I'm not sure if you've heard this news yet but two-time Olympic gold medalist Candace Parker was not among the 12 players selected to the U.S. Olympic team.
The news that one of the world's most talented and versatile players is not a part of the U.S. going for a record sixth straight gold medal was a surprise. The backlash, however, was not.
Whether deserved or not, there are those who believe that the UConn connections on the national team during Geno Auriemma's tenure as the head coach of the women's national team as hardly coincidental.
There were some rumblings when Swin Cash and Asjha Jones were named to the 2012 Olympic team and certainly the omission of Parker from the team figured to bring the Auriemma critics out in full force. A popular refrain was that players who have beaten UConn were left out of equation (not sure how Sylvia Fowles and Brittney Griner's selections are justified in this convoluted way of expressing one's dissatisfaction).
The fact that Auriemma is not on the committee which selects the 12-member team hasn't stop people from piling on. On my UConn timeline it doesn't take much effort to find tweets laying into Auriemma favoring his former players. When my curiosity gets the better of me and I click on the Twitter profiles, more often than not they hail from Tennessee. That is hardly unexpected considering that Parker is one of the best players to ever play at Tennessee and it is easy to connect the dots by stating that UConn product Breanna Stewart was put on the team at the expense of Parker.
In a perfect world there would some clarity on what led to Parker's omission from the team. I will go on the record as saying that I truly believe the U.S. team is not as strong without Parker on the squad. She is an exceptionally talented player and I think her comments since this story broke have been respectful which is a credit to her.
There was only one question pertaining to Parker being left off the team on the USA Basketball conference call held the afternoon that the team was announced which might be the most stunning turn of events in this entire deal.
Carol Callan, chair of the selection committee and women's national team director for USA Basketball, chose her words carefully when the subject came up.
"Candace is a great player," Callan said. "She's a two‑time Olympian. She's done a lot for us in the past, since she was in high school. As a committee, we don't get into specifics speaking about each player publicly. Needless to say, there are a lot of deliberations. We have a committee for a reason. Every player has an advocate, and in that case, it's not just one person who is making a decision. So, I may not be able to satisfy your question with an answer specifically of why or why not, but I think what it does speak to is that we have incredible depth on this team. We have ten Olympians, as you mentioned, from 2012. We had five more newcomers in the World Championship. That's 15 athletes, without even considering some of the emerging young players that we have currently. We're looking at depth and talent at each position, and there are just a lot of numbers games that are played at that 3‑4 position. That is the strength of our team. So, we appreciate Candace. It's not an easy call to make. It's not an easy call to hear, from her perspective. And yet what we are trying to do is pick a team collectively that we feel has the best chance to win the gold medal, and we think we've done that."
There has been attempts to make this a two-dimensional process. Geno doesn't like Candace, Geno coached Breanna Stewart therefore Stewart makes the team over Parker. I would think it's not quite that simple although it does make it easy for the Geno bashers. I don't question for a second that Auriemma got his wish in this matter with Stewart making the team and being the strong personality that he is, I am sure he did not hold back in expressing his thoughts during the selection of the team. However, to assume that five committee members would just allow Auriemma to walk all over them just to get his way is quite a reach. I doubt Parker, if she has any hopes of making the 2020 Olympics, is going to come out and get into specifics and Callan made it clear that won't happen from USA Basketball's end of things so it will be a case of people choosing whatever side they like. There will be those, like me, that believe that something significant must have taken place behind the scenes for such a drastic move to be made and others will simply go with the "it's all UConn all the time" party line.
Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko is one of the five committee members and at yesterday's media day he addressed the situation as much as he could.
"It was an eye-opening process because I am very familiar with the athletes in the league and a few collegiate players over the last couple of years," Sienko said. "I just think that the depth of knowledge of who these players are, watching them workout, watching them overseas when I was at the World Championships or on a day to day basis at WNBA games was different than it was before because you look at them with a different (way). How are they interacting with their teammates? How are they responding to adverse situations? What are they doing if things are going against them just all sorts of different things. They may not mean anything in the bigger picture but it is the way that I started to assess players differently.
"The committee is five of us and the coach is obviously involved in the oricess but at the end of rhe day we are responsible for making the selection and not Geno. We want to get input and have an understanding of his feelings but we have to make the decisions."
I was at the 100 Days Out event in Times Square on Wednesday when the Olympic team was announced. I know asking former UConn players to weigh in on the situation might not make for the most impartial responses but I did ask Sue Bird and Maya Moore about it.
"The selection process for the Olympic team is definitely one of the hardest," Moore said. "Our country top to bottom we have so much talent. It is not always about the most talented 12. Coach Auriemma always tells us that you don't have to be the top person in the world. We want you to come out and bring something that no other person can bring and you have a shot at making the team. I don't envy their position because it is a tough call but anybody from our national team pool who would be put out here would do a great job of representing us and I am looking forward to it."
Bird, who is set to become one of five U.S. women's basketball players to appear in at least four Olympics, also gave her take on the hotly-debated subject.
"I do not envy the committee one bit," Bird said. "I think anytime they sit down to pick the teams for women's basketball whether it is the Olympics or World Championships, I think they have the toughest job. There is going to be a lot of talk of who made it, who didn't. At the end of the day and this is the same at this Olympics, the World Championships, who do you leave off? It sucks that somebody has to be left off."
I asked Bird if Auriemma being criticized for the women's national team being overly UConn-centric was fair.
"I do think that is unfair," Bird said. "Again who do you leave off? I don't think it is fair. We are talking about the Olympic team, I don't know it is accurate and correct me if I am wrong but it is the committee that selects the team and not Coach Auriemma so I don't really buy into that. I do understand that when it comes to choosing this team, it is not easy, at the end of rhe day there are people who get left off and it sucks."
The person who makes out the worst in this deal is Parker, a wondrously talented player. However, Stewart has been caught in the middle of a situation not of her doing which I find extremely unfortunate. Callan spoke about players having advocates and I've spoken to her enough over the years to figure she was very much in Stewart's corner when it came to picking this team. Will Stewart be more willing to accept a role, even a limited one, than Parker would have been? That is another question that is almost impossible to answer. I expect when the Olympics roll around, this subject will once again pick up some steam. I've seen people say they won't support the team because of Auriemma turning this into a UConn-dominated team (of course with 10 national championships since the 1999-2000 season), it is only natural that there is a large number of former Huskies on the Olympic team. If people want to take that approach, they have the right to do so but I think they will be missing a pretty special team going for some Olympic history.