Columbia set to host Team USA Training Camp Friday through Sunday
Twenty-two athletes have descended upon Columbia, South Carolina, this weekend to take part in the USA Basketball Women’s National Team’s three-day minicamp. For some, such as Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who have combined to earn eight Olympic and seven FIBA World Cup medals, it’s old hat. For Allisha Gray, Chelsea Gray, Tiffany Mitchell, Brittney Sykes, Sydney Wiese and Elizabeth Williams, the next three days will mark their first USA National Team camp. However, no matter how much experience the 22 athletes have at the top-level USA Basketball training camp, there is one underlying goal and that is to get better as the USA continues preparing to defend its FIBA World Cup title in September.
3×3 or Five-on-Five?
The 2020 Olympic Games will for the first time feature a 3×3 tournament in additional to the traditional, five-on-five basketball tournament. While it’s the first Olympic 3×3 tournament, FIBA has held four 3×3 World Cups since 2012, and the USA has captured gold twice, in 2012 and 2014, and finished with the silver medal in 2016. Three of the USA’s gold medalists are on this weekend’s roster, Skylar Diggins-Smith, who won gold in the inaugural FIBA 3×3 World Cup, held in 2012 in Athens, and Jewell Loyd and Tiffany Mitchell, who were teammates on the 2014 USA 3×3 World Cup Team.
“I was excited to hear it was going in, especially after being a part of the first 3×3 World Championship teams for the USA,” Diggins-Smith said. “I had so much fun, it was so competitive. What I loved about it was that you got to see teams that don’t traditionally compete in five versus five. It’s hard to have 12 great players to be able to compete on that level, but a lot of countries do have four or five really, really great players. So, you got to play against different countries that you normally don’t see in five-on-five. It was intense, the atmosphere was intense, we got to play outside and it kind of reminded me of a streetball type of thing.”
Given the choice, would she prefer Olympic 3×3 or full-court basketball?
As enthusiastic as she is about the inclusion of 3×3 in Tokyo, Diggins-Smith wasn’t going to answer that question.
“I don’t know if I have an answer for that one,” she said. “For me, I’m just happy to be here and have the opportunity to get on one team to try to win a gold medal. That’s where my mind is right now.”
From Player to Coach
In September, USA head coach Dawn Staley will become the third coach in USA Basketball history to compete on at least one USA World Cup Team and then coach a USA team at a World Cup. Staley competed on the 1994, 1998 and 2002 USA World Cup teams and twice served as an assistant coach on USA World Cup teams, in 2006 and 2014.
Alberta Cox was the first to do so. She played in 1957 and 1964, then returned to coach the 1967 and 1971 teams. After playing on the 1975 USA team, Pat Head Summit served as head coach for the 1979 and 1983 USA teams. Next in the player-to-coach pipeline was Anne Donovan. She played on the 1983 and 1986 USA World Cup teams, served as an assistant coach in 1998 and 2002 and was head coach of the 2006 USA World Cup Team.
“It gives you an advantage now be on the other side after you were on the player’s side of it,” said four-time USA World Cup team member Sue Bird. “It gives you a different vantage point, a different way to connect and it could be advantageous.”
That said, Bird isn’t ready to commit to go down that road. Yet.
“I think the initial question for someone who has played for USA Basketball is if they want to coach at all,” she quipped. “For me, there are some aspects that would interest me, and then I see how hard the coaches have to work with scouting and recruiting, no matter what level you’re on, and how stressful that is. I don’t know if that’ll be my next life, but if it does go that way, to be involved with USA Basketball is something I think all coaches strive to do.”
USA National Team Hopefuls
While the six USA National Team hopefuls are participating in this weekend’s camp to try to gain a spot in the 2018-20 USA National Team pool, three have won medals competing on USA Basketball teams. Tiffany Mitchell claimed silver at the 2015 Pan American Games and gold at the 2014 FIBA 3×3 World Cup; Sydney Wiese collected gold at the 2015 World University Games; and Elizabeth Williams earned gold medals at the 2009 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, 2010 FIBA U17 World Cup and 2011 FIBA U19 World Cup.
“A lot of lessons,” said Wiese on what she expects to take away from the weekend. “It’s a good opportunity to compete with the best in the country, to learn from an amazing coaching staff that’s going to be a part of the weekend. So, I’m looking forward to seeing this level of competition, being a part of it and making the most of the opportunity.”
FIBA World Cup of Basketball
The USA owns a record nine gold medals (1953, 1957, 1979, 1986, 1990, 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2014), one silver medal (1983) and two bronze medals (1994 and 2006) in FIBA World Cup play, while compiling an all-time 103-21 record at the event. In 2014, the most recent World Cup, the U.S. took the gold medal, while Spain captured silver and Australia won bronze.
Only three other nations have claimed gold at the World Cup. The former Soviet Union earned six gold medals, including five straight from 1959-1975 and earned its final gold in 1983. Brazil earned gold in 1994 and Australia took its lone gold medal in 2006.
Tina Charles has helped the USA earn the past two FIBA World Cup gold medals, and is confident USA Basketball has what it takes to win a third-straight gold medal.
“I’ve been told that pressure is when someone asks you to do something that you’re not capable of doing,” she said. “And, I believe that with the great talent in women’s basketball right now and with the individuals in the pool, whoever is selected will be more than willing and capable of bringing home the gold for the third time in a row, and that includes the coaching staff and the individuals who make up USA Basketball, from the management, staff and off the court, they all matter just as much. I believe USA Basketball will be able to get it done.”