I think what it does speak to is that we have incredible depth on this team. We have ten Olympians, as you mentioned, from 2012. We had five more newcomers in the World Championship. That’s 15 athletes, without even considering some of the emerging young players that we have currently.”

“We’re looking at depth and talent at each position, and there are just a lot of numbers games that are played at that 3?4 position. That is the strength of our team. So, we appreciate Candace. It’s not an easy call to make. It’s not an easy call to hear, from her perspective. And yet what we are trying to do is pick a team collectively that we feel has the best chance to win the gold medal, and we think we’ve done that.”

Unlike several other national teams, the U.S. squad will not get to practice together until late July. Countries such as Australia and Japan have been able to hold scrimmages and play exhibition games all spring.

“Obviously we haven’t had a chance to get together as a team,” said Auriemma. “We won’t see each other until, I want to say July 22, July 23, sometime in that area. We’ll be playing a couple exhibition games, and then we’ll be in Rio before you know it. So we’re 100 days away, but in some ways, it feels like it’s right on top of us.”

The deadline for submitting a roster to the U.S. Olympic Committee is early July according to USA Basketball’s website but today Callan said that the deadline is late June. In the meantime, the committee will also put together a pool of six players that could step in as replacements in the event of injuries to those on the final roster.

“By announcing the 12 members today, obviously we have determined what that roster is, but we will be waiting to identify those six replacement athletes,” said Callan. “It gives us some flexibility, should there be an injury, not only to one of the 12 players, but also perhaps to one of the pool members.”

The final roster was selected from a field of 25 players. The remaining 13 athletes that did not make the final cut are eligible to be selected as replacements.

Callan and Auriemma also addressed other Olympic team issues.

Auriemma on what newcomers bring to the team

Well, when you look at Brittney Griner, it is her first Olympics, but she was with us at the World Championships in Istanbul in 2014. You’re talking about a unique individual whose size and skill set allows her to do some things that very few, if any players, are able to do anywhere in the world. The only thing that Brittney is lacking is the experience that you have to have, and playing overseas, and playing in Russia and then in China last year, has given her a sense of that.

Elena Delle Donne, obviously one of the most talented players in the world. We’re not quite sure right now exactly how that translates into international competition, because Elena has not had a lot of that. Although, she had some in Spain in October, but the fact that she can play multiple positions. 

And same with Breanna Stewart. I think the fact that you can put her at various places on the floor and be productive, and having played in the World Championship. Same with Stewie, she’s had a chance to be a part of that.

But, it also gives the team at least a little bit of the beginnings of a foundation for what’s going to happen going forward in the next couple of years. 

Auriemma on coaching his former players as Olympians

Well, other than Stewie, they are completely different players than they were when we played at Connecticut. They may be the same people, but they are not the same players, as I found out quickly when I first coached them in 2009 and 2010 in the Czech Republic. The fact that we have very little preparation time, relative to the rest of the world, it was a little bit of a help for me back then.  This time around, I think what’s more important is the fact that with Sue, Diana, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, the fact that I coached them in the 2000 World Championships and then in the 2012 Olympics, I think that experience of being with them during that time of their lives is probably more significant than the time they spent at Connecticut with me.

Auriemma on what Tamika Catchings brings to the team

Yeah, we do. I think Tamika’s value to the team, in addition to experience and as you said, certain leadership qualities, but I think more importantly is her tremendous desire to win, her ability to play whatever role you ask her to play, to play multiple positions. And as I found out at the 2012 Olympics in London, you can ask Tamika to do anything, and she’ll do it to the best of her ability and provide something that will help the team win, whether it was starting, coming off the bench, playing, in the perimeter, playing inside, whether touching the ball 15 times or five times. I think Tamika’s value sometimes is going to show up in the box score and sometimes not, but it’s going to be invaluable. 

Auriemma on concerns about the Zika virus

Well, obviously because it’s out there, it’s something that’s on people’s minds. The players have been made well aware of what the situation is. At the same time, 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. Again, it’s something that they are well aware of, but I haven’t heard any one player comment on the fact that they are worried about it or have apprehension about going there. They know that it’s there, but their focus is on winning a Gold medal right now. 

