U.S. National Team Assistant Coach Marynell Meadors and U.S. National Team player Sylvia Fowles talk about what Team USA needs to accomplish in training camp before heading to London.
Things team USA should work on when Olympic training camp kicks off Saturday:
How to act when beating Angola by 47 points ... in the second quarter.
What to say when asked how a Croatian player would do in the WNBA.
Positions on the podium when accepting the gold medals.
OK, that’s typical American arrogance, but even in Australia and Russia it would be hard to find serious basketball people who believe that the U.S. won’t win the gold medal in London come Aug. 11.
And yes, there are things to work on when the 12-woman team meets at American University (where else?) in Washington, D.C. on July 14th and 15th then finishes up stateside with an exhibition game against Brazil on the 16th (5:30 pm at the Verizon Center). After all, there are some missing pieces – most notably 6-8 Brittney Griner, who isn't playing because of her mother's health – and six players who are newcomers to the pace and pressure of the Olympic Games.
So here’s a partial list of more serious concerns that training camp can start to address:
Lack of quickness and speed up and down the roster. True, there is Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream) but she has been struggling through knee problems. And even if players like Diana Taurasi were in tip-top shape, the U.S. roster features more than a few players who would be left in the dust were they to wander over to the athletics venue for, say, the 100 meters. That problem might not prove critical, as there are few women's basketball teams in the Olympic field who are particularly fast and quick. Still, it’s certainly foreseeable the U.S. will encounter at least some opponents who could be hard to stay in front of.
Lack of team cohesion. New faces and a slow changing of the guard could cause the U.S. to sputter in the half-court. Head coach Geno Auriemma’s decisions on what offenses to run when the Americans can’t score in transition could prove crucial.
Turnovers and perimeter shooting. The two perennial banes of USA Basketball could easily hurt the U.S. again. If the Americans give the ball away and can’t net some threes, they could find themselves struggling to score against zone defenses and giving up too many easy baskets.
Still, with Penny Taylor out for Australia, and Russia’s long-time post dominance a thing of the past, what country can threaten Team USA's international hegemony? Brazil? Maybe when Hortencia and Magic Paula were still playing. The Czechs? Great Britain?
Someday, of course, someone will beat the U.S., and it will be in part due to the overconfidence that began this article – but barring the extremely unforeseen, that someday isn’t 2012, and that someone isn’t going to be playing in London.
Why the cocky self-assurance, even given the very real issues? Let’s look at the roster, and all will become clear.
Sue Bird: Yes, she’s fast approaching 34 and hasn’t dazzled at the Olympics in the past, but Bird still can run a team, and she can still hit big shots. There’s no better point guard in the world.
Likely role: Starter, but if she struggles, there’s no need to stick with her too long.
Lindsay Whalen: Not a great shooter, but good enough. And like Bird, she’s an unlikely looking assassin, as Whalen’s never-seen-the-sun complexion masks a fierce competitor. Strong, smart and skilled, Whalen is the trigger for the best team in the best league in the world, and Geno Auriemma will lose little when she comes into the game.
Likely role: Given the rigorous Olympic schedule, she should get lots of minutes early to get her ready for the medal round.
Diana Taurasi: Will she be healthy? The word from Sue Bird is that Taurasi has been working out in recent weeks and says she'll be good to go come training camp. But health remains a legitimate question, because even if her hip is fine, Taurasi will not be in top basketball shape, and at age 30, could pick up another nagging injury on the way to getting there. But given Taurasi’s history and passion, it would be a surprise if she’s not a major factor by the time the medal round begins.
Likely role: If she’s healthy in camp, she’ll probably start, but if there’s too much rust, she’ll come off the bench in the early going.
Candace Parker: The USA roster still promotes the fantasy of Parker as a guard, but she’s a power forward who can slide to the three (if she doesn’t have to guard a serious scorer) or the five (if there's little concern about the prospect of significant contact). Parker is a brilliant player who has everything but the desire to defend, and there’s really no one in the world who can stop her.
Likely role: Starter, scorer, rebounder. Parker has always liked the big stage, and there’s no stage bigger than this one.
Seimone Augustus: You win the game by scoring more points than the other team, and Augustus scores. She’s not a great passer, not a great rebounder and not a great defender (though she’s at least adequate in all three categories) but the woman can put the biscuit in the basket.
Likely role: If Taurasi isn’t ready, Augustus most likely starts. Regardless, her job is to make the scoreboard lights change.
Tamika Catchings: There is no more fearsome sight in women’s basketball than Tamika Catchings walking onto the court, pointing at you and saying, “I’ve got No. 23.” Right then, it’s time to start thinking about setting up your teammates and hoping to keep Catchings from getting a double-double.
Likely role: Starter and defensive stopper, but if she shoots poorly, she might not play as much as she’d like.
Maya Moore: As former Oakland Raider guru Al Davis said, “Just win, baby” – and that’s what Moore does. She’s marvelously skilled and a great team player. Her numbers might not be great on this team, but if she were playing for Canada, say, she’d probably lead the Olympics in scoring.
Likely role: In the rotation and a contributor, but not a force.
Angel McCoughtry: When she grows up, she’ll be great – that hasn’t quite happened yet, but McCoughtry is slowly maturing on the court, and is capable of taking over any game she plays in. She’s also capable of shooting mindlessly in London, but if that happens, she’ll be joining Geno on the bench.
Likely role: An occasional walk-on unless Augustus or Taurasi gets hurt. And, of course, she’s nursing a bad knee herself.
Asjha Jones: Inconsistent, but at her best, more than very good. It’s unlikely Jones will play a lot, given the long list of forwards, but if she has to play major minutes, she’ll be one of the better players at the Games.
Likely role: Sitting next to Swin Cash.
Swin Cash: Somebody has to be No. 12, and the aging Cash is the prime candidate. She’s shooting poorly in the WNBA, and not rebounding all that well, but like Jones, if she has to play, she’s good enough to win with in London.
Likely role: Sitting next to Asjha Jones.
Sylvia Fowles: A strong and athletic 6-6, Fowles is head and shoulders (often literally) above any other post in the world. Sure, she has some issues passing out of double-teams, but she’s shooting nearly 65 percent in the WNBA and has almost no offensive help with Epiphanny Prince out of commission. That won’t be the case with USA Basketball.
Likely role: Dominating. The only player in the world who might have a chance to stop her is Brittney Griner, and not only is she American, she also won’t be in London.
Tina Charles: She and Moore are the two youngest players on the team, and both are expected to carry the torch through 2020, so expect them to get plenty of minutes. And, of course, they’re both spectacularly good, so it’s not like playing them will hurt America’s chances.
Likely role: In the rotation with Parker and Fowles at the four/five, though if she shows well early, she’ll get more minutes. Imagine the U.S. in a 2-3 zone with Fowles in the middle and Charles and Parker as the forwards.
And that last sentence is another reason the Americans can approach the Games with such confidence. Auriemma has so many weapons and so many options that something is bound to be working every time out. And, as in most sports, the team with the best players has the best chance to win, and while other teams may have a superior player at one or two positions, there’s no question that the U.S. has the best complete roster in the world.
- USA Basketball announces 11 members of 2012 Olympic team
- Asjha Jones rounds out 2012 U.S. Olympic Team roster