By Stephen Litel / Follow on Twitter @stephenlitel
Team USA announced the first eleven players of their twelve player roster Friday, assembling the team they believe gives the United States the best opportunity to win the gold medal in London. This team will set out to bring win the gold for a fifth straight Olympics and with the roster they have put together, it is difficult to believe they won’t accomplish the remarkable accomplishment.
“I think anytime you’re choosing a team made up of the best players, not only the best players in the country, they’re some of the best players in the world, it’s very difficult to come to a team of 12,” said Team USA head coach Geno Auriemma. “While 11 players have been selected to be a part of the 2012 Olympic Team, some really, really good players are still in the mix for that final spot. I think for the 11, the committee took into consideration what the competition is and who we’re going to have to beat, and put together a really incredible group of players that is not only highly skilled and competitive, they’re proven winners.”
The eleven players named to the team are Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, Diana Taurasi, Seimone Augustus, Swin Cash, Sylvia Fowles, Candace Parker, Tina Charles, Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen.
“It’s an honor for me to represent my country and play,” said Parker. “I think that the first time around, I was excited and just wanted to do it for me, for myself. I dreamt of that since I was a kid. Now that I have my daughter, it’s kind of like I want to show her women’s basketball and show her that we’re continuing to grow in the sport of women’s basketball. I’m excited for her to be at the Olympics and experience that and hopefully remember it.”
“It’s an honor, obviously,” adds Catchings. “Anytime you get to represent your country is just an incredible honor. I’m looking forward to going back to the Olympics with another team full of young and old players. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Bird, Catchings and Taurasi will represent the United States in the Olympics for the third time, while Augustus, Fowles, Cash and Parker will make their second appearance. The four players making their Olympic debuts will be Charles, McCoughtry, Moore and Whalen.
“I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement,” said Charles. “It is truly a blessing to be named with the elite players in women’s basketball and the opportunity to play with a great group on the highest level of competition doesn’t get any better than that.
“I didn’t really know what to say at first. I’m kind of still so happy,” adds Whalen. “It’s one of those things I’ve dreamt about since I was growing up and something I’ve really worked for. For me, being on the last USA World Championship Team and being in the pool for the Olympic team, having that as a goal is something I’ve really been working hard for. I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
Now that a majority of the roster is set, Team USA will put the final touches on their preparations for the Olympic Games. Although the United States has come home with the gold medal the past four Olympics, they are taking nothing for granted and know there are a number of teams in the field who could challenge them.
“Going into London is going to be a huge challenge for us,” said Taurasi. “These teams are getting back into the swing of things, getting their training camps ready. It’s going to be the usual suspects with Australia I think being the favorite going in, coming off of a less than impressive World Championship for their standards. They’ve really kept the level of basketball really high throughout the world. Then you have teams like Brazil, who has the capability of scoring a lot of points, getting you involved in a very difficult game. Russia, and then you have the Asian teams with China always being a tough competitor.”
“I think in the 2012 Olympics, the toughest competition is going to be Australia,” adds Bird. “I think that’s a no-brainer. A lot of the European teams are moving up as well, but Australia’s the one.”
For those making their first appearance in the Olympic Games, the opportunity to represent your country is a special thing they will remember forever. The individual players already understand what their roles will be for this team and are ready to do whatever it takes.
“I really want to focus on defense, bringing defensive energy to the team,” adds McCoughtry. “We have a lot of scorers—all of us can score—so I want to focus on my defensive energy.”
This is a deep team with a majority of the players capable of playing more than one position. Because of that fact, Geno Auriemma and his staff will have the exciting challenge to mix and match lineups and there should definitely be some interesting lineups out there at times. With players as talented and hungry for gold as those on this roster, Auriemma may say there is pressure, but the truth is it should be nothing but a pleasure.
“There’s pressure in the fact that the United States has won four gold medals in a row,” said Auriemma. “That’s a good kind of pressure. To me, that’s the kind of pressure that makes you even better because the bar’s set really, really high. Knowing the competitive nature of the group and the coaching staff, the higher the bar, the better we like it. I’m thrilled that we won four in a row. I have a tremendous admiration for the coaches who have coached in those four gold medal games and those players who have played in them. I hope we can continue to add to that legacy.”
Auriemma is a head coach who has the respect of his players and earned that status a long, long time ago.
“He just knows everybody’s personality,” said Fowles. “He knows how to get to you mentally, physically. You just got to get it done when you’re playing for him. He knows what he wants, he’s consistent with what he wants and he knows how to win. You don’t have any choice but to respect that.”
A great roster, a great coaching staff and the opportunity to do something unprecedented? The United States will be more than focused on dominating the rest of the world in London.