The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 run July 24-Aug. 9, 2020, with the Paralympic Games following Aug. 25-Sept. 6, and while they may be months away there’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Each Tuesday leading up to the Games, TeamUSA.org will present a nugget you should read about – from athletes to watch to storylines to follow to Japanese culture and landmarks – as part of “Tokyo 2020 Tuesday.” Follow along on social media with the hashtag #Tokyo2020Tuesday.
The U.S. women’s basketball team, winners of the past six Olympic gold medals, is coming at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in force.
In preparation for Tokyo, a group of players is taking part in a first-of-its-kind extending training camp, featuring a series of high-profile exhibitions against top college teams. The U.S. has continued to roll in major tournaments, too, winning the 2019 FIBA AmeriCup and, more recently, the 2020 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia (even though the U.S. already qualified for Tokyo by merit of winning the 2018 World Cup).
All of this is to say that the world’s preeminent women’s basketball program remains both strong and deep, and competition for the 12 Olympic roster spots will be as fierce as ever.
At the very least, three women who weren’t part of the 2016 U.S. Olympic basketball team will be going to Tokyo, with Tamika Catchings and Lindsay Whalen having retired and Maya Moore taking a break from the sport. However, that number could be higher as a new generation of talented players continues to take over for the established names of previous years.
Here are 12 women who could be in the mix for an Olympic debut this summer.
Nneka Ogwumike looks on at the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament on Feb. 8, 2020 in Belgrade, Serbia.
The 28-year-old guard from the New York Liberty was a member of the 2018 World Cup team, where she averaged 2.2 points and 2.5 rebounds playing mostly off the bench in the winning U.S. effort. A former WNBA All-Star, she has played in six games so far for the 2019-20 national team, again mostly in a depth role.
Following the tried-and-true pathway of many former UConn Huskies, wing Napheesa Collier stepped into the next level in 2019 and immediately thrived. Drafted No. 6 by the Minnesota Lynx, Collier helped fill the void when fellow UConn alum Maya Moore left the team, earning a WNBA All-Star nod and the league’s Rookie of the Year Award. A 2014 Youth Olympic gold medalist in 3x3, Collier helped the senior national team win the 2019 FIBA AmeriCup. Only Lynx teammate (and three-time Olympian) Sylvia Fowles has played more for the national team this season, with the 23-year-old Collier averaging 5.2 points and 5.8 rebounds across 13 games, six of them as a starter.
Diamond DeShields, a 25-year-old guard for the Chicago Sky, has been one of the breakout stars on the current national team campaign. Starting all six games in the AmeriCup, DeShields averaged 9.8 points, 3.3 assists and a steal while earning tournament all-star honors. Over nine total games, she's averaged more than 10 points, 3.1 assists and 1.2 steals. The daughter of a former major league baseball player, DeShields made her first WNBA All-Star Game in 2019 and looks to have star potential for years to come.
Diggins-Smith, who will turn 30 during the Tokyo Games, is one of the veterans looking to break into her first Olympic Games. A guard, Diggins-Smith has played in a handful of FIBA tournaments with USA Basketball and is taking part in the team's expanded pre-Olympic training program, where she’s averaging 7.5 points and 3.4 assists over 11 games. One outstanding question is where the former All-WNBA player will suit up professionally in 2020, as she sat out the last season after giving birth to a son and has reportedly asked for a trade from the Dallas Wings.
A standout for the Los Angeles Sparks, 27-year-old Chelsea Gray is still seeking her opportunity to make a mark with the national team. The 5-11 guard, who was a 2016 WNBA title with the Sparks and is a three-time All-Star, has yet to suit up for the U.S. team in a major tournament. but she's played in 10 games so far with the 2019-20 national team and has proven to be one of the squad’s more well-rounded players, posting averages of 8.0 points, 5.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals in those games.
Jewell Loyd went from leading the Seattle Storm to the 2018 WNBA title right to Spain, where she played a key bench role in helping the U.S. claim the World Cup title. Though mostly a reserve in her career with the national team, the 26-year-old guard has shown she can mix it up with the best of them, going from WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2015 to All-Star in 2018 and ’19.
One of the most accomplished players yet to make an Olympic team, forward Nneka Ogwumike (pronounced NEH-kuh Oh-gwoo-MIH-kay) added to her case this past week when she was named MVP of the qualifying tournament in Serbia. It was only the latest honor for the 29-year-old star. A key player for the Sparks since coming into the league in 2012, Ogwumike is a six-time All-Star, five-time All-Defensive Team selection and the 2016 league MVP. She’s also won two World Cups with Team USA, in both 2014 and 2018, and so far in the current national team season she's averaged 14.5 points, ranking No. 2 on the team, to go along with 6.4 rebounds per game. Her younger sister Chiney Ogwumike, also a Sparks forward, could be a 2020 Olympic contender as well.
Kelsey Plum made her name at the University of Washington, where she set the NCAA single-season and career scoring records. Since moving on to the WNBA in 2017, she’s proven to be a reliable starter at guard for the Las Vegas Aces, though perhaps not the prolific scorer she was in college. At 25, Plum could be a solid contributor off the bench for Team USA, a role she played at the 2018 World Cup. In seven games with the national team this season, she's averaged 6.4 points.
Katie Lou Samuelson
A gold medalist in 3x3 at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Nanjing 2014, Katie Lou Samuelson remains one of the more youthful players in the national team picture at 22. The guard, who also won a bronze medal in the shootout competition at those Youth Olympic Games, played sparingly with the Chicago Sky in her WNBA rookie season last year, but few have played more in the current national team season. She’s averaged 6.6 points while coming off the bench in 10 games.
Coming off a resurgent first season with the Minnesota Lynx in which she was selected for her first All-Star Game, veteran guard Odyssey Sims might have played her way back into contention for her first major international tournament since the 2014 World Cup. However, she hasn’t taken part in any games thus far in 2019-20 with the national team, and there are reports that the 27-year-old Sims might sit out the coming WNBA season.
Coming off a solid World Cup debut as a reserve forward in 2018, Morgan Tuck could be aiming for a similar role in 2020. The 25-year-old Tuck signed with the Storm on Monday, following four years with the Connecticut Sun. However, she has yet to take part in any games this season for the national team. In 2018, she averaged 2.5 points and 2.0 rebounds in just over 11 minutes off the bench at the World Cup.
Maybe don’t necessarily use a Sharpie, but if there’s one player likely to make her Olympic debut in Tokyo it’s probably forward A’ja Wilson. One of the sport’s brightest young stars at 23, Wilson is already a two-time WNBA All-Star after two seasons with the Las Vegas Aces. That came after leading her South Carolina Gamecocks to the 2017 NCAA title and being named the 2018 consensus college player of the year. With USA Basketball, Wilson followed success at the youth level by becoming the youngest member of the 2018 World Cup team, coming off the bench to average 10.0 points and 4.0 rebounds. No player has averaged more than her 14.9 points in the current national team campaign, either, while her 6.4 rebounds are tied for fourth on the team. Most recently, Wilson joined Nneka Ogwumike on the all-tournament team at this past week's Olympic qualifier.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movements for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.The “Stand Beside Her” tour aims to take that partnership to the next level.