Simply over every week earlier than USA Basketball travels to Australia for the 2022 FIBA World Cup, a number of faces of the storied program — some for the previous twenty years — are nowhere to be seen on the coaching camp in Las Vegas.
There isn’t any Sue Chook and Diana Taurasi on the ground, nor fellow Team USA stalwarts Brittney Griner, Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles — a gaggle that has mixed for 19 Olympic gold medals. Not even A’ja Wilson or Breanna Stewart are round in the mean time, the previous set to hitch the crew after profitable her first WNBA title on Sunday.
As an alternative, camp is stuffed with contemporary faces competing for a spot on the World Cup roster: a mixture of up-and-coming stars like Sabrina Ionescu and Shakira Austin, and extra established gamers like Kahleah Copper and Betnijah Laney, who’ve but to earn call-ups for the 2 greatest worldwide tournaments: the Olympics and the World Cup.
“It’s challenging because there are voids all over the place,” Cheryl Reeve, who took over as nationwide crew coach from Daybreak Staley in December, mentioned of the absences.
In Reeve’s first main worldwide match on the helm, which begins Wednesday towards Belgium (9:20 p.m. ET on ESPN+), onlookers will catch their first glimpse of how considered one of sports activities’ most profitable dynasties will deal with an enormous altering of the guard. The ultimate roster contains a single participant in her 30s (Alyssa Thomas) and simply 5 holdovers from the 2020 Olympic crew. At stake? A fourth consecutive World Cup medal since 2010.
USA Basketball has additionally misplaced only one recreation over the previous six World Cups (previously referred to as World Championship) and has a good longer profitable streak on the Olympics, regardless of a typically rocky efficiency in Tokyo.
“We’re in a little bit of a transition,” Stewart advised ESPN. “But it really gives an opportunity for young players to come in and show what they’ve got and help take USA Basketball to the next level — and understand that everybody wants to beat us.
“No person desires us to win gold. And nonetheless, our purpose each time that we’re enjoying is to win all the factor.”
Roster fluidity and late arrivals are nothing new for Team USA, but this year in particular, the group has been navigating tremendous uncertainty. Bird and Fowles announced their retirements earlier this year. Taurasi dealt with a WNBA season-ending quad injury. Charles said she felt she had “served my time.” And no one could have anticipated the absences of Griner — who has been wrongfully detained in Russia for over 200 days — or of Skylar Diggins-Smith and Napheesa Collier, both first-time Olympians in Tokyo. The former left the Phoenix Mercury midseason for personal reasons, and the latter is still working herself back from pregnancy and maternity leave.
Stewart, Wilson, Jewell Loyd, Ariel Atkins and Chelsea Gray are the only players with Olympic 5-on-5 experience, while Kelsey Plum (a 3×3 Olympian), Stewart, Wilson and Loyd are the only ones to have competed in the previous World Cup in 2018. Wilson, Gray and Plum will arrive in Sydney after winning the 2022 WNBA title with the Las Vegas Aces and celebrating with a parade down the Strip. Brionna Jones and Thomas of the 2022 runner-up Connecticut Sun will also arrive late.
And Sydney will mark the USA Basketball debuts of Jones, Thomas, Ionescu, Laney, Copper and Austin in a major international competition.
Stewart and Wilson are the clear heirs apparent of the USA Basketball dynasty, especially after the Tokyo Olympics. Alongside Griner, they were the only ones who averaged double-figure scoring in Tokyo, at 15.0 and 16.5 points per game, respectively.
The passing of the baton happened almost immediately.
“After we gained gold, [Bird] was like, ‘All proper, it is your flip now,'” said Wilson, who won her second WNBA MVP trophy, first Defensive Player of the Year award and first WNBA title this year. “I am like, ‘Huh?’ Whenever you actually give it some thought, it is me and Stewie. Everybody’s gone.”
Where Stewart and Wilson could previously look to Bird, Taurasi, Fowles and others as the veteran leaders, they’re now the ones tasked with assuming the mantle in Australia.
“I do not know who’s going to be speaking within the timeouts now,” Wilson said, chuckling nervously. “We’ll be figuring it out. However, no, it is an ideal factor. They’ve laid an ideal basis for us to step in as the following gen to hold the torch.
“I am probably terrified, but I’m excited as well just to get back out there with other greats. Let’s go get this gold.”
Going into her third World Cup, Stewart — who arrived in Australia a number of days after nearly all of Team USA — is probably the most skilled participant remaining. She is considered one of two (the opposite being Seattle Storm teammate Loyd) gamers on the present roster who averaged at the least 20 minutes per recreation on the 2018 World Cup.
Stewart is particularly cognizant of her management duties.
“Making sure everyone is comfortable and adapting and learning and not taking these moments for granted,” she mentioned. “I think it’s kind of selfish if you don’t talk and if you don’t use your experience to help others, so I just really want to make sure that I’m taking advantage of that and helping the team as best I can for what we do here in Australia, but also to take it for whether they’re going overseas or the offseason or whatever the case may be.”
Becky Hammon and A’ja Wilson cap off a historic season to steer the Aces to a WNBA championship.
She and Wilson will not need to do it totally alone. Grey and Loyd, who each averaged slightly below 20 minutes per recreation in Tokyo, together with Atkins will assist shore up the backcourt. Grey, at 29 one of many older members of the World Cup crew and the newly topped WNBA Finals MVP, will probably be significantly seemed to as a ground normal amid Chook’s retirement and Diggins-Smith’s absence.
