With the retiring from international competition of four-time Olympic gold medalist Lisa Leslie, three-time gold medalist Katie Smith and two-time gold medalists DeLisha Milton-Jones and Tina Thompson, the 2012 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team will likely be headed by now international vets Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi, all of whom were a part of the 2004 and 2008 U.S. gold-medal squads.
Named as the head coach for the U.S. squad at the 2010 FIBA World Championship and 2012 Olympics is seven-time NCAA champion from the University of Connecticut, Geno Auriemma.His assistants have not yet been named, but at the 2010 world championship, Auriemma was assisted by DePaul University Head Coach Doug Bruno and WNBA head coaches Jennifer Gillom, a 1988 U.S. Olympic gold medalist from the Los Angeles Sparks, and Marynell Meadors from the Atlanta Dream.
USA Basketball has named 24 athletes to the 2009-12 USA Women’s National Team, including Bird, Catchings and Taurasi. The pool is comprised of 2008 Olympic gold medalists Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Kara Lawson, Candace Parker and Cappie Pondexter; 2004 Olympic gold medalist Swin Cash; and Jayne Appel, Alana Beard, Rebekkah Brunson, Tina Charles, Shameka Christon, Candice Dupree, Lindsey Harding, Ebony Hoffman, Asjha Jones, Angel McCoughtry, Renee Montgomery, Maya Moore, Kia Vaughn, Lindsay Whalen and Candice Wiggins .
The USA National Team pool is fluid and players can be added to the mix over the next year, however, the core of the 2010 USA World Championship Team should remain in place for the 2012 Olympics. The players who claimed gold with a perfect 9-0 record to qualify the United States for the 2012 Olympics are: Appel, Bird, Cash, Catchings, Charles, Dupree, Fowles, Jones, McCoughtry, Moore, Taurasi and Whalen.
In the past dozen years, the highly successful USA Basketball Women's National Team program, ranked No. 1 in the world by FIBA, has posted a 72-1 slate in major international competitions, winning four consecutive Olympic gold medals (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008), three FIBA World Championship gold medals (1998, 2002, 2010), one FIBA World Championship bronze medal (2006) and one FIBA Americas Championship gold medal (2007). Additionally, the U.S. is riding a 33-0 Olympic winning streak, which dates back to the 1992 Olympic bronze-medal game.
Some of the United States’ top competition will be Australia – the 2006 world champion and silver medalists behind the U.S. in the past three Olympiads – and Russia, which captured the silver medal at the 2006 world championship and bronze at the 2008 Olympics.
- Mixing Veteran & Youth: As always, the USA Basketball team is likely to be comprised of internationally experienced veterans and young athletes. In 1984, eventual five-time Olympian and U.S. Olympic Hall of Famer Teresa Edwards learned from starting guard Lea Henry. Edwards eventually took over the veteran torch and passed her leadership role to three-time gold medalist Dawn Staley, who in turn passed it to Bird. The point guard progression mirrored the United States’ historically strong post presence. Fowles learned from Leslie, who gained knowledge from three-time Olympian Katrina McClain, who overlapped with three-timer Anne Donovan. In 2012, the U.S. will likely see the emergence of Tina Charles and Maya Moore as the top two Olympic rookies, with vets Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi leading the way.
- The UConn Connection: With Team USA Head Coach Geno Auriemma from the University of Connecticut at the helm and seven current or former UConn athletes currently on the USA National Team roster, the U.S. Olympic Team could be comprised of a lot of Huskies.
- Gold-Medal Pipeline: One of the reasons the USA Basketball Women’s National Team has experienced such success is due to its strong athlete pipeline. Alana Beard, Tamika Catchings, Shameka Christon, Maya Moore, Cappie Pondexter, Diana Taurasi and Candice Wiggins all won gold medals representing the red, white and blue before even playing in their first collegiate game. In fact, the majority of the USA National Team members competed on several USA Basketball squads before being called up to the top level. And the future remains bright for USA Basketball for 2016 and beyond. In 2009, the USA’s three women’s junior teams combined for a golden sweep of their competitions with a 20-1 record. The USA U19 World Championship Team defended the USA’s gold medal with an 8-1 record; the 2009 USA World University Games Team picked up gold with an unblemished 7-0 slate; and the USA U16 National Team earned the gold medal, a 5-0 mark and a berth in the 2010 U17 World Championship. The 2010 USA squads continued that golden sweep. The 2010 USA U18 National Team captured the FIBA Americas U18 Championship with a perfect 5-0 record to earn a 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship berth, the 2010 USA U17 World Championship Team claimed gold with an unblemished 8-0 mark, and the 2010 USA World Championship Team struck gold with a 9-0 slate. Currently, USA Basketball ranks No. 1 in the world at the girls’ and women’s level and is the reigning champion at the Olympics, FIBA World Championship, FIBA U17 and U19 World Championships, and the FIBA Americas U16 and U18 Championships.
