With Brittney Griner out of the hunt, USA Basketball turned to the UConn connection -- and to veteran Asjha Jones -- to fill the final spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Women's Basketball Team roster, the organization announced today. Jones, was selected by the USA Basketball Women's National Team Player Selection Committee, approved by the USA Basketball Board of Directors and is pending final approval by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The United States has captured the last four Olympic gold medals and, with its talented and experienced roster, is heavily favored to bring home its fifth consecutive gold from the 2012 Games in London this summer.
For the most part, the Selection Committee opted for experience over new blood in its roster picks. Jones joins the 11 team members named to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team on March 30, including two-time Olympic gold medalists Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury), as well as 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medalists Seimone Augustus (Minneosta Lynx), Swin Cash (Chicago Sky), Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky) and Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks).
The four "rookies" previously named to the 2012 Olympic Team -- Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun), Angeles McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream), Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx) and Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx) -- all brought home gold from the 2010 Women's World Basketball Championships in the Czech Republic, as did Jones. The 2010 Women's World Championship Team was coached by the University of Connecticut's legendary head coach Geno Auriemma, who will also be at the helm of the Americans' Olympic effort.
Auriemma, who will be assisted on the sidelines by DePaul University head coach Doug Bruno, Atlanta Dream head coach Marynell Meadors and 1988 Olympic gold medalist and Washington Mystics assistant coach Jennifer Gillom, coached six of the 12 members of the now finalized Olympic roster -- Bird, Cash, Charles, Jones, Moore and Taurasi -- as collegians. The remainder of the team includes two Tennessee alums, Catchings and Parker; two LSU products, Augustus and Fowles; and one apiece from Louisville (McCoughtry) and Minnesota (Whalen).
Moore, who captured WNBA Rookie of the Year honors last season, will be the youngest member of the squad, with Charles, who graduated from Connecticut a year earlier, not far behind her.
"It's an honor," said Jones in a statement released by USA Basketball on Monday. "My mom, everyone in my family is so excited for me. I think it's exciting how people respond to you when you tell them. A lot of people want to cry. Just to see the way people react to the news is really special. I'm really exited. I'm so excited to be a part of this.
"It was kind of like I was in disbelief and shock," Jones said about hearing the news. "I kind of put the Olympics out of my head because I didn't think I was going to be on the team. First I was surprised that Carol (Callan) was even calling me. Then when I answered and she told me the news, I was very surprised, very shocked. I was really, really honored to be picked up."
"I'm excited," said USA and University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma. "I think it's well deserved. She adds an awful lot of maturity, experience and talent to this team. Some of the teams that we're going to have to beat in the Olympics, the best teams are really the ones who have the most experienced post players. Asjha has proven herself both in the WNBA and overseas to be able to defend anybody and to be able to score. She's got experience. All of the things you would look for in a player, she has those qualities. So, when we're looking at who that 12th player was, having somebody with Asjha's experience and certainly what she's done overseas, especially this year, has given us a lot of comfort knowing that we have somebody who can really compliment the other post players who have already been named."
"As always, this decision was very difficult due to the breadth and quality of the USA National Team pool," said USA Basketball Women's National Team Director Carol Callan, a member of the selection committee that is also comprised of WNBA representatives Reneé Brown, Chief of Basketball Operations and Player Relations; Dan Hughes, head coach/General Manager of the San Antonio Silver Stars; and Chief Operating Officer/General Manager of the Indiana Fever Kelly Krauskopf; and athlete representative and five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards. "Asjha has shown her abilities throughout the EuroLeague season, culminating in earning MVP honors at the Final Eight. Her abilities and leadership as a veteran of international basketball and over the last several years with our USA National Team program makes her a great choice for this final spot. Her experience pushed her forward in terms of selecting the final roster spot."
