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Decisions, Decisions: Tough Calls Ahead For U.S. Women's Basketball Roster

By Amy Rosewater | Sept. 12, 2014, 1:06 a.m. (ET)

Members of the USA Basketball USA Women's National Team compete in a red-white USA Basketball Showcase on Sept. 11, 2014 in Newark, Delaware.

NEWARK, Del. -- Geno Auriemma joked about his predicament.

At UConn, where his day job is as women's basketball coach, he is tasked with guiding his players to a perfect season and an NCAA title.

He has led the Huskies to five undefeated seasons and a women's record nine NCAA championships.

When he moonlights with Team USA as head coach of the women's team, the goal is virtually identical: win every game and come home with a gold medal.

"Other than that, it's an easy job," Auriemma said with a wink and a smile.

The women who played Thursday in the 2014 USA Basketball Women's National Team Showcase at the University of Delaware decided to make his "easy" job a little more difficult.

Seventeen women suited up for the red-white scrimmage, a tune-up for the upcoming FIBA World Championship in Turkey, and attempted to make their case for the 12-player roster. (The red team, paced by Angel McCoughtry's 16 points, beat white, 95-87.) Making their competition stiffer is the fact that Auriemma and his staff didn't even have his full arsenal in Delaware.

Among those notably absent are three-time Olympic champion guard Diana Taurasi — who Auriemma called "the best player to ever play the game" — guard/forward Elena Delle Donne, forward Candice Dupree, and centers Sylvia Fowles and Brittney Griner. All of them are still in the midst of vying for a WNBA title.

And even if the WNBA Final series between the Chicago Sky and the Phoenix Mercury ends Friday (Phoenix holds a 2-0 lead), Auriemma is not expecting to see any of those players until after Team USA's game against Canada Monday in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Team USA has won eight world titles (Auriemma guided them to one of those in 2010). Both sides of the red and white scrimmage are so strong that either red or white probably could beat some international squads.  Each side in the scrimmage featured three Olympic champions.

The challenge isn't finding quality players; it's getting them on the same court at the same time.

"The challenge," Auriemma explained, "is the perception that it's really, really easy. What people don't know is that they never get to practice as a whole team."

Leading up to the 2010 World Championship, Team USA had one full practice with its final roster before it played its first game.

The team spent the past three days practicing at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, but Auriemma was interested in how the players would respond in a game situation. He did not coach either side — Doug Bruno and Dawn Staley coached the red squad and Cheryl Reeve and Jennifer Rizzotti coached white — giving him a chance to observe. Instead of sitting on the bench, he sat mid court with Sgt. Major Bryan Battaglia, a decorated Marine who served numerous tours overseas.

"Some players are not very good in practice," Auriemma said. "They're not good at running drills. But when the game starts, the lights come on and they get on front of a crowd, they're really good."

Among those who shined Thursday night were center Tina Charles, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, who scored 18 points, and guard Lindsay Whalen, an Olympic and world champion, who scored 15 points but had perhaps an even more impressive 11 assists. Forward Nneka Ogwumike made a case to make the team by coming off the bench to score a game-high 26 points and 12 rebounds (nine defensive), and center Jantel Lavender scored 14 points.

"When you have unselfish players that makes it work," Whalen said.

For Charles, her performance on the court was only part of what made the evening important. The game was played on the 13th anniversary of 9/11 and the memory of the terrorist attacks in 2001 was fresh on her mind.

Charles, who was born and raised in Queens, New York, was in eighth grade when the attacks occurred. Her mother, who works in accounting and sales in the Empire State Building and was covered in debris when they reunited at Charles' school later that terrible day.

"It's important that we always remember this day," Charles said.

A moment of silence was held before the game, and at halftime, military members presented U.S. women's players and coaches with dog tags. Team USA players in turn gave the military members specially made coins.

"They are the greatest team in the world," Auriemma told the crowd in reference to the U.S. military. "We aspire to be like them."

Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she covered her fifth Olympic Games in Sochi. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.

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