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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Explaining Candace Parker's omission from Olympic team no easy chore

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim -

This is by far your best blog ever. Thank you for your insights and honesty.

In your blog, there are 2 telling quotes which are BS in my opinion.

Carol Callan said "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."

Maya Moore said "We want you to come out and bring something that no other person can bring ..."

Let me easily shoot those blowing smoke comments down. Candace Parker is a proven versatile player at the Olympic and International levels who can play 3 and 4 very well. Parker can also could play some 5 in a small lineup for quickness and if needed an off guard with passing skills.

Maya Moore does NOT bring that. Breanna Stewart has played 3, 4, and some 5 at UConn. But we know just how lousy WCBB competition is.

Fact: Stewart is unproven at the Olympic level. But I clearly understand the need to include the new face of women's basketball and get her Olympic experience in 2016 so she can be the go to player in 2020.

No one can justify to me keeping all 3 of Griner, Tina, and Big Syl. They are NOT as versatile as Candace Parker. Griner has had issues which the public knows about. How did that NOT play into the selection process?

Catchings was given a slot based on career achievement. She is NOT as versatile as Parker. Augustus is overrated. Angel has had issues and at times is not a team player.

Something must have happened behind closed doors. Possibly a small exchange between Parker and Auriemma is all that it took. We know that once a player is in Geno's doghouse, they do not get out.

Anyone who thinks Geno did not have great influence on the committee is fooling themselves. Geno would NOT have returned to coach a second USA Olympic team if Taurasi and Bird were absent.

This reminds me of Delle Donne leaving UConn on day 2 of summer school and practice. EDD already knew there was no way to communicate with her sister. Yet she still signed to play for UConn. Something happend in her 2 days on the UConn campus for her to pack up and leave.

I hope that Parker turns down USA Basketball if Griner or EDD or Stewart or Maya or anyone else is unable to play.

8:54 AM 
Anonymous John B said...

Good article. Thank you Mr.Fuller

9:08 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fairest assessment of the situation that I have seen. Perhaps the focus should be on some of the other selections
and members of the selection committee.

9:24 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No doubt whatsoever that a healthy Skylar Diggins would have replaced slow bull in a China shop Lindsey Whalen. Diggins was the best player last WNBA season until she tore up her knee.

Candace Parker being left off the 2016 USA Basketball Olympic team obviously has nothing to do with her playing for Tennessee and winning 2 national championships. She was on the 2012 USA Olympic team.

In your most excellent blog, Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko is quoted "How are they responding to adverse situations?" Hilarious ironic nonsense.

Brittney Griner. Angel McCaughtry. Both have had issues on and off the court. USA Basketball and Geno conveniently forgot the issues the Angel had with Atlanta coaching staff. And they conveniently forgot that Griner lost her temper on the court in college and last year in private with her ex partner.

To those who say Candace Parker is not a team player, have they never watched the Angel play in the WNBA? This is not 2012. She is not as good as back then. Taurasi has had issues with former WNBA teammates. She is not a model per the USA Basketball political nonsense.

USA Basketball and Geno are blowing smoke. 6 UConn players would not have made the 2012 Olympic team if Geno was not the USA head coach. 5 UConn players would not have made this 2016 Olympic team if Geno was not the USA head coach. WBB fans who think it is just a coincidence or deserved are in denial.

And no I am not a Tennesse fan. I am wearing my UConn 2016 NCAA champions tee shirt as I type.

9:29 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a Canadian basketball fan, so biased to neither Uconn nor Tennessee. I was surprised to hear that one of the best players in the world was left off of the team, and disappointed that I won't get to see her play at the Olympics. I think you forget that the coach is one of the most powerful people in the basketball world, and must have some sway over the committee.

10:45 AM 
Blogger Gordon Hill said...

...and we will never know why.

11:47 AM 
Blogger JC said...

As always, excellent and balanced story.

Something that's been rumored is that there were a handful of players who complained to the committee about Parker's absence from the past 2 world championships. The complaining parties felt that if they were expected to play in the world championships to be considered for the Olympic team than so should Candace Parker. Parker missed the 2010 worlds because of surgery on her shoulder which she injured in a WNBA game (she had chronic shoulder problems dating back to college). There is a story out there that she was going to repair the shoulder after the WNBA season anyway (and therefore have to miss the worlds) but the injury caused her to move the surgery up and she missed the rest of the WNBA season. Reports are USA BB officials were not thrilled but obviously were okay enough to put her on the 2012 Olympic team.

Fast-forward to 2014 and, again, Parker opts for what was deemed "minor knee surgery" after her WNBA season was over (she played a total of 32 games) and she withdraws from consideration for the world championships. It is this decision -- one that would allow her to rest and recovery in time for her Russian season -- that apparently irked enough of her teammates such that they complained about it. Their point: we'd all like to rest up before our European seasons, or take care of clean-up surgeries, but we also know that we have to show up for the world championships in order to have a shot at making the Olympic team. Why doesn't that same rule apply to Candace Parker?

I doubt Carol or the committee members will confirm this is the reason or explain the real reason if it isn't, but that rumor is out there.

Thanks for your work, Jim.

10:26 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really nice post giving some interesting insight - I liked hearing how being part of the committee has altered Chris' evaluation process of players.

Just want to make one point about the inclusion of Stewart - since the 1996 NT selection there have been ten teams selected and every one of them has had at least one college student, or pro player with 1 or fewer years experience - in many cases there have been two such players. Of the college players - it has happened four times, Holdsclaw, Parker, Moore, and Stewart - in each case for a WC team, and in each case they have been retained in the following Olympic team. Specifically in the year Parker was selected there were 13 WNBA allstars left off the Bronze medal 2006 WC team in favor of Parker including Lisa Leslie, Yolanda Griffiths, and Dawn Staley.

So including a rookie or two in the NT team is what the USA NT does EVERY time it sends out a squad to competition. If you want to know who was included instead of Parker look elsewhere on the roster. And while Parker is a two time Olympian, and has made three out of the last six NT she has started a total of 3 of the 25 games she has played, so she has been a valuable bench player for the NT and not a 'starter' for two different coaches.

12:21 AM 
Anonymous Joe said...

A variety of comments:
-- the US National Team (both men's and women's) for years has included one college student (e.g., Christian Laettner, Charles Davis, and in 2006, Candace Parker). Stewart's inclusion did not occur "at the expense of" Parker, there always has been one slot reserved for a college player as a crucial element in establishing continuity and laying the foundation for future growth.
-- if Parker were to be included on the team, one of the other 11 players would not be. In all the poutrage about Parker not being included, not one of those commenting have said who should be left off the team to make room for her.
-- sometimes, you want to assemble a team of players that will play best together. That might not always be the 12 best players.
-- one way to look at it would be to say, "who has played best together in the past, since we have so little time to practice and prepare."
-- while I've never seen it, some people have asserted that Parker's attitude isn't as team-centric as those who were chosen (with the possible exception of Griner). I have no idea whether that is true or not, and no idea whether that might have been a factor in the decision.
-- overall, it sounds like there were 13 great choices for 12 slots. If it weren't Parker we were talking about, it would be someone else.

6:49 AM 
Anonymous Joe said...

PS: I meant Anthony Davis, not Charles Davis. Sorry.

7:29 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe wrote " In all the poutrage about Parker not being included, not one of those commenting have said who should be left off the team to make room for her."

If Joe is referring to the comments posted prior to his, I clearly indicated who should have been left off team USA. I also presented reasons why.

1:04 PM 

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