Former UConn National Player of Year recipients Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi became two-time Olympians Saturday. They were among the nine players named to the 2008 U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball Team during a news conference held by USA Basketball.
Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, three-time Olympic gold medalist Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker, two-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Smith, Cappie Pondexter and Tina Thompson were also named. Former UConn standout Swin Cash, who was a member of the 2004 team, remains eligible for one of the three remaining roster spots.
The final three members of the 12-person team will be announced no later than July 1. The team will begin training July 28 in Stanford, Calif.
“I feel like these nine individuals were no-brainers with such talent and such a great combination of players in terms of experience,’’ Team USA head coach Anne Donovan said. “I don’t think we could have possibly done a better job than with these nine individuals. All have been with us the last couple years so everyone has experience in our program. We just have not had all nine together yet, but we look forward to that July 28 when we get together.’’
Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault, University of Texas coach Gail Goestenkors and University of South Carolina coach Dawn Staley will assist Donovan.
Bird and Taurasi each helped lead the U.S. to its third straight gold medal in Athens in 2004. They are the first two-time Olympians in UConn history. Rebecca Lobo (1996, Atlanta), and Kara Wolters (2000, Sydney) have also represented the United States. Wolters was an alternate in 1996. Nykesha Sales was an alternate in 2000.
Former Huskies All-American Svetlana Abrosimova played for Russia in 2000 and Rashidat Sadiq played for Nigeria in 2004. Also, UConn-bound transfer Jess McCormack will represent New Zealand in Beijing this summer.
“There is just a special feeling when you get to the Olympics,’’ Taurasi said. “The minute you get off the plane, the minute you get to the arena there is just a certain buzz and energy. I think the great thing about the nine people we have named is that everyone in their own right has been in a setting that’s been pressure-filled and will be able to handle the situation. We have a great team, and if we put it together right it will be very special.’’
Team USA, which is 42-3 in its previous seven Olympic appearances, will begin its quest for a sixth gold medal Aug. 9 against a team that will be determined at the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Madrid, Spain June 9-15. It will face China Aug. 11, Mali Aug. 13 and another opponent still to be determined Aug. 15. It will complete preliminary play in Group B Aug. 17 against New Zealand.
The quarterfinals will be held Aug. 19, while the semifinals and final are scheduled for Aug. 21 and Aug. 23, respectively.
“It feels a little bit different (this year) because the last time I was straight out of college and I don’t even think I had a clue about what was really going on,’’ Bird said. “But this time, especially with the loss (to Russia) in the (2006 FIBA) World Championship there’s definitely a different feel to entering the Olympics now.’’