By Charles Hallman
The U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team is all but set — 11 players now hold roster spots, including three Minnesota Lynx players: Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. This is Augustus’ second Olympic selection — she was on the 2008 team — and the first for both Moore and Whalen. All three players are longtime USA Basketball participants.
“The three earned it because they are great players and they know how to win,” said USA Head Coach Geno Auriemma during a March 30 media conference call with reporters, including the MSR.
“I’m so honored to be on the team,” Whalen told the MSR and other reporters on a conference call March 31. “I will do whatever I can to help us win.”
All 11 players are current WNBA players, includes the three Lynx players; Swin Cash (Chicago), Tamika Catchings (Indiana), Tina Charles (Connecticut), Sylvia Fowles (Chicago), Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta), Candace Parker (Los Angeles), Sue Bird (Seattle) and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix). The 2012 Olympics will be this summer in London (July 28 — August 12).
“I’m really comfortable with this group. I’m anxious to get started,” admitted Auriemma, who is not involved with the player selections. The players instead are selected by the USA Basketball committee. WNBA Basketball Operations Vice-President Renee Brown and Hall of Famer Teresa Edwards are committee members.
A surprise selection perhaps was Cash, a two-time Olympian who also played at three WNBA championships. The veteran player battled back from a back injury several years ago. “I think people forgot about Swin,” noted Auriemma, who coached her in college. “Swin has worked incredibly hard to put herself back in the mix. She knows how to win — she’s a winner. She brings an energy and a passion to the game that’s unmatched.”
“I’m really happy to have the opportunity to finish my USA Basketball career with these great women,” said Cash on the same conference call last week.
When asked, all agree — Auriemma, Cash and Whalen — that the USA team’s training window is small (three days this summer) and could be a challenge.
“The fact that we have so little time to prepare,” notes Auriemma, “any added advantage that you can have — players knowing each other, played together, are comfortable with each other — I just think that makes our jobs so much easier. The lack of practice time is an issue, but we will win in spite of it.”
“The players [such as Augustus] who have been on multiple Olympic teams…will show [the rest of us] the way,” added Whalen.
Cash recalled that the 2004 USA team “was all business.”
“I think this team will have the same mentality,” she believes.
Auriemma said that he’ll also rely on assistants Doug Bruno, Marynell Meadors and Jennifer Gillom, the only Black member on the coaching staff, to help preparing the squad for Olympic competition. “I’ve known Doug for a dozen years, and I will call on Jennifer’s experience in coaching in [the WNBA] and all her other years of experience at different levels. I’m pretty fortunate that we’ve got a coaching staff that’s been through an awful lot and [has] experience at the world championships.”
As a result, “We are going to have to keep things pretty simple,” said the coach. “We are going to have to rely on the players’ experience because the teams we are playing, they are familiar with [them]. They play with some of them overseas and compete against them on the world stage. I trust them and believe in them.”
“There are a lot of players who play a number of positions. It will take us talking to the other players, and not only the coaches’ coaching, but [also] us really teaching each other. It’s our versatility that will be hard to stop,” surmised Cash.
There still is a remaining roster spot that will be filled by the USA committee later this year: Many predict Baylor junior Brittney Griner will be picked.
“That 12th player is not necessarily going to be anybody that’s put us over the top — it just adds to what we already have,” Auriemma pointed out. “If we did not add a 12th player, I’d be pretty comfortable going over there with just 11, thinking we can win the gold medal.”
“I don’t know who the 12th player will be …It doesn’t matter,” concluded Cash. “It’s all about gold and that mentality from top to bottom.”
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