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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

College players add new twist to U.S. training camp

Without question the most intriguing part of this weekend's U.S. national team training camp in Las Vegas is the new wrinkle of having some of the top collegiate players in the mix with former Olympians and pro stars.

I spoke to U.S. women's national team director Carol Callan today to discuss why USA Basketball has some many active college players in the mix at this camp.

"We have always had a consistent look towards our programs from U-16 on," Callan said. "We have a lot of players who love to play USA Basketball and they play time and time again and this is just a natural progression of that. We know that the team that played in London that a lot of them are capable of playing again in Rio but then all of a sudden there is a large age gap and we need to start looking to the future. As we started looking at young WNBA players we also looked at some college players that had even played with some of those young WNBA players on some of our teams in the past. It just made sense if we are really looking forward to develop a program and bring in as many young WNBA players as we can that we should also be looking at the college kids that have had significant contributions to USA Basketball."

In 2010 there were 10 active college players taking part in the training camp held in Hartford but there were part of the USA Select Team and did not train with the national team.

"It truly was a college group that was a team of its own and they played only together," Callan said. "Now this group of college players we are truly looking at them as viable members of our national team so they will not be singled out to play with each other, they will be thrown in with everybody and they are legitimate
contenders to be on the national team.

"When we first started a national team concept it was 1995-96 and that team went and played 22 games against colleges and universities and I think at that time there was a feeling that some of those college teams could beat us and people misunderstood the physical maturity and strength, the experience of professional players so our team went through and had great success against college teams. Now we are at the point where everybody realizes that pros have developed in many ways to be premier, elite athletes and now the question is can college kids compete with that, can they grow from that and maybe more important to us isn't so many that any one particular one college player could take on a professional player and hold their own but if we truly want to prepare players for the future it would make sense that we would have them in the presence of  Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings, and I use them because they are the most experienced professional players we have, but they can teach more than just basketball to young players so we are simply expanding our program reach younger players that we think are viable contenders for our national team. This puts us in good shape for the next several Olympics."

UCconn's Auriemma will be assisted by court coaches including Olympic assistant coach Doug Bruno, former UConn guard and current Hartford coach Jen Rizzotti as well as South Carolina coach Dawn Staley and Pokey Chatman of the WNBA's Chicago Sky. Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx was supposed to be a court coach as well but she's a little busy preparing the Minnesota Lynx for the WNBA championship series. Callan provided a timeline for the naming of Auriemma's assistant coaches.

"Four years ago we named coaches somewhere in winter, February/March would be a logical time frame of when to identify them," Callan said. "It is not as critical because the world championship is not until the end of September next year so the hurry isn't so much who the assistant coaches will be, the critical piece was to get Geno on board. All the court (coaches) we have, they have all been with us before so it is an opportunity to look at a variety of coaches and then make a decision."

Callan said not to assume that the assistant coaches will come solely from those selected to be court coaches.

"Some of it is just availability," Callan said. "We don't ever say 'here are the players who couldn't come or here at the coaches that couldn't come.' We just say 'here is who is coming' but there are certainly other people who could be considered even though they are not here this weekend simply because they weren't available."

Callan said that everybody on the initial press release is still scheduled to take part in the training camp with the exception of the players from Minnesota and Atlanta who are in the WNBA finals. That changed when UConn's Bria Hartley did not make the trip to Las Vegas because she was dealing with a minor ankle issue. After seeing how much lingering injuries impacted Hartley during her junior season, that's a smart move by her or whoever made that decision.

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