U.S. team meets with the media
I'm not there to cover the Olympics unfortunately but thanks to the folks at USA Basketball, I can pass along what Auriemma, Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi had to say.
Geno Auriemma (Connecticut)
Obviously, we are excited to be here, as every other team is, I’m sure. This is what they train for. This is what they prepare for. Whether they are playing overseas, or whether they are playing in the WNBA, this is always something that is in the back of their mind – that they want to be ready for the Olympic Games. Whether it is their first time, or their fourth time. If the look of them has been any indication these last couple of weeks, this team is really, really ready. They’re obviously conscious of how hard it’s going to be. They’re really well aware of how good all the other countries are, and they know not to take anything for granted. But, I’ve been around this national team since 2009, and this is probably the most prepared team, the most anxious team to get started that I’ve been around. This weekend can’t come fast enough.
How are you handling the pressure to win?
I’m sure every federation feels it. Every group feels the pressure to win when you are representing your country. I almost put myself in the position of some of these soccer coaches when they play in the World Cup, where you can play great, you dominate a game, you can out-shoot an opponent 30 to two, and one of those goes in and you lose one – nothing, and you are just devastated. And the whole country feels the pain. I don’t know that it is that crazy in the United States, but since this is basketball, it takes on that kind of significance. What I hope happens is that us, if we were fortunate enough to win a gold medal, that that’s a big deal. Instead of, you know what the big deal is, if we lose. Which is unfortunate, because this team, these players, these women have accomplished so much. They’ve done so much. And maybe because they’ve won so much, they probably don’t get the respect they truly deserve for how dominant they have been.
Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)
Just like Tamika said, I think we are all really excited. This group has got a really good mix of first-timers, second, third and fourth. It’s great, because there is experience up here, and there is wide-eyed down there, and everything in between, and the best part is that we did have a great week of training, a week-and-a-half of training. And with that, we are excited to be here, we are ready to be here, and in some ways, it was such a busy week-and-a-half, it’s almost relaxing to be here and know that all we have to do is focus on basketball now. Again, we are really excited, and we are looking forward to the game on Saturday.
What are some things that are working better than in 2012?
I don’t think it’s about better or worse, it’s more about experience. A lot of the players who were are on that team are now back. So, we have four more years together, a World Championship together – all under the same coach, which is actually not the usual thing for USA Basketball. I think it is only the first time where I coach has repeated. So, it’s really just about: we had the right pieces, clearly, because we won a gold medal, and now it’s just we are all four years older, wiser, better – I hope, and now we added some amazing talent. We added some incredible talent with Elena (Delle Donne), Stewie (Breanna Stewart) and B.G. (Brittney Griner) So, I think that’s more what it’s about. It’s not anything different. I think it’s just older, so to speak.
Is this old hat for you now?
Each one is different. It really is. I understand that right now we are standing at five gold medals in a row, hopefully going for our sixth, and yeah, that’s a lot of time. People see that streak, and they view it as dominant, which it is, but each team has its own journey, its own path through this entire experience. And contrary to what the scoreboard might tell you, it’s really not that easy. It can be stressful at times trying to come together with these other players and figure it out and make it work. Yeah, we might make it look easy with some of the ways that we play and some of the teams that we’ve dominated, but it’s really not. There is some stress involved there, and with that being said, like I was trying to get to: each team has its own journey and that’s all we are focused on. And yes, have we been dominant, the U.S. as a whole? Absolutely, but there are no guarantees. And I’ve been on a team at the 2006 World Championship that lost. I know what that’s like. And to be honest … for those that were on that team, that’s a driving force. That’s in the back of our heads, whether we admit it or not. It’s there. So, that’s a driving force. We just want to put ourselves in a position to be successful, and that’s what we focus on.
Tina Charles (New York Liberty)
What is your role on this team?
Just anything that coach Auriemma needs me to do, all the little dirty work. And that’s the best part of this team and being a part of USA Basketball is that you are able to humble yourself versus what you are to your professional team. So, that means less of me, then that is what the situation is – rebounding, running the floor hard and setting good screens. Just making sure that my basketball IQ is at an all-time high, playing with Diana and Sue especially, so it’s great to be around them and just getting better.
How does it feel to have arrived in Rio?
Just to reiterate what Diana said, we have confidence. Doing the tour that we were able to do this past week and play against those top three teams definitely gave us confidence, more chemistry out there together, knowing what coach Auriemma expects out of the plays, Coach Reeves and Dawn (Staley) and Doug (Bruno).
Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx)
How would you rate this team?
I just feel like the longer USA Basketball is around and great players are participating, the better the teams have gotten. Thirty years from now, there might be a team that is better than ours, but I feel like looking from top to bottom, the talent, the experience, the records of some of the players coming in, it’s just really unbelievable to see. We do have the ability to make our own destiny.
How excited are you to be here?
I’m very excited. Finally, we’ve been waiting to get there. It was like this last week-and-a-half, we’ve just been running, trying to play catch up from the missed time that we weren’t able to get, because we were in season. So, we can finally exhale a little bit, get settled in our rooms, be in one time zone for more than two days and get the games started.
Is this the real Dream Team?
Well, this is my Dream Team. This is a blast. Like I was saying, we’ve been so busy the last 10 days or so, just trying to prepare and build excitement for the games, but my favorite moments have been when we’ve stepped on the court and played. It’s just been amazing. People who have been able to watch us in person, they feel what we feel when we play, just the joy, the fun, the passion, the energy, and every time we step on the court, we are getting more and more connected.
Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm)
Does it feel different now that you are in Rio?
Things are definitely sinking in. When you look around – whatever we’ve done today, looking around realizing that we are actually in Rio. We had practice today, and it’s cool. It’s cool to know that know we are actually getting started with the Olympics.
What do you want to bring to the team?
For me, I think the most important thing is to do whatever I can to make an impact. I’m not sure particularly what that means, but to just make sure that I’m ready to go and have high energy and high intensity all of the time.
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
Opening statement on the USA’s exhibition experience:
I think it was a crucial week for our preparation. We played against three really good teams that we know and we’ve played before in World Championships and other Olympics. And I think game-by-game, quarter-by-quarter, we got better. There are still things that we need to do to be really good and beat to beat these teams. And I think we just gained a lot of confidence being on the court. We don’t get a lot of prep time, so those games I felt like really helped us grow and add layers of why we are really good. And it was fun, too. We’re excited to be here. Like Sue and Tamika said, we’re ready to go.
Here's a link to all the quotes from the press conference.
The Olympic tournament begins on Saturday when France plays Turkey at 11 a.m. The U.S. plays its opener on Sunday at 11 a.m. against Senegal.