by LOIS ELFMAN
Most years, at the start of the WNBA’s off-season, players head overseas, return to their off-season jobs, or simply take time with family and friends to relax and rest their bodies.
For some of the best players, however, that time off was brief as they gathered for USA Basketball training camp and exhibition games. Head coach Cheryl Reeve said the convening provided a great opportunity to check out some potential first-time Olympians, such as Aliyah Boston, Rhyne Howard and Arike Ogunbowale. Gold medalists in 3×3 at the last Olympics, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Allisha Gray, are looking to make the move to 5×5.
“It’s important in terms of our ability to spend time together,” said Reeve. “The drill down is not really possible with USA Basketball because you have to form a simple identity and really maximize that each time you’re with the team.”
USA Basketball is in pursuit of its eighth consecutive Olympic gold medal. Last year’s World Cup marked a shift in the roster with A’ja Wilson becoming the team’s MVP. Who will join her next summer in Paris is a work in progress, and some veterans are not stepping away.
Among those eager to represent the U.S. at least one more time are two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner and five-time gold medalist Diana Taurasi. At Tokyo 2020 (played in 2021), Taurasi and Sue Bird made history as the first five-time basketball gold medalists. With Bird now retired, Taurasi is alone in pursuit of a sixth gold medal.
“In terms of [Griner’s] enthusiasm, I think it’s palpable,” said Reeve. “This is near and dear to her, her USA Basketball experience. She’s very committed.”
Also in consideration for next year’s Olympic team are two New York Liberty players, Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu, both of whom played on the 2022 World Cup team. Two-time Olympian Breanna Stewart is also likely to play in Paris, but she did not participate in this training camp and exhibition games.
“I feel less of the rookie than I did last year,” said Ionescu. “Coming here for the second time, obviously still being one of the younger players on the team, but understanding what’s expected of me…and what is needed from me in training camp.”
In two exhibition games, USA Basketball took on some well known college teams, prevailing 95–59 over University of Tennessee and 87–58 against Duke University.