Bird, Taurasi picked for fifth U.S. Olympic team
Guards Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi have been named to the U.S. women’s basketball Olympic team for the fifth time, while there are six first-time Olympians on the squad.
The 12-member U.S. team announced Monday morning will compete in the Tokyo Olympics — to be held July 23-Aug. 8 — in pursuit of the Americans’ seventh consecutive gold medal in the sport. South Carolina’s Dawn Staley, a player on the 1996 team that started this streak of gold medals for the U.S. women, is the Olympic team coach.
One of her former Gamecocks stars, forward A’ja Wilson, is among the first-time Olympians. Wilson was the WNBA MVP in 2020 for Las Vegas.
For the States. For the history. For the gold.
Our team to go for seven consecutive Olympic gold medals at @Tokyo2020
🇺🇸 #USABWNT x @TeamUSA pic.twitter.com/2G0zrlXNLh
— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) June 21, 2021
The others slated to compete in their first Olympics are Washington guard Ariel Atkins, Minnesota forward Napheesa Collier, Phoenix guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, Las Vegas guard Chelsea Gray and Seattle guard Jewell Loyd. Wilson and Loyd were both on the 2018 FIBA World Cup-winning team.
Seattle’s Bird and Phoenix’s Taurasi, former teammates at UConn, join a small group of five-time Olympians in basketball. Others on the women’s side to do that were the United States’ Teresa Edwards and Brazil’s Adriana Moises. On the men’s side were Spain’s Juan Carlos Navarro, Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt, Australia’s Andrew Gaze and Puerto Rico’s Teófilo Cruz.
“It’s just been a tremendous journey when you think about playing for that long,” Taurasi said. “We’re trying to take it to the next generation. Focused on what we have to do to come home with gold. Tremendous competition like no other because of COVID, the delay of the Olympics. We’re really focused on winning gold.”
Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles was picked for her fourth team, and Washington center Tina Charles will be on her third Olympic squad.
Phoenix center Brittney Griner and Seattle forward Breanna Stewart, who are on their second Olympic team, round out the U.S. elections.
The two most prominent players who were on the 2018 World Cup team but are not on this Olympic squad are Washington forward/guard Elena Delle Donne and Los Angeles forward Nneka Ogwumike, both former WNBA MVPs. Delle Donne was on the 2016 Olympic team, but Ogwumike didn’t get selected that year, which was her MVP season when she won a championship with the Sparks. Ogwumike also did not get selected in 2012, her rookie season, when she was the No. 1 pick out of Stanford. Ogwumike is the only MVP in WNBA history who has not been named to an Olympic team.
Delle Donne missed all of last season and has not played yet this season because of back issues. Ogwumike, president of the players’ union executive committee, played in the WNBA bubble last season and has appeared in five games this season; it was announced June 3 that she would be out four to six weeks with a knee sprain.
A Sparks spokesperson said Monday that Ogwumike’s injury has since been evaluated more optimistically as having her out possibly as few as three weeks. While Delle Donne’s absence from the Olympic team was expected — she hasn’t played in a game since the WNBA Finals in October 2019 — Ogwumike’s omission is more controversial. Especially since Taurasi also has been out — last playing on May 21 — with a sternum injury.
“It really breaks my heart that Nneka is not on this team,” Staley said. “I mean, if we had to make a decision a month from now … I’m sure she would be healthy. I know this is one of the things that she wanted to do. She came to every training camp, she’s been a great voice in our training camp and our practices. We’re definitely going to miss Nneka.
“I do feel for the players who were with us the last three or four years [as part of the senior national team pool] and didn’t make the roster. It’s not anything against who they are … it’s just hard to get down to 12. Every four years we do this, and it gets more difficult.”
That said, Staley said she is excited about the combination of experience and youth on the team. Bird, 40, and Taurasi, 39, are the oldest. At 24, Atkins, Collier and Wilson are the youngest; both Atkins and Wilson will turn 25 during the Olympics. Diggins-Smith, who turns 31 during the Summer Games, is the oldest player on the team who is making her Olympic debut.
“You need a pretty good mix, especially if you want to take care of winning a gold medal today, and also jump-starting what the future looks like,” Staley said. “I do think it’s enough to win a gold medal; we just have to utilize our final training camp before we go over to Tokyo.”
That camp is in mid-July in Las Vegas, and it will include facing a team of other WNBA standouts in the All-Star Game on July 14 and exhibitions against Australia on July 16 and Nigeria on July 18.
“USA Basketball has never been in a better place,” said Staley, who won three Olympic golds as a player and was an assistant coach for two other Olympic championship teams. “I’m honored to be the coach of such an amazing collection of talented women, both those named to the team and those who gave their all the last few years but won’t be with us in Tokyo.
“The fact that some of the players who won’t suit up this summer would start for any other country is a testament to their talent and to what USA Basketball has done to build a program that lifts up our female athletes every single day.”
Joining Staley’s staff as assistant coaches are three WNBA figures: recently retired Seattle head coach Dan Hughes, Minnesota head coach and GM Cheryl Reeve and Connecticut team president Jennifer Rizzotti.
The U.S. Olympic team selection committee is chaired by USA women’s national team director Carol Callan and includes former Olympian and current Minnesota Lynx assistant Katie Smith, WNBA head of league operations Bethany Donaphin, Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller and UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who coached the 2012 and ’16 Olympic teams.
The U.S. women open Olympic preliminary round play July 27 vs. Nigeria, then play Japan on July 30 and France on Aug. 2. Teams that advance to the medal round compete in the quarterfinals on Aug. 4. The semifinals are Aug. 6, the bronze-medal game Aug. 7 and the gold-medal game the morning of Aug. 8 (which will be 10:30 ET the night of Aug. 7 in the United States.)
The Associated Press contributed to this report.