- They are the Champions: To date, just six U.S. women have earned a college national championship, a WNBA title, and an Olympic and world championship gold medal. Those six are Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi and Kara Wolters. One other - Ruth Riley - has collected the trifecta of a college title, a WNBA crown and an Olympic gold medal. Taking into account Donovan's college titles at Old Dominion University, Olympic and world championship golds as a player, and her WNBA title as a coach, she also deserves mention on the list.
- Training Time: Between the WNBA season, college season and EuroLeague season, the basketball schedule is packed, with not much time left over for the USA National Team to train. The 1995-96 USA National Team trained for 10 months and earned a 52-0 record prior to the 1996 Olympic Games and the 1999-2000 USA squad had 31 games on its schedule before departing for Australia. However, the 2004 USA National Team had just three training camps over a three-month period before the U.S. Olympic Team gathered in August, while the training time shrunk even further in 2008. The good news is that all of the players in the USA National Team pool have played together, are among the top players in the world and know what it takes to win.
Streaking: The U.S. is riding a current 33-0 Olympic winning streak, which dates back to the 1992 Olympic bronze-medal game. As the winners of the last four Olympic gold medals, the USA Basketball squad became the first traditional team sport to capture four consecutive gold medals.
International Stars: Most of the members on the U.S. team star in the ‘off season’ for top international teams. Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi played four seasons for Moscow Spartak Region in Russia and helped their team capture four consecutive EuroLeague titles from 2007-10, and Sylvia Fowles joined them on Spartak for the final two. In addition to Bird, Fowles and Taurasi, the 2010 EuroLeague Final Four included Candace Parker and Cappie Pondexter with the UMMC Ekaterinburg (Russia) team. Additionally, Candice Dupree and Angel McCoughtry, who led Good Angels Kosice (Slovakia) to its first ever EuroLeague playoff victory, were knocked out in the 2010 quarterfinals by UMMC Ekaterinburg; while Bird, Parker and Pondexter all advanced to the 2011 EuroLeague Final Four.
- USA Head Coach Geno Auriemma was born in Italy and came to America when he was 7 years old. He has the most successful women’s basketball program of the past decade, winning six NCAA titles from 2000 through 2010, including his last two with perfect 39-0 marks during an unmatched 90-0 college basketball winning streak.
- Jennifer Gillom, USA assistant coach at the world championship, is in the mix to assist in 2012. She is a 1988 Olympic gold medalist and also won gold medals at the 1986 and 2002 FIBA World Championships. Her sister, Peggie Gillom, was an assistant coach for the USA’s golden team in 2000.
- Seimone Augustus was cut from the first two USA Basketball teams for which she tried out. Augustus persevered and made the 2003 USA U21 World Championship Team, then went on to lead the U.S. to gold and collect tournament MVP honors in the process.
- Swin Cash was one of the final additions to the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team, missed out on the 2008 team and is back to try for her second Olympics.
- Tamika Catchings, whose father played in and then worked for the NBA, founded the Catch The Stars Foundation, modeled after Dawn Staley’s foundation that bears her name. She hosts camps and clinics and is involved in raising money to enable disadvantaged youths to attend basketball camps. She has earned numerous WNBA Community Assist awards for her efforts in the community.
- One of five children, Sylvia Fowles was raised in one of Miami’s toughest neighborhoods by her mother, who sometimes had to work two to three jobs.
- Maya Moore recently graduated from the University of Connecticut and was a two-year unanimous National Player of the Year selection, while also earning a pair of NCAA titles.
- Candace Parker’s husband, Shelden Williams, currently plays for the Denver Nuggets and her brother, Anthony Parker, is currently a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Candace and Shelden have one daughter, Lailaa, born on May 13, 2009. Parker, who averaged 9.4 ppg and 4.5 rpg. as the youngest member of the 2008 team, had shoulder surgery in 2010 and did not play in the 2010 world championship.
- Diana Taurasi has won at every level and been among the best players in the world for several years. Her parents came to America from Argentina before she was born. Her father, who was originally from Italy, played pro soccer as a goalie in Argentina.
USA Basketball has named a 24-member USA National Team pool
. As was the case over the last quadrennium, the U.S. team is fluid and athletes may still be added progressively to the USA National Team roster. It is expected that the official 12-member 2012 U.S. Olympic Team will be comprised of players from the 2009-12 USA National Team. There are no formal team trials as player evaluation is an ongoing procedure by the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Committee.