UConn coach Geno Auriemma and the U.S. National Team concluded its three-day mini-camp in Las Vegas Sunday. Among the players in camp with were Huskies’ All-Americans Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and rising star Breanna Stewart.
Here are comments from Auriemma, who is in his second stint as head coach of the National Team, and Stewart (courtesy of USA Basketball) …
Q: With so many talented players, how difficult will it be for the committee to select a 12-person team?
A: “I remember a time when it was very easy. The selections were made by virtue of the fact that there weren’t enough really great players. So, you had to really work hard to say ‘okay, well this person has potential and that person has potential.’ I think we’re at the point now with USA Basketball where present Olympians and present All-WNBA players, the gap between them and the next level of players is probably narrower than it’s been in a long, long time. And a weekend like this illustrates that.’’
Q: Among the collegians, are they looked at for 2020 or do you think they’re legitimate candidates for 2014 and 2016?
A: “I think it depends on the individuals. Some of it is, the returning players from the Olympics in London, what’s their physical status in 2014? So, that might have something to do with it. Their experience level, maybe after a year in the WNBA, that might change. And then with a year overseas, that might change. Some of the real young college players, an experience like this is invaluable to them, I think. People could say it’s a stretch that they could compete at a pro level in 2014. Now 2016 is a whole other story because you’re talking three years down the road and a lot could happen in three years. Certainly in 2020, you’re talking about the new core of this Olympic team. What a great way to start identifying who those players are.’’
Q: Did any of the newcomers stand out to you?
A: “I think in their own way everybody had an impact and stood out at different times in various ways. The thing that impressed me about all of them was their competitiveness and their almost complete lack of that feeling of, ‘I don’t belong here.’ I never saw that. They came in and acted like, ‘I have every right to be here because I was invited to be here, and so they must think I’m pretty good.’ And they acted like it. Somebody like Kayla McBride, who I’m sure a lot of the players here and a lot of the committee maybe didn’t know, they certainly know who she is today. Guys like Stewie (Breanna Stewart), because everybody knows her because of what happened in the NCAA Tournament, she certainly didn’t disappoint anybody. But, somebody like Kayla opened a lot of eyes because it’s her first time on this stage. When you see that, I think it’s very rewarding to be a part of that.’’
Q: Is it fair to say that the future of USA Basketball is in good hands?
A: “I would say so. It’s always been in good hands. That’s how USA Basketball has been able to do what they’ve done over the last 20 years. Looking around, I don’t see it changing all that much. The biggest area that is going to be a challenge is finding the next Sue (Bird) and Dee (Taurasi) to run the team. That change from Dawn Staley and Katie Smith, that group, to Sue and Dee and Tamika Catchings. That was a very smooth transition. There wasn’t a whole lot of change. I think right now, identifying who those three key players, at those three key positions are going to be. That’s going to be our biggest challenge for USA Basketball.’’
Q: What is the most valuable take away for the college kids from this weekend?
A: “I think when they go back to college, they’re going to be different. They’re going to go back to college, they’re going to look around and they’re going to go ‘you know what? I competed and held my own against pros.’ So now I think they’re going to carry themselves a little different, they’re going to act a little different, their confidence is at a whole different level than it was before. It was one of those things we talked about, whether they make the team, they don’t make the team, these three days for them has been a game changer. Hopefully they’ll take advantage of it.’’
A: Four years ago with this camp, there were a lot more questions in terms of not having as much depth. What did you see this weekend that was different in that respect than four years ago?
A: “One of the things I pointed out was there are four former Olympians from 2012 who weren’t here because of the WNBA Finals. If they read this, they’re going to be upset with me and I don’t mean it that way, but we didn’t miss them. The reason I say that we didn’t miss them is because four years ago when we were doing some of these training camps, we were going on some of these trips, if we didn’t have four former Olympians, we were in deep doo doo, because it was hard for us to field the kind of team that you would say is representative of USA Basketball. So, what I mean by ‘we didn’t miss them,’ there are enough good players here to make you think, ‘You know what? If something were to happen and we had to go play, I’m not saying we would be as good, but we would be a lot better than we thought we would be four years ago. Now obviously when those four players come on board, whenever that is, that just takes it to a whole other level. So, I think the pool is getting significantly bigger each and every year.’’
Q: Are you pleased with how the team is shaping up after this training camp?
A: “Yeah, and you’ve been around long enough to know that we never know what our team is. The only thing that we ever know at USA Basketball is who is available. And we really don’t know who our team is until we actually get to where we’re going and start playing. But, given who we have to choose from, yeah, I like our team.’’
Q: On the overall experience of participating in the USA National Team training camp:
A: “I think I played pretty well. I wanted to come in here and not overthink things, come in and work hard. I think I did that. I learned a lot that I can take back with me.’’
Q: What did you learn?
A: “What I learned is that you have to have constant energy. Sometimes in college practices there will be a lull, a low point or something like that. Out here, someone’s always talking. Someone’s always talking out on the court, during stretching and stuff like that, so you have to keep the energy high.’’
Q: Who were you most looking forward to playing with out here?
A: I don’t think I had a top choice. I saw the roster and all the players who were on here and I was just looking forward to being a part of it and playing with all of them. I enjoyed it. It was a great experience.’’
A: How much do you think your past USA Basketball experience helped you coming in here?
A: “My past USA Basketball experiences definitely helped me a lot because I kind of knew what the flow of things is. Even though it’s different coaches and stuff like that, to say that I played on USA teams before made me more comfortable, because if this was my first USA training camp, I’m sure I’d be extremely nervous.’’
Q: Did it help having your teammates out here?
A: “It definitely helped. Having Kaleena and Stefanie out here raised my level of comfort. Plus, the other people that I’m familiar with are nice.’’