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The making of the USA Women's National Team. Lot's of talent, limited spots.

POSTED February 21, 2016
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney


STORRS: Good luck making this team.

As the 2016 USA Basketball Women’s Nation Team held their first day of training camp on Sunday at the home of the University of Connecticut Huskies, the daunting task of filtering down this much talent to just a dozen players seems a very tall task, even for the blue chip coaches tasked to do so.

Why so tough?

Well, consider there can only be 12 who make the final cut with the likes of Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Tamika Catchings, Brittney Griner, Kayla McBride and a host of others vying to represent the USA in the Rio de Janeiro, August 5-21.

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma is the man given the job of putting together another dynamic Olympic team looking to keep this countries streak of 41 straight wins on the world biggest stage.

He has some major choices to make when it comes to cutting this one down to size.

“That’s not going to be easy,” Auriemma said, “That’s going to be a very difficult proposition. There were year back when it was like ‘okay, who’s the twelve man?’ Now it’s the fact that we have eight guys who played in the Olympics in 2012 and they’re all back, they all want to play. So now we say, maybe we have four spots or maybe we have ten and there’s only two spots. Maybe there are six, seven or eight players for those two spots and they all deserve to be on the team. That’s going to be a good problem to have. A lot of other countries wish they had that kind of problem.”

On Sunday, it was pretty apparent that this year’s contingent might fill two teams, with a deep bench.

Having all this talent in one place, including three players who own nine Gold Medals between them (Bird, Taurasi and Catchings all own three), might make anybody feel like it was their first day in middle school, trying to break onto the big squad.

Four former and one current Huskie practiced in the Werth Championship Center, kind of appropriate considering the pedigree on the hardwood.

Bird, Taurasi, Moore and Stefanie Dolson were joined by the only college player designated to try out for the team, Breanna Stewart, a player who has spent a great deal of time with this talented group over her four year career in Storrs and around the world.

Make no mistake though. This is not the same wide eyed player who was the new kid on the floor four years ago. The growth has been spectacular, just ask her coach.

“She may not look differently physically,” Auriemma said, “But she’s completely different physically. Tougher, smarter, much more confident. Much more aware of her place, what she needs to do, how she needs to do it. The more that she is around these guys, the more comfortable she looks, the better she feels. It’s always been that way with Stewie, the better the players around her, the better she plays. Today was another case of that.”

On the floor, Stewart is showing just how comfortable she is amongst the greatest players in the country and for that matter, the world.

“I don’t even think of myself as the lone college player, or the youngster that kind of stuff” Stewart said, “Because the more you play with them, the more and more comfortable you get. It’s playing basketball.”

For players like Moore, who came hear ten years ago and now understand how time flies, it’s always good coming home and working with Auriemma.

“It’s always fun being back with coach,” Moore said, “It’s really funny to realize how much he has influenced how I think about basketball. I can just hear him in my head still when I’m on the court and especially in this environment. Before he even tells me something, I know what he’s going to say. It’s just fun. The tone in which he tells me things is a lot better. I appreciate that more than anything.”

The training camp continues on Monday and Tuesday with the 16 players who are looking to make as good an impression as they can to fill those gold plated final spots.

Like I said, good luck. As we could also say to the rest of the world who has to try and knock off this group.

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