Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Why Caitlin Clark didn’t make Team USA Olympic roster, and why that decision isn’t a ‘snub’

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There are many truths to be told about Caitlin Clark’s omission from the U.S. Women’s National Team roster for the 2024 Olympics.

The first is this: The United States Women’s Olympic team is the hardest team to make in the world. As long as she stays healthy, Caitlin Clark should be a staple of that team for two decades.

But she did not deserve to be on the 2024 team. Clark is the most popular women’s basketball player on the planet. But she is not currently one of the 12 best American players.

If you want Clark to be on the team, you have to tell me who you’re going to sit at home so Clark can mainly ride the bench for a program that has been a juggernaut in Olympic competition for decades.

Diana Taurasi? The 41-year-old is a five-time Olympian who has been playing great in the WNBA this season. She deserves and has earned one final Olympics.

Sabrina Ionescu? The dynamic guard is the first player in WNBA history to record 500 points, 200 assists, and 200 rebounds in a single season and was part of the 2022 team that won the FIBA World Cup. Same goes for Kelsey Plum.

Maybe you could raise your eyebrows at Chelsea Gray, given that she hasn’t played a game in eight months due to a foot injury. But she’s the best point guard in the world when healthy. If he’s 100 percent, she has to be on the roster. Clark is a good bet to take her spot if she isn’t and has to withdraw.

If anyone has a gripe about being left off the roster, it’s Arike Ogunbowale, who is second in the WNBA in scoring at 26.6 points per game.

Clark will be a fixture of Team USA for years to come. But only five rookies in history have made the U.S. Olympic team, and there just wasn’t a spot for Clark.

It’s important to mention that putting together the Team USA roster is a process that takes years. There are training camps, exhibitions, and the FIBA World Cup. All of those data points go into the selection committee’s roster decision.

Through no fault of her own, Clark has not been present for any of these roster-building moments because she was then in school at Iowa. The past two training camps have taken place on the same weekend that Clark and Hawkeyes were in the Women’s Final Four.

USA Basketball’s decision to hold it that weekend is curious, but that doesn’t negate the fact that Clark hasn’t played with other members of this roster.

“I’ve only watched her play against collegiate players,” USA coach Cheryl Reaves told reporters in April about Clark. “I’ve never been in the trenches with her, so it is very premature for me to even suggest what she needs to improve on.”

The recipe for success for a program that has become unstoppable on the world stage isn’t one to tinker with.

Clark hasn’t participated in a USA Basketball event since being on the Under-19 team in 2021. Unlike all the others who have come before her, she hasn’t paid her dues.

If you want to make the case that USA Basketball should have placed Clark on the roster purely for the number of eyeballs she will bring to the sport this summer, you have to ask yourself how coverage of Clark spending most of her time on the bench would actually be of service to the game.

Being left off the roster is probably also in Clark’s best interest. A breather would do her well.

Iowa’s season started last October and ended April 7. She was drafted one week later and has already played in 12 games as the WNBA tries to milk every viewer out of their new superstar.

Clark has been under immense pressure and expectations for the better part of two years. Her body and mind could surely use a break.

Team USA has been dismantling opponents on the world stage for almost four decades. There are too many elite, world-class players and not enough spots. It’s a true meritocracy. There are no handouts. The 12 best, most deserving players make the roster.

Caitlin Clark will become synonymous with USA Basketball in due time. Of that, there’s little doubt. It will belong to her just as it did Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Candace Parker, Sue Bird, Taurasi, Breanna Stewart, and A’ja Wilson.

That time just isn’t now.

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