A heavy UConn presence was clearly noticeable as the USA women’s basketball team meets in Storrs for a final training camp before the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer.
The three-day camp, which started Sunday Feb. 21 and goes until Tuesday Feb. 23, takes place at the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center on campus and is run by UConn women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma, who is coaching Team USA once again after leading them to a gold medal in London in 2012.
“These are the best players in the world…When you see how many shots these guys make, it’s remarkable,” Auriemma said. “It’s all part of what this is all about. It’s an incredible experience to be around all of these players.”
Six of the 17 players attending camp have ties to UConn. Alumni Sue Bird, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi return from the 2012 team and look to be locks for the 2016 squad, while Stefanie Dolson will be fighting with former teammate Breanna Stewart, the only collegiate player in camp, for one of the final 12 spots on the Olympic roster.
Reigning WNBA most valuable player Elena Delle Donne committed to the Huskies for the start of the 2008-09 season before eventually withdrawing and enrolling at the University of Delaware.
“It’s special because it’s such a long line of obviously great basketball talent but amazing people and I don’t know if too many places have that,” Taurasi said of the influx of UConn talent at the training camp. “[The Olympics are] the biggest stage for us, because it’s something we love to do.”
Another former Husky, Tina Charles, is under consideration for one of the final 12 spots, but couldn’t attend camp due to a commitment to her overseas team. Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles are the other players under consideration but not in attendance.
Even with the multitude of UConn connections, college ties and rivalries have been put aside in order to achieve the goal of Team USA’s sixth-straight gold medal and build on their 41-game winning streak in Olympic play.
“One of the great things is getting to be around players that we recruited, that we didn’t get, players that we coached against and tried to figure out how to beat them, and now you’re here [at Training Camp]. That’s been one of the fun things for us,” Auriemma said on coaching players his UConn teams have faced in the past.
Half of the 20 players that are finalists for the 2016 team played on the 2012 squad. Five of the 20 (Delle Donne, Moore, Taurasi, Parker and Tamika Catchings) are WNBA MVPs. With so many internationally-seasoned players – Catchings, Bird and Taurasi have three gold medals each – as well as an influx of young talent in Delle Donne, Stewart, Jewell Lloyd and Brittany Griner, finalizing the 2016 Olympic team will be far from an easy task.
“Accolades do not matter when trying to make this team,” Delle Donne said. “I’m just trying to be a really great teammate and make this 12 because I would definitely say it’s the hardest team to make.”
The final decision for the 12-person team for the 2016 Summer Olympics will be made following the end of camp Tuesday by the USA basketball women’s national team player selection committee, which is chaired by USA women’s national team director Carol Callan.
The rest of the committee consists of the WNBA’s Renee Brown, San Anotion Silver Stars general manager Dan Hughes, Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko and former Team USA member and three-time gold medalist Katie Smith.