Auriemma on the chemistry between WNBA teammates on the roster

Well, it’s not a coincidence, obviously, that players that win a lot of championships, tend to find their way onto the Olympic Team. The fact that you have four players from the Minnesota Lynx on the team, that’s not a coincidence. You’re talking about four of the very best players in the world, and four incredibly unselfish individuals. And the fact that they have accomplished so much together; adding Sylvia last summer may have been the one addition that got Minnesota over the hump, and her performance in the finals speaks for itself. But the fact that those four spend time together, practice together, know each other, that goes a long way. You’ve got Diana and Brittney, who have won a championship together down in Phoenix, and those things are not surprising. 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 the ability to play with other great players. That’s a huge part of playing on the Olympic Team and knowing how to handle yourself when there are 12 of the best players in the world on the same team. So I think it’s a huge advantage that we have going forward.

Auriemma on adjustments Elena Delle Donne will have to make as a first-time Olympian

Well, for people that are going through this for the first time, I think the pressures of having to live up to a certain standard now. Being an Olympian suggests that you’re one of the best players in the world, so now you’ve got to live up to that. I just had a discussion with Elena today, as a matter of fact, talking about what this summer needs to be for her, and what her role on the Chicago Sky team needs to be and how when she plays now, she’s not just playing as a member of the Chicago Sky. She’s playing as a member of the U.S. Olympic Team, and that carries a certain amount of expectation with it. Unfortunately, she has not had much experience against international players – much older, much more experienced than she is, but Elena is a quick learner. It hasn’t taken her very long to establish herself in the league, being MVP of the league last year. I know that because she’s not limited to one thing on the floor, she can help this team in numerous ways, and I’m looking forward to coaching her. 

Auriemma on having previous knowledge of Delle Donne’s skills when she was UConn briefly

Yeah, like you said, 48 hours isn’t a whole lot of time to really get a feel for somebody, but what I saw of her when she played in high school, what I saw of her playing at Delaware and what I’ve been able to see playing in the WNBA, I feel like I know her a little bit. I feel like I know what makes her tick. I think I can get to her in a way that she understands. I’m sure that she’s going to be nervous. She’s going to be anxious. She’s going to be all those things. Our relationship is great, and I would expect it to get even better. 

Callan and Auriemma on the timing of announcing the final roster

Callan: I’ll jump in on this, because this is pretty much a USA Basketball decision. As you go back in time, you’re correct, we used to start with a smaller group, say six, sometimes eight, that we would announce and sort of ?? well, we wouldn’t announce, but we would put them into what we said was our core group, and then we would add to that as we progressed over the two years prior to the Olympics. And it became a bit of a difficult deal, because when we would make a commitment to that core group, they were still playing overseas. And the commitment was, if we get together to train, you’ll come and be a part of that. Because that’s the whole point; we want to train our team and prepare for that next competition. And so what we found happening was we would get a core, but the core could never really get together. We also had some last?minute injuries, if you remember in 2006 leading into the World Championship, and we had to then replace those injuries with athletes that had never trained with us and it was just unfair to them; in that they had really no idea what we were doing. So in response to both of those scenarios and looking at where we are now with the growth of women’s basketball and the WNBA and overseas, we have decided to train a large pool and keep adding to the pool until we get into the Olympic year, and then we will start whittling down to what we call finalists in January, and now the 12?member team has been selected this time. 

Four years ago, we announced the team at the Final Four. And it’s an interesting philosophical discussion:  Do you wait till the last minute that you possibly can, which would have been towards the end of June, or do you take advantage of opportunities to really promote our women’s team and our women’s players. And we chose this time around, again, through the cooperation with NBC and the USOC and today’s 100 Days Out ceremony that’s taking place today in New York City and in Times Square that this is a great opportunity to give our team some additional attention to just naming them and having just this usual teleconference.

A special thanks goes to every WNBA team, because training camp started on Sunday, and we were able to coordinate having players come to us last night, be here today, and then they will get back so they will not miss tomorrow’s practice.

Auriemma: Well, obviously, I wish we had an opportunity to get together and train like these other countries have been able to do. But you know, that’s not the case. But it does help our coaching staff kind of formulate a game plan. What we’re going to do, and how we’d like to do it and what we have available to us. And I think it helps the players in some ways. I can understand sometimes waiting, and I think them knowing at this stage as they go back to training camp that this is in front of them come August, I think it helps them.  I think it helps them prepare. I think there’s a little added incentive, not that they need any, but as I said, there’s a certain expectation level that comes. And, I’m anxious to go see them play as much as I can in May and June. Hopefully everybody stays healthy, and the same team that we introduced today is the same team that shows up in July. 

