Thursday, June 20, 2024

USA Basketball explains the ‘basketball criteria’ behind Caitlin Clark Olympics snub

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Caitlin Clark didn’t check all the boxes to make the 12-player Team USA roster for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

That is according to selection committee chair Jen Rizzotti, who explained the decision came down to basketball criteria — and not the fame and attention Clark would bring to the games this summer.

“Here’s the basketball criteria that we were given as a committee and how do we evaluate our players based on that?” Rizzotti told The Associated Press in an interview published on Tuesday, the day USA Basketball released the official roster. “And when you base your decision on criteria, there were other players that were harder to cut because they checked a lot more boxes. Then sometimes it comes down to position, style of play for [coach] Cheryl [Reeve] and then sometimes a vote.

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) reacts after her third foul against the Connecticut Sun in the second quarter at Mohegan Sun Arena on June 10, 2024. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

“It would be irresponsible for us to talk about her in a way other than how she would impact the play of the team because it wasn’t the purview of our committee to decide how many people would watch or how many people would root for the U.S. It was our purview to create the best team we could for Cheryl.”

The selection committee chooses the 2024 USA Women’s National Team based on criteria that includes playing ability, position played and adaptability to the international game.

Coach Jennifer Rizzotti, center, works with players on the USA Basketball Women’s 3×3 national team, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, in Miami Lakes, Fla. AP
United States’ assistant coaches Dan Hughes and Jennifer Rizzotti in the second half of an exhibition basketball game, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Hartford, Conn. AP

The roster — which features seven players from the group that won gold in Tokyo — includes: WNBA MVPs, future Hall of Famers and All-Stars: Diana Taurasi (Mercury), A’ja Wilson (Aces), Breanna Stewart (Liberty), Alyssa Thomas (Sun), Jewell Loyd (Storm), Napheesa Collier (Lynx), Kelsey Plum (Aces), Jackie Young (Aces), Brittney Griner (Mercury), Kahleah Copper (Mercury), Sabrina Ionescu (Liberty) and Chelsea Gray (Aces).

The team will compete for a seventh straight gold medal for the Americans.

Clark, along with the Connecticut Sun’s Brionna Jones, are on top of the alternates list, should Team USA need a replacement, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported on Monday.

It also came down to senior national team experience, which Clark has yet to earn — and that is due to her going from college straight to the pros.

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) moves the ball against Connecticut Sun guard DiJonai Carrington (21) in the first quarter at Mohegan Sun Arena on June 10, 2024. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Clark was the only collegiate athlete invited to the Team USA 14-player training camp in April, but she was unable to attend the final Olympics camp as she and the Hawkeyes advanced to the Final Four in the NCAA tournament — with Iowa ultimately coming up short against South Carolina in the national championship game.

A week later, Clark went on to become the No. 1 overall pick by the Fever in the 2024 WNBA Draft on April 15.

The former All-American point guard — who became the NCAA’s Division I all-time leading scorer for men and women during her senior year at Iowa — is acclimating to the pro level and bringing millions of fans along for the ride.

Indiana Fever’s Caitlin Clark scores career high 30 points in win over Washington Mystics. NAB Productions / SplashNews.com

Clark’s celebrity has helped boost viewership and revenue for the WNBA, which opened the 2024 season with its highest attendance in 26 years and the most-watched games ever on National TV, the league said in a press release.

The WNBA world was at a crossroads when Clark’s name was not on the roster, which leaked over the weekend.

Many believed Team USA missed out on a major marketing opportunity to bring more viewers and popularity to the Summer Games.

Kayla Thornton #5 of the New York Liberty blocks Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever during a Commissioner’s Cup matchup at Barclays Center on June 2, 2024. Michelle Farsi/New York Post

“It’s a great mix of talent across the board in terms of individual skill sets,” USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said. “We have veterans, newcomers and those in the middle. Good perspective and continuity is such an important thing and is why we’ve been successful in the Olympics.

“She’s certainly going to continue to get better and better,” Tooley said. “Really hope that she’s a big part of our future going forward.”

The 22-year-old Clark praised USA Basketball and its players while taking questions from reporters during practice Sunday.

“I didn’t have time to go to a training camp and obviously it was a quick turnaround to come here [to Indiana],” Clark said. “So it’s good motivation for us and we all know how talented that team is.”

Clark explained that it would be a “great opportunity” if Team USA were to call her if they needed a replacement.

“I think it would be a great opportunity, a lot of ‘ifs,’” she said. “My main focus is on the Fever, like that’s what it is. If USA Basketball needs something, you know, I have a great relationship with them but the 12 they have selected are really, really great players.”

The 2024 Paris Olympics will begin on July 26 and run through August 11.

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