Storm All-Star Sue Bird was named one of 21 finalists for USA Basketball’s Olympic team that will compete in the London Games this summer. A two-time gold medalist, Bird is looking to be part of the final 12 aiming to win America’s fifth consecutive gold medal.
The official team could be named this spring with the replacements also coming from the pool of 21. For the complete list of names, click here.
A 5-foot-9 point guard, Bird’s status with the team isn’t really in doubt. She played college ball with current national team coach Geno Auriemma at Connecticut and has international playing experience that’s invaluable to the roster. Bird is currently play in Russia with 2009 WNBA MVP Candace Parker, who was also named to the Olympic pool.
“We have the best guards and perimeter players in the world,” Auriemma said via teleconference call on Monday. “It’s going to be the committee coming together and saying what’s the best combination for us to win.”
Baylor C Brittney Griner was the only college player included among the 21 finalists. She’s a potential game-changer in international competition with her shot-blocking talent and 6-8 stature.
Griner, whose Bears are ranked No. 1 nationally, is averaging 22.9 points and 9.6 rebounds as a junior.
Former Gonzaga star Courtney Vandersloot was invited to USA Basketball training camp last spring. Now an All-Star for the Chicago Sky, she wasn’t named a finalist but new Sky teammate Swin Cash, a veteran forward, was. Cash would be returning to the Olympic stage after not being selected to play in the 2008 competition due to a back injury.
“I love the makeup of the finalists, I really do,” Auriemma said.
Although dominant on the Olympic stage, the Americans are constantly at a disadvantage because of lack of training time together as a complete team. Injuries and the WNBA’s summer slate have caused Team USA to juggle practice time, sometimes holding camps in other countries.
After naming the final 12, representatives said USA Basketball will work with some WNBA teams to squeeze a training camp in during the WNBA exhibition season in May. USA Basketball won’t have dedicated practice time with its entire team until the American pro league has a designated hiatus beginning July 14. The basketball portion of the Olympics begins July 28.
Meanwhile the international talent is getting stronger and more countries, like Australia, are requesting players not compete in the WNBA in order to prepare for the Olympics. Storm C Lauren Jackson is missing the first half of the WNBA season in order to train, Seattle still paying her full salary to keep her eligible to return.
But there is talk in Australia of other Aussies not joining Jackson’s lead, however, complaining about Opals coach Carrie Graf. She recently said Olympic gold isn’t Australia’s goal, despite the Aussies being the American’s toughest competition. Jackson is a three-time Olympic silver medalist.
“Gold is not our focus right now,” Graf, a former Storm assistant coach, told AAP. “First and foremost it’s about getting our team together, getting the best possible preparation we can and for us, we’re coming off a fifth at the World Championships so getting on the podium is going to be tough. We need to make sure we have the best preparation that we can and then get on the podium.
“Then, it’s about seeing if we can do something special and try and chase a gold.”
Bird, who is healthy after hip surgery in September, said Team USA needs to be ready once they do gather. She’ll join the Storm after her Russian season and then pick-up with USA Basketball when training begins.
“We have the best point guard in the world, Sue Bird,” said Auriemma, who doesn’t select the team. “We start with that. What we also have are other guards that complement our team and are completely different than Sue, like Cappie and Lindsey (Whalen) was a huge part in us winning the World Championships. I think that group, the experience factor, you can play a lot of different ways and use a lot of different combinations…Phenomenal group and I’m excited about it.”
*PHOTO CREDIT: Olympic and Storm PG Sue Bird courtesy of USA Basketball.