The top priority this weekend for UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma is to help guide the Huskies to an NCAA record-tying eighth national championship. However, at the Denver Convention Center Friday, he got a glimpse at the future as well.
Auriemma, who will soon turn his full attention to his duties as the 2012 USA Women’s Basketball Olympic coach, learned the identity of 11 of the 12 players that will be taking aim at winning a fifth straight gold medal at the Summer Olympic Games in London this summer. The roster was highlighted by former UConn All-Americans Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi.
“I’ve got some work to do this weekend that I hope lasts until Tuesday night,’’ Auriemma said. “But, I’ll tell you one thing, Wednesday morning when I wake up I’ll be at training camp and I’ll be in London. Physically, I might still be here either celebrating or (drowning) my sorrows. But Wednesday morning when I wake up I’m going to be at training camp and I’m going to be in London. Physically, I’ll be here. But mentally and emotionally I’ll be in London.’’
Along with Tamika Catchings, Bird and Taurasi will be looking to earn their third career gold medal. Seimone Augustus, Cash, Sylvia Fowles and Candace Parker are looking for their second gold medal, while Charles, Angel McCoughtry, Moore and Lindsay Whalen have been named to the Olympic team for the first time.
Cash won gold in 2004 in Athens. Her bid for a spot on the 2008 team was derailed by a herniated disc in her lower back. She ultimately underwent back surgery March 9, 2009.
“I really just had to make a sacrifice, and it was a sacrifice from a lot of different things in my life just to be back here again,’’ Cash said. “So I’m just really happy that the committee’s given me another opportunity to finally finish up my USA Basketball career with these wonderful women and go for gold.’’
The players were selected by the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee, approved by the USA Basketball Board of Directors and are pending final approval by the U.S. Olympic Committee. The final roster spot will be filled at a late date.
Baylor 6-foot-8 junior All-American Brittney Griner is the leading candidate to earn the final spot.
“Everybody knows that I’m a big fan of Brittney Griner, obviously,’’ Auriemma said. “There’s a couple big kids playing for other teams around the world, Australia and Russia specifically. Do I think that Tina and Sylvia and Candace can win the gold medal against those two teams with that size? Absolutely. Do I think a 6-8 kid that is playing this weekend could help us be even better? Yeah, I think so. That’s the luxury that the United States has, isn’t it? That we have the ability to field these kinds of teams in basketball, as we should. We’re the preeminent basketball team in the world, the U.S. Women’s Basketball Team. So we’re fortunate to have that luxury.’’
The USA Women’s National Team, which owns a 33-game Olympic winning streak, will meet in Washington, D.C. July 14 to train prior to playing an exhibition game against Brazil July 16 at the Verizon Center. It will also face Great Britain in Manchester, England July 18 and will compete in a four-team tournament hosted by Turkey in Istanbul July 21-24.
The Olympic women’s basketball competition will be held July 28-Aug. 11 in the Olympic Park Basketball Arena (preliminary round and quarterfinals) and North Greenwich Arena (semifinals and finals).
“All 11 of the players that were selected have won one Olympic gold medal or multiple gold medals or they’ve won World Championship gold medals,’’ Auriemma said. “The experience factor, obviously, is huge. The fact that they’ve proven that they can. They’re proven winners. And more than that … More than just that they’re great players. You don’t just wake up one morning and you represent the United States of America on the world stage. This takes some time to get to this place, and they put the time in. And it’s about character too. You’re talking about people that have extraordinary character. As good as their basketball skills they’re the kind of people that I think we want representing USA Basketball.’’