Aliyah Boston competes at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 on Oct. 12, 2018 in Buenos Aires.
Given the legacy of gold medals won at all levels by USA Basketball, it’s perhaps no surprise that three of the four teams left standing in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament are full of players and coaches who have worn a “USA” across their chests.
Out of a total tournament field of 64, half of teams had USA Basketball ties of some type, whether that was a coach or player, senior teams or international youth sides. Thirteen were still standing by the Sweet 16. Seven were left in the Elite 8. Only Arizona made it through among non-USAB affiliated schools to join South Carolina, Stanford and UConn in the Final Four.
Here’s a closer look at those three teams and their USA Basketball pedigrees.
The Gamecocks are led by a bona fide USA Basketball legend in head coach Dawn Staley. A three-time Olympic gold medalist as a player, Staley then won another two Olympic gold medals as an assistant coach with the national team in 2008 and 2016. As a head coach, Staley boasts a 30-0 career record, most recently leading the USA AmeriCup team to a perfect 6-0 record and gold medal in 2019. Staley’s USC assistant coach Lisa Boyer has served as a court coach for national team training camps since 2018.
Players Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke, Destanni Henderson and Destiny Littleton all boast USA Basketball playing experience. Among them, Boston has been the most successful with four gold medals, including at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in the 3x3 format. Littleton has also had success in the 3x3 format, which will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo this summer, winning the 2017 Under-18 national championship and the Under-18 World Cup. Both Cooke and Henderson have won medals on USA youth teams.
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer gets to face off against her former player Dawn Staley when the Cardinal and Gamecocks play in the first national semifinal Friday night. VanDerveer served eight stints as a U.S. head coach, including at the 1996 Olympic Games where the team went 8-0 and captured the gold medal on home soil. VanDerveer compiled an 88-8 record as U.S. head coach from 1986 to 1996. Assistant Katy Steding was also a former player under VanDerveer and a teammate of Staley’s on the 1996 Olympic team.
Players Fran Belibi, Cameron Brink, Jenna Brown, Maya Dodson, Haley Jones, Kiana Williams and Anna Wilson are the Cardinal players with USA Basketball experience. Belibi holds three international gold medals, most recently at the 2019 FIBA Under-19 World Cup. Brink was also a member of that team, with Brown and Jones participating in team trials. Dodson and Wilson have won medals in international youth tournaments, while Williams won a silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in 5x5.
The powerhouse of college basketball that is the UConn Huskies is led by the legendary Geno Auriemma, who coached Team USA to two Olympic gold medals and two World Cup titles from 2009 to 2016. Auriemma was also an assistant coach on the 2000 gold medal-winning Olympic team. In all his coaching experience with USA Basketball from 1993 to 2016, Auriemma was never part of a loss, going 90-0. Associate head coach Chris Dailey and assistants Jamelle Elliott and Shea Ralph served as scouts and court coaches under Auriemma during his tenure with Team USA.
UConn boasts five players with USA Basketball experience including one of the top players in the country in Paige Bueckers. Bueckers was a 2018 Youth Olympic teammate of South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, one of four gold medals she’s won. The 2019 USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year has never lost a 5x5 game in a USA Basketball uniform.
Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Saylor Poffenbarger, Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams are the other players with international experience. Nelson-Ododa was the only collegiate member of the gold medal-winning 2019 AmeriCup team, and won gold the same year in the Pan American Games’ 3x3 format with Williams as her teammate. Poffenbarger and Westbrook each have won gold medals in FIBA Americas youth championships.
UConn faces Arizona in the second semifinal on Friday night.