Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Diana Taurasi headlines veteran US women’s basketball team for Paris Olympics

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We already knew who isn’t on the U.S. women’s basketball team roster for the Paris Olympics. Now we know who is.

Diana Taurasi was chosen for a record sixth consecutive Olympic team and will lead a veteran squad as the U.S. women try and win their eighth gold medal in a row. For only the second time in U.S. history, each of the 12 players on the roster has won gold at either the Olympics or FIBA World Cup.

“We tried to make this a basketball decision and we tried to give (U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve) the best team that included experience, depth, skill and confidence we were going to be able to win the gold medal,” Jen Rizzotti, chair of the women’s national team committee for USA Basketball, told USA TODAY Sports after the roster was announced Tuesday morning.

“Twelve players isn’t a lot,” Rizzotti added. “We wanted to make sure, without knowing how Cheryl would use everybody completely, we wanted to make sure we gave her essentially two starting lineups and a lot of great options.”

Combined, the team of Taurasi, Napheesa Collier, Kahleah Copper, Chelsea Gray, Brittney Griner, Sabrina Ionescu, Jewell Loyd, Kelsey Plum, Breanna Stewart, Alyssa Thomas, A’Ja Wilson and Jackie Young have 15 Olympic gold medals and 18 FIBA World Cup titles. There are eight WNBA champions and three WNBA MVPs, including the reigning MVP, Stewart.

Copper, Ionescu and Thomas are the only Olympic rookies. Plum and Young won gold as part of the 3×3 team in Tokyo.

The committee evaluated players over the past three years, at both training camps and competitions like the 2022 World Cup and the Olympic qualifying tournament in February. There were 11 criteria used in making the roster selections: U.S. citizenship, availability, position, playing ability, versatility to play other positions, coachability, attitude, adaptability to team concept, leadership, adaptability to international game and likelihood of contributing to success of team.

While Reeve was asked for her input, Rizzotti said roster decisions were made by the committee, which also included South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, who led the U.S. women to gold in Tokyo; Bethany Donaphin, head of league operations for the WNBA; Dan Padover, general manager of the Atlanta Dream; and athlete representatives Seimone Augustus and DeLisha Milton-Jones.

Rizzotti said the committee leaned heavily on Staley’s experiences in Tokyo, as well as those of Staley, Augustus and Milton-Jones, all of whom played on Olympic teams.

“There are times I can remember saying, ‘Dawn, how did you feel in that moment in Tokyo? What would you have preferred in terms of roster composition? What do you think are going to be Cheryl’s greatest challenges?'” Rizzotti recalled.

“They understand the stakes, understand the commitment that went into being on those teams,” Rizzotti said, referring to Staley, Augustus and Milton-Jones. “They understand the highs of winning gold medals and lows of being cuts.”

The Olympic team will play the WNBA All-Stars on July 20 in Phoenix, a game that will be broadcast on ESPN, before heading to London to play Germany on July 23. The U.S. women open the Paris Olympics against Japan, the silver medalist in Tokyo, on July 29, followed by games against Belgium (Aug. 1) and Germany (Aug. 4). The knockout rounds begin Aug. 7.

Where’s Caitlin Clark?

There is no tougher team in women’s basketball to make than the U.S. women’s team. It’s so challenging and competitive that Caitlin Clark, the WNBA rookie who shattered numerous college records before being drafted No. 1 overall in mid April, did not make the cut.

“I know it’s the most competitive team in the world,” Clark said Sunday, after news leaked that she had not made the team. “… Honestly, no disappointment.”

The 22-year-old Clark is wildly popular and has helped fuel explosive interest in the women’s game. While some have suggested that alone should have earned her a rare spot as a rookie on the Olympic team, the priority is winning gold and Clark is simply not among the best U.S. players right now.

“There were definitely some unique circumstances surrounding Caitlin, but at the end of the day, I’m proud our committee stayed honed in on the selection criteria,” Rizzotti said. “None of that criteria talked about TV viewership or marketability.”

Clark leads the WNBA in both total turnovers (70) and turnovers per game (5.4). She’s second in the league with 36 3-pointers, but ranks 29th in shooting percentage from deep. Clark and most of Indiana’s other starters also were benched in the second half of the Indiana Fever’s loss to the Connecticut Sun on Monday night, with coach Christie Sides saying you can’t “coach effort.”

Another factor in Clark not making the Paris squad is she has never played with the senior national team so she does not know coach Cheryl Reeve’s system or been able to develop timing and chemistry with the other players. No small thing when an Olympic title is on the line and a buzzer-beater win over Belgium is still fresh in the minds of the U.S. team.

Tauarasi and Stewart are the most recent players to make the Olympic team as rookies, playing in the 2004 and 2016 Olympics, respectively. Both, however, did have previous senior national team experience: Taurasi had played in 13 exhibition games before making her Olympic debut, and Stewart had been with the senior national team for both the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 Pan American games. 

Clark was invited to the most recent training camp, the last one before the roster was selected, but was unable to participate. As it has been the last few years, the training camp was held the same weekend as the Final Four and Clark was taking Iowa to its second consecutive NCAA title game.

Is Clark an alternate?

USA Basketball didn’t name any alternates. However any player in the Olympic pool, as Clark is, would be eligible to be considered if someone gets hurt or cannot play for other reasons.

But alternates would be chosen based on the position that needs to be filled. So if a center or forward gets hurt, Clark would probably not be considered. Or wouldn’t be among the first players considered. If it’s a guard, however, Clark could be in line to replace that player.

One of the bigger questions surrounds the status of Chelsea Gray, who was injured during the WNBA Finals last season and has yet to play for the Las Vegas Aces. But Rizzotti said the committee was in contact with both Gray and the Aces, and “felt very confident” she’ll be ready to play.

If healthy, Gray is particularly critical to the U.S. roster. She is the successor to longtime point guard Sue Bird, who helped the U.S. women win five gold medals before retiring after Tokyo. As part of the U.S. team in Tokyo and at the 2022 World Cup, Gray is also very familiar with the international game.

“With her proven track record and her being the best point guard in the world, we felt she was an important (piece),” Rizzotti said.

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