The 6-3 forward was a member of the 2007-08 USA National Team, but was injured during the September 2007 training camp and unable to participate in drills. She returned in 2009, and in her first stint playing for USA Basketball aided the USA to a 3-0 mark and the 2009 UMMC Ekaterinburg International Invitational title. Named to the 2010 USA World Championship Team, Jones was on hand for the team's four pre-World Championship exhibition games and went on to help lead the U.S. to the gold at the Worlds. Last fall Jones played in the final three of the USA's five games in its 2011 European Tour.
A 10-year WNBA veteran, Jones is a two-time WNBA All-Star and was named to the 2008 All-WNBA second team. However, in recent years her performance statistics, while above her career average of 11.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game, have been well below her peak seasons of 2007-2009. Last year, the 6-3 forward averaged 13.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game for Connecticut -- solid, but by no means sensational in the fiercely competitive front courts of the WNBA.
In her four-year (1999-2002) collegiate career Jones, who played for Auriemma at the University of Connecticut, aided the Huskies to a 136-9 record (.938), won a pair of NCAA crowns (2000, 2002) while advancing to four NCAA Tournaments, including the 2001 Final Four, and earned four Big East regular season and tournament titles.
Nonetheless, Jones' selection will come as a surprise to many -- at least to those who haven't been following her recent exploits in Europe -- in light of her relatively weak showing in the 2010 Women's World Basketball Championships. Jones averaged just 12.4 minutes per outing over that nine-game tournament, putting up just 5.1 points per game. That's not bad production on a per-minute basis, but Jones was spared only by the presence on that squad of Jayne Appel (San Antonio Silver Stars) from being dead last on the team in both minutes played and points scored. Nor was Jones' 2.8 rebounds per game all that inspiring.
However, Jones' stock has risen after a terrific WNBA off-season playing in Europe this winter for Rivas Ecopilis, which she led to the Final Eight in Euroleague Competition before falling to Ros Casares in the title game. Despite coming up short, Jones picked up MVP honors for the Final Eight after averaging a double-double of 20.3 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, and shooting an impressive 60.4 percent from the field over the four games of the tournament. Even in the championship game loss to Ros Casares, Jones, who averaged a Euroleague career-high of 17 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, as well as nearly an assist per game, over the course of the Euroleague season, put up a solid individual performance with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Olympic women’s basketball competition will be tip off on July 28 in the Olympic Park Basketball Arena for preliminary-round and quarterfinal games, before moving to the North Greenwich Arena for the semifinals and finals.
The draw to determine the two preliminary round pools of six teams each is scheduled to be held April 28 at the FIBA Central Board meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The preliminary round, played July 28-Aug. 5, will feature a round-robin schedule, with the top-four finishing teams advancing to the Aug. 7 quarterfinals. The semifinals are scheduled for Aug. 9, and the gold and bronze-medal games will be played on Aug. 11.
Seven countries have claimed spots in the eventual 12-nation field, including host country Great Britain; the United States, which cemented its berth when it won the 2010 FIBA Women's World Championship; and five nations which earned the gold medal at their respective FIBA zone qualifying tournament: Angola (FIBA Africa), Australia (FIBA Oceania), Brazil (FIBA Americas), China (FIBA Asia) and Russia (FIBA Europe).
Twelve nations will compete for the final five Olympic spots at the 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament to be held from June 25 - July 1 in Ankara, Turkey. The nations who have earned the right to compete in that tournament include two from FIBA Africa -- (zone bronze medalists) and Mozambique (zone fifth-place finisher); three from FIBA Americas -- Argentina (zone silver medal), Canada (bronze medalist) and Puerto Rico (fifth-place finisher); two from FIBA Asia -- South Korea (zone silver medalist) and Japan (zone bronze medalist); four from FIBA Europe -- Turkey (European silver medalist), France (European bronze medalist), Czech Republic (European fourth-place finisher) and Croatia (European fifth-place finisher); and New Zealand (silver medalist) from FIBA Oceania.
Source: Portions of this story were provided by USA Basketball.
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