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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, September 08, 2014

First U.S. national team practice is in the books

A total of 17 players took to the court on the first day of the U.S. national team training camp as injuries prevented Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker, Jayne Appel and Monica Wright from attending while seven players including former UConn star Diana Taurasi are still alive in the WNBA playoffs.

The list of players there include former UConn stars Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley and Maya Moore along with current Husky standout Breanna Stewart and the Connecticut Sun's Chiney Ogwumike.

Here are quotes from Auriemma, Bird and Moore courtesy of USA Basketball


Geno Auriemma

On the familiarity he has with this group of players:

That’s one of the real plusses; that we have some new players that have not played. We have some that have won multiple gold medals. Our training camp that we had last October in Las Vegas really, really helped. It made everybody a little more familiar with each other. They know what to expect from me, I know what to expect from them. They change every year, just as you would expect. There’s a real comfort level that I have, certainly with the returning players. The fact that I’ve coached against every one of these players at some point in their careers in college, I feel like I know, I don’t think there’s one player who’s here that at some point, we didn’t have to play against them in the NCAA Tournament or some big game somewhere, multiple times. For me it’s kind of fun to see them from a different perspective and for them to see me from a different perspective.

On the challenge to whittle down to 12 players:

It’s not going to be easy, because we have 17 here. In the pool we have seven that are (still) playing. So, even if you cut five players off of this roster and you’re at 12, next week you’re back to 19. It’s not going to be easy. Getting to this number wasn’t as easy as it’s been in the past. In the past it might have been very simple trying to find out who the 12 best players in the country are. Everybody knew who they were. Boom, let’s do it. Fifteen at the max. Now, you get to 20 and you still go, ‘well, what about this guy? What about that guy?’ So, we’re in an enviable situation as far as that’s concerned that we have many more choices than we used to eight years ago.

Does that make things more competitive?

A lot of times, what’s happened in the past is the team is kind of set. So people will come to a tryout and go ‘is it really a tryout? Because it looks to me like everybody knows who’s going to be on the team.’ Well, for one of the few times, now we’ve got four players that were on the Olympic team that are not available to us. Swin Cash, Asjha Jones, Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker. That’s four players. That’s four spots that if every other Olympian decides to play, and is good enough to play … there’s this assumption that, well you were on the Olympic team in 2012 in London. So you’re automatically on the (USA) World Championship Team. That wouldn’t be fair to the guys trying out. We talked about the guys who were on the Olympic team in 2012, they have to play themselves off the team. So if they don’t do what we ask them to do or if they’re not as good as we expect them to be and some younger guy comes up, you know what? That’s just the way it’s going to be. But the other guys have to play their way on the team. They’re not getting any breaks. They’re not getting any benefit of the doubt. The older guys, they get a little benefit of the doubt, as it should be. It makes these younger guys hungry, but they know there’s a minimum of four spots available. Minimum. There could be more.

There are also some really good young players who were not on the Olympic team, like Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins, who are all really good:

Oh yeah. Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins, Kayla McBride, Breanna Stewart, Odyssey Sims, you take a lot of these young guys, Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, who were All-Americans last year, you get guys who were really, really good players, Chiney Ogwumike was the Rookie of the Year in the WNBA, you get these guys and you go, ‘well yeah, you gotta make room for those guys.’ I say ‘okay, why don’t you be in charge of taking guys off?’

It’s easy to say you gotta get this guy on the team, right? Yeah, sure. Tell me who you’re going to take off and you go tell them. Say ‘look, by the way, you’re not on the team anymore.’ It’s not going to be easy.

Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)

What would it mean to you if you were selected to this USA Basketball Team, your fourth USA World Champioship Team?

That would be amazing, you know, it would be an honor, and it would be very special. I don’t take anything for granted. You kind of just learn that as you go, not to take any moment for granted.  I just want to have fun with it. Obviously, I am the oldest player here now and I think by nature, my position, the good this I have always had to be a leader, so to be the oldest now and kind of continue with that leadership role, it hasn’t really changed much so I don’t feel old if that makes sense. I’m just doing what I’ve always done.

Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx)

How did you assess the first day? How did practice go?

I thought it was a good day. You know, we had a lot of teaching and a lot of just foundational things that the coaches wanted to put in and I thought we all picked it up pretty well. The energy was solid and just working out some of the rust from either coming off of a season or being off for a few weeks but I think we built a pretty good foundation today.

How was the chemistry today?

I think we’re all such good athletes and have such good instincts that we pick things up very quickly so we were working really well together and most of us have played with each other at some point anyway so it is really fun to be back together.

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