Women’s National Team Training Camp Recap
Team USA is in good hands.
LAS VEGAS – It sounds both cliché and tired, but “inspiring” is the best way to describe Team USA’s training camp.
Preparing for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, the USA Basketball Women’s National Team held a short training camp in Las Vegas, May 10-12, at Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus. The gym at Cox Pavilion is fairly small for a 23-person squad but Geno Auriemma and his coaching staff made it work.
Although media only had access to view a portion of their practice each day, we were able to get a clear sense of what this team will pride itself on. While there is still a fierce competition to make the final 12-person roster, each player has the same mindset and goal of representing the USA honorably to the rest of the world. How powerful that must be to these women! Playing for your country is certainly a privilege; there is no mistaking the passion and patriotism the players exemplify even in training camp.
As soon as each player put on that USA uniform, nothing else mattered. Geno Auriemma and his coaching staff made sure that each practice was tough, gritty and difficult. One of the most intense sessions was a defensive positioning drill where coaches emphasized proper rotations and weak-side help. Most of these players only recently returned to America from overseas so getting them to mesh together after a vastly different feel in European basketball was no easy task; I suspect that’s why Auriemma began camp with the basics. It allowed players to root and pull for each other during these difficult drills and scrimmages. Perhaps more importantly, it separated the individual aspect of basketball and highlighted the collective unit. It was about doing things with honor, character and integrity.
Kind of a microcosm of our country, no?
Three standards were consistently preached during camp – effort, defense, and teamwork. Although they sound like such simple concepts, the reality is that few truly uphold these beliefs and ideals. Still, if the USA is to capture another gold medal in 2012, their foundation will need to be built upon those qualities. Each practice began with several defensive and team-oriented drills and finished with intense intrasquad scrimmages (complete with official referees) so players could begin to get a feel for one another.
Playing for your country isn’t about your play as an individual and it’s so much more than just another team. Before you step on the court to play for an Auriemma coached team, narcissism, arrogance, and selfishness need to be checked at the door. The best part about this is that every player invited to training camp recognizes and embodies this self-effacing spirit wherever they go.
Quite simply, this is how basketball is supposed to be played.
There were no fights, no trash-talking, and no pouting – just hard-nosed basketball. If a player fell to the ground, four others would run over to help her up. If someone missed a shot, the rest of the squad would tell her to keep shooting. If someone made an amazing play, everyone in the gym would congratulate her. In defensive drills, there was so much cheering and encouragement you could barely hear yourself think. The energy and positivity were infectious.
When basketball is played this way, it’s virtually impossible not to fall in love with the game all over again. Too often, basketball is associated with individuality and showmanship; nothing close to that existed at this camp. Needless to say, it was inspiring to see.
At the end of camp, the gym was bursting with smiles and hugs. One could easily sense how much the past few days brought the team together on and off the court. Getting through training camp was an accomplishment in and of itself. There wasn’t a single player who didn’t bust their rear-end and that generated a massive amount of mutual respect throughout the team and coaching staff.
As we head into the WNBA’s 15th season, I have never been more encouraged regarding the future of the league. These women are quintessential role-models and it’s just a natural part of their being; they don’t consciously try to be humble and gracious, the just…are. Looking back, Team USA training camp was the perfect testament to how far women’s basketball has come, and how bright its future is.
They’ve worked extremely hard and deserve all the credit in the world.
Kudos, Team USA.
Sylvia Fowles, Chicago Sky: Fowles showed why she is the most dominant post-player in the women’s game today. She altered shots, moved extremely well in the post, and was virtually unstoppable within five feet of the basket. The Sky will be a huge force in the East in 2011, no doubt about it.
Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury: Rust? What rust? Taurasi looked healthy, competitive, and driven in every single drill and scrimmage. There was a peaceful intensity to her game that should have Mercury fans on cloud nine. She wants to win. Bad.
Courtney Vandersloot, Chicago Sky: Vandersloot was probably the player who stood-out to me the most. Vandersloot’s use of angles and passing lanes reminded me very much of a Sue Bird/John Stockton hybrid (Stockton worked with her extensively at Gonzaga). With Vandersloot running the point, Epiphanny Prince and Shameka Christon scoring the ball, and Sylvia Fowles holding it down in the post the Sky look to be playoff-bound.
Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks: Parker is in the best shape I’ve ever personally seen her in. Her footwork and moves in the paint were beautiful. There was an expanded repertoire to her game in the form of amazing consistency along the perimeter as well. However, what stood-out to me the most was how quick and explosive she was. She’ll have another MVP-caliber season if she stays healthy in 2011.
Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx: Impressive all-around. Not only did Moore show a beyond-her-years form of leadership, her energy and defensive prowess were probably the best in camp. Moore might be a rookie in 2011 but don’t be surprised if she makes the All-Defensive team.
Jayne Appel, San Antonio Silver Stars: The Silver Stars need Jayne Appel to have a big season in 2011 and she is off to a great start. She moved well with and without the ball, defended the paint well, and was a force on the boards. She also showcased an increased proficiency on the offensive end due to being more aggressive. Good sign for Silver Stars fans.
Other Things of Note
- Brittney Griner dunked several times after practice ended. The best of which was a 360.
- Seimone Augustus has the best tattoos in the league.
- Tina Charles is still rehabbing from an ankle injury.
- Candace Parker worked extensively with Brittney Griner during breaks in action or after practice on everything from footwork to post moves.
- Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen graciously offered tips and suggestions to rookie Courtney Vandersloot who soaked up everything she could.