“I definitely want to be part of holding up that legacy and being part of that team,” she mentioned. “I think we can continue that. We have some people in there that have experience, and there will be new people. It’s always forming, it’s fluid, and so that’s exciting as well.”
Loyd mentioned, “Obviously, it’s going to be a little different. “Everybody has totally different studying kinds, management kinds. However I do know we’re not out right here stranded by ourselves. We have discovered from our veterans, and now we’re able to get going.”
Even Atkins, who had a limited role off the bench at the Olympics, is taking on extra reps at point guard until Gray arrives. She hopes she can bring some of the leadership she saw on display during her time in Tokyo to Australia.
“Simply their skill to both calm individuals down or hype individuals up,” Atkins said on what she absorbed from the greats she played with throughout her first Olympics. “I simply suppose that was a very cool half for me, studying tips on how to get us going and tips on how to get us in sure stuff to assist us rating. Even Chelsea being a degree guard for us in USA. Simply their skill to catch the wave of the crew, and sort of direct it extra than simply letting it movement.”
Reeve believes the numerous voids on the squad are simply an opportunity for new faces to fill them. Expected to do just that: seasoned WNBA players Jones, Thomas, Copper and Laney. They, along with Austin, should bolster the national team’s strength on the perimeter and down low.
“They have been round for slightly bit, and now it is their second to make the most of that,” Stewart said. “Additionally it simply exhibits the expertise they’ve within the WNBA to how issues carry over on the courtroom.”
Thomas and Jones participated in the two-game World Cup Qualifying Tournament in February, but Copper has never competed with USA Basketball. She has proven herself, though, as the 2021 WNBA Finals MVP with the Chicago Sky and as the 2022 EuroLeague regular-season MVP with Spain’s Perfumerias Avenida.
“I simply love that it is the better of one of the best,” Copper said. “It is not about one particular person, it is not about two individuals. Everyone has to deliver one thing totally different, and that is what I do. It is cool. I’ve by no means been part of it. That is the best degree for me. … I am simply grateful to be right here.”
Camp also included the top three picks from the 2022 WNBA draft — Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith and Austin — as well as reigning national collegiate player of the year Aliyah Boston. Austin and Ionescu were the only players under 25 to make the final cut.
“It is cool to see a variety of younger gamers,” Ionescu said. “That is tremendous thrilling as a result of I really feel like the sport is simply altering and it is persevering with to be at a very excessive degree, and that is beginning not in 12 months 8, however in 12 months 1, 2 and three. That is solely going to make all of us higher. It is solely going to make USA Basketball higher.”
The New York Liberty point guard won three gold medals in various events with USA Basketball before getting drafted in the WNBA — but then missed time with Team USA while spending the past two years recovering from an ankle injury. Coming off a strong WNBA season in which she earned her first All-WNBA nod, she is another option to fill the void with the absence of Bird, Taurasi and Diggins-Smith.
“I believe having a wholesome season and persevering with to develop as a degree guard and as a guard on this league, I sort of perceive what it’s that I have to do day in and time out and the way I can proceed to raise my teammates and in addition study from them,” Ionescu said. “And so I believe coming into this camp, I’ve understood that and need to tackle that position in addition to persevering with to pay attention and study from a variety of the veterans which have gained gold medals and which have been within the place that I have been.”
The new-look USA Basketball
Reeve has an idea of how she wants her squad to play: fast. They can further dictate the pace if they control the glass and get after it defensively, using their length and athleticism.
Reeve demands greatness, players said, and has no problem telling players when they screw up. She admitted during camp that she’s mostly taught her current group as they awaited the rest of the team to join. Her first big test on the international stage will depend on how quickly she can get the team to jell, and how she can help players learn how to accelerate the process.
Step one is knowing your stuff — including the little details that often make a big difference — to be more communicative.
“You simply acquired to do it. It is onerous, I will be trustworthy, however you simply acquired to do it,” Atkins said. “It is fixed repetition. It is locking in even once you’re drained.”
Players are already well familiar with one another from the WNBA. But it doesn’t equate to meshing on the same team. If all goes to plan, USA Basketball’s experience in Sydney will only prove that even with significant turnover, many new faces and surging teams elsewhere on the international stage, the program’s championship tradition will be unwavering.
“The biggest thing is that you understand the tradition,” Atkins mentioned. “At the end of the day, it’s about details and always putting our best foot forward and always playing the game the right way. I don’t necessarily think the tradition or the foundation is going to change, but definitely the faces and the personalities and different things like that. So I guess we just have to wait and see.”
5 of the ten gamers who earned all-WNBA nods this season, together with first-team picks Wilson, Stewart and Plum, will characterize Team USA.
“When I look at me, A’ja, Chelsea, Jewell, we’re all going to be at this moment where we’re playing in our primes,” Stewart mentioned. “I think as we continue to have more time on the court together with USA Basketball, we’re only going to continue to get better. For me it’s just going to be a lot of fun, and realizing that these experiences that we’re going to have are going to be things that we’re going to look back on years from now, hopefully with many gold medals, and it’s just a bond that will never be broken.”
This additionally is not the primary time that USA Basketball has seen a altering of the guard, Reeve factors out. She remembers when the likes of Daybreak Staley stepped away after the 2004 Olympics, and “everyone was worried about the next generation. And that was Sue and Dee [stepping in].
“Any person goes to step up. It should preserve going,” Reeve said. “It should look totally different. They’re by no means going to be Sue and Dee, when it comes to management and every little thing, however in their very own method, and so it is all the time changed. All the time.”