Auriemma on the progress of Delle Donne’s game

Yeah. You always want people to be successful, obviously. You don’t want anyone to come up short. You want people to go as far as their talent and their ability will take them. Everybody knew Elena, coming out of high school, what her talent level was and what the ability that she had on the basketball court was. It was just getting her mind right and getting herself going in the right direction, and I think that certainly happened when she was at Delaware, and it’s continued to happen in the WNBA. There’s never been any denying what she can do. I don’t think anyone’s surprised by her success in the WNBA. But, as I talked to her about this a couple years ago in Las Vegas at one of our training camps, this is a great opportunity for her. Now is the time for her to take it and not just in college and not just in the United States, but to have some similar success on the world stage. And that’s what all the great players have done that have played in America. They have been able to transfer their success in the States into worldwide success.  I’m anxious to see that. 

Callan on assembling a roster for the international game and choosing based on positions

My mind immediately goes to point guard. My first Olympics was 1996, and we had a year?long program with two experienced players, Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain, and the rest were all first?time Olympians. But, we had a full year together.
It was interesting. Dawn Staley was considered to be the up?and?coming new point guard, and she had an injury or two that occurred at different times where somebody had to step in, and quite honestly, Teresa Edwards, a three?time Olympian at that point, stepped in and offered experience at that level.  The following two Olympics for Dawn, she was a much more experienced point guard. In 2004, her last Olympics, that was Sue Bird’s first Olympics, and Sue continues to this day.

So I do think the point guard position is extremely important to have some experience, and maybe that would be the most important. I think what we tried to do with this team, is what we have done with many teams. And I think the success of our program is twofold. One is, we have players that want to play again and again and again, and in this case, again. We’ll have three four?time Olympians, and that leadership both on and off the court is hard to quantify; it’s so important. So, we have players that want to play many times over, but we also have been able to mix in several first?time Olympians. Whether it be 10 in 1996, or in this case three, that just speaks to this team that it does have veteran leadership, yet we were able to put three first?time Olympians in.

I don’t know if that answers it entirely, but the quick answer would have been the point guard position. 

Callan and Auriemma on the age and experience of point guards on the team

Callan: We discussed that a lot, and that’s where versatility in players is so important. If you look at this team as it is, you could probably say, ‘Okay, there’s five guards.’ And you’re right, the versatility of, say, a Diana Taurasi, we want the ball in her hands to shoot, but she can also handle it. So, we have depth at point guard, but not necessarily youth at point guard to take the reins, say, the next time.
I think that was one of those areas where the committee, we struggled with that one. Because as much as you want to bring youth in, now all of a sudden you’re, again, not able to take another veteran. That’s another one of those excruciating decisions.

I think the thing that helps us, and this is again another reason I think we have a very strong national team program, it’s kind of the good news and the bad news. The bad news is we don’t get to train very much, because there are players that are playing basketball year round. We have so many players that go overseas, and they all play in the WNBA. That’s the bad news. 

But the good news is that because they all go overseas, and I know Skylar Diggins before she got injured was making plans to go overseas, you look at our pool, and every one of those players that’s in that point guard mix, they go overseas. And so as much as we wish we had 13, 14 roster spots to put a young point guard on, we also know that they are getting experience overseas. We know that we do have a multi?year program. A lot of these players that are in the pool now will of course move forward in the next pool. So, they are getting training as much as we can get them training. And when you consider all those factors, we feel comfortable that one or two or three will emerge over the next four years.

Auriemma: When you added the three players that we added, Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Breanna Stewart, what they have accomplished in their careers up to this point really does set them apart from almost everyone else that would be a candidate for those positions. What has to happen now is, if I were to ask you or anyone else:  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, you really start to look around, and you go, that is a huge question that has to be answered going forward. And that would be my advice to some of those guards that are playing in the WNBA. You have an opportunity in these next couple years to separate yourself from everyone else. It hasn’t happened yet. It took Lindsay Whalen some time. Sue and Dee were right out of college, but it took Lindsay Whalen some time, but when she got it, she really got it.

I think that’s the 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.’

Auriemma on facing current UConn player Kia Nurse on the Canadian National Team in the Olympics

Kia has been part of the Canadian national team program for a long time. She was part of their junior program when she was in high school and when she first came to UConn. I’m really proud of her, because she’s gotten better and better every day. She was amazing last summer in the Pan Am Games playing against some of the really good players in this country, two of our players, Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart, and Kia was MVP of the tournament. I would expect her to get better and better. She’s an incredibly competitive individual. She’s a tough kid, and I would love nothing better than to see her have a great Olympics.


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