Here is a Q & A with both Geno Auriemma, the U.S. Olympic Team/UConn head coach, and former UConn star Asjha Jones regarding the selection of Jones to the team’s 12-member roster (Courtesy of USA Basketball).
Q: What do you think about adding Asjha Jones add to the team and what does she bring to the mix of talent you already have?
A: “I’m excited. I think it’s well deserved. She adds an awful lot of maturity, experience and talent to this team. Some of the teams that we’re going to have to beat in the Olympics, the best teams are really the ones who have the most experienced post players. Asjha has proven herself both in the WNBA and overseas to be able to defend anybody and to be able to score. She’s got experience. All of the things you would look for in a player, she has those qualities. So, when we’re looking at who that 12th player was, having somebody with Asjha’s experience and certainly what she’s done overseas, especially this year, has given us a lot of comfort knowing that we have somebody who can really complement the other post players who have already been named.’’
Q: You mentioned her play in the EuroLeague this season. Do you think that the committee took that into account?
A: “I think so. Also, Asjha’s been in the WNBA a long time. She’s finally healthy and I think that’s a big part of it. Certainly her performance over in Europe this year, people have been raving about how well she’s playing. To me, the fact that you play against those players over there, competed against them, had success against them, a lot of times they’re the same people you’re going to be playing against in the Olympics.’’
Q: People are going to ask about the six players who are former UConn players. What do you have to say about that?
A: “I would like to think that one: it’s a coincidence. I would like that regardless of who the coach was, there’s a pretty good chance that every one of those players would be on this team. They earned it. All the accolades that these players have gotten, they didn’t get those accolades because they played at UConn. They got those accolades because of what they’ve done in their pro careers since they left Connecticut. That speaks to their talent and their level of being able to win at every level they’ve been at. They didn’t make the team because I’m the coach. They made the team because they deserve to be on the team.’’
Q: How pleased are you that the 12-member team is now complete?
A: “I’ve been involved in this program for four years and the training camp in Seattle will be the first time I will be with the whole team. I’m really excited, obviously, to get to work with them, to see them all in one place and to see what they can do. It’s going to be exciting. I want to see how they interact. I want to see how they play together. Most of them, all but Candace (Parker) and Seimone (Augustus) have already played together on the USA World Championship Team that I coached. So there’s a tremendous amount of familiarity there on both sides – me with them and them with me. I’m looking forward to it.’’
Q: What does being an Olympian mean to you?
A: “It’s an honor. My mom, everyone in my family is so excited for me. I think it’s exciting how people respond to you when you tell them. A lot of people want to cry. Just to see the way people react to the news is really special. I’m really exited. I’m so excited to be a part of this.’’
Q: Who did you call first?
A: “(laughs) Actually Coach Auriemma. It was part of the stipulation that I call him immediately. Carol told me ‘it’s not official until you call Coach Auriemma and let him know you spoke to me.’ So, he was the first person I called.’’
Q: What kind of emotions were you feeling when you heard the news that you were going to be added to the team?
A: “It was kind of like disbelief and shock. I kind of put the Olympics out of my head because I didn’t think I was going to be on the team. First, I was surprised that (USA Basketball Women’s National Team Director) Carol (Callan) was even calling me. Then when I answered and she told me the news, I was very surprised, very shocked. I was really, really honored to be picked up.’’
Q: Do you think your play this season in Europe really solidified your selection?
A: “I think so. I think that probably put me over the top when they were figuring out this spot. I’m sure there were other people they were considering, but I think being named MVP of Europe was a big deal and definitely helped my standing with the committee.’’
Q: There are now six former UConn players on the team. What does that mean to you to be able to do something like this with not only your college coach, but some of your former college teammates?
A: “Some people will probably think that we were picked because he’s our coach. But, I think we’ve all proved ourselves outside of college. We’ve been removed from college for over 10 years now. I think that being back with the group again and being back with Coach Auriemma is going to be very special for me to be able to be coached by him again, and doing it with my friends will make it even more special.’’
Q: Is this something you’ve dreamed about for a long time or is it something that you only recently thought it was an achievable goal?
A: “Right, because I wasn’t always a part of it. For me, I hadn’t really thought about it until I became a part of the national team. Once I thought I wasn’t able to make the team, I realized how much I wanted it. When I was told I wasn’t going to make it (as part of the first 11), it hurt me a lot. I didn’t know it would hurt that much until I got the call. That’s why I was so excited when I got the next call and found out I was added to the team. But that’s how it is. There are so many good players in our country, it’s going to be like that.’’
Q: Did you watch the Beijing Olympics in 2008?
A: “I tried to as much as possible, but the games came on at such crazy hours it was hard to catch. I watched the Opening Ceremonies and I was just so proud to see all of the people I know being a part of that.’’
Q: What about growing up. Did you watch the Olympics in past years?
A: “Yeah, we watched everything. But definitely for the women’s basketball in ’96. Seeing how professional they were, how dominant they were, how aggressive they were and watching their passion for the game was really important for me when I was growing up.’’