Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi on fifth Olympic basketball team as U.S. squad named for Tokyo
Ready for a run at a seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal, the 12 U.S. women who will don the USA Basketball jersey in Tokyo were announced Monday morning on the “TODAY” show.
Led by soon-to-be five-time Olympians Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team is an even mix of six veterans and six athletes headed to their first Olympic Games.
Sylvia Fowles returns for a fourth Olympic team, only the seventh U.S. basketball player to do so, while Tina Charles will play on her third. Both Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart were on the 2016 squad in Rio.
Jewell Loyd and A’ja Wilson will step onto an Olympic court for the first time this summer, but were on the winning FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in 2018. Ariel Atkins, Napheesa Collier, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Chelsea Gray will play five-on-five for the first time in a senior-level event. Collier won the Youth Olympic gold medal in 3x3 basketball in 2014.
The team is coached by Dawn Staley, a three-time Olympic and two-time World champion herself, who was named head coach in 2017 after Geno Auriemma led the U.S. women to victory in London and Rio.
She is joined by assistant coaches Dan Hughes, Cheryl Reeve and Jennifer Rizzotti.
“USA Basketball has never been in a better place,” Staley said in a release. “I’m honored to be the coach of such an amazing collection of talented women, both those named to the team and those who gave their all the last few years but won’t be with us in Tokyo. The fact that some of the players who won’t suit up this summer would start for any other country is a testament to their talent and to what USA Basketball has done to build a program that lifts up our female athletes every single day. I’m so proud to be the coach of Team USA and like all of the coaches, support staff, and our players, I can’t wait to make America proud this summer.”
Notably absent from the roster are 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and 2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike, who was on the last two World Cup teams. Delle Donne, who played in Rio, is still recovering from two back surgeries and has not yet done any five-on-five work in her return, according to Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault.
The 12 women combine for a career international record of 749-37.
The team ranges in age from 24 (Atkins, Collier, Wilson -- though Atkins and Wilson turn 25 during the Olympics) to 40 (Bird), and even includes two mothers. Taurasi’s wife Penny gave birth to son Leo in 2018, while Diggins-Smith gave birth to her son in April 2019.
Having also won the last three World Cups (and eight of the last 11), the Americans remain ranked No. 1 in the world. They are expected to face their stiffest competition from world No. 2 Australia, the 2018 World Cup runner-up, and No. 3 Spain, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist.
Bird and Taurasi, 39, have been competing for the U.S. for more than two decades and will set or tie numerous records next month.
Only six other basketball athletes from any nation have played at five Olympics, including just one other American in five-time medalist Teresa Edwards (four golds, one bronze). No basketball player has won five gold medals.
Only one Olympic basketball player, Puerto Rico’s Jose Rafael Ortiz, has competed at an age older than Bird will be in Tokyo (by a matter of 20-plus days).
Their former teammate, Tamika Catchings, held the title of oldest U.S. Olympic basketball player at 37 years old in Rio five years ago; Bird will become both the oldest American and the oldest woman to play at 40 years, 284 days on the day of their first game.
Finally, Bird and Taurasi hold a Guinness World Record for most consecutive gold medals in a team Olympic event at four. Currently tied with fellow basketball great Lisa Leslie and Chinese diver Wu Minxia, they could build on that record.
The team itself has won every Olympic title since the 1996 Games in Atlanta and with a seventh straight one would tie the U.S. men’s basketball team (1936-1968) for most consecutive Olympic gold medals in a team sport.
The U.S. women begin play on July 27 against Nigeria. They continue Group B play against host nation Japan on July 30 and world No. 5 France on Aug. 2.
The U.S. also qualified a women’s team for the Olympic debut of 3x3 basketball; the four players are expected to be named later this week.
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