LONDON – Six members of the USA Women’s basketball teamand the team’s coach all have a connection to the University of Connecticut, and this team bonding is a key factor in a team’s success, they said.
Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones, and Diana Taurasi all won a national championship together in 2002 with the Huskies and Maya Moore and Tina Charles added rings of their own in 2009 and 2010. These three championships are all a part of head coach Geno Auriemma’s seven total national titles.
“I think it helps that six of us went to UCONN and we’re familiar and comfortable,” Bird said.
Running a lot of the same sets that they did at school helps the women learn the playbook.
“UCONN kind of has its own philosophy about a lot of plays and a lot of things are similar from when I was in school. You don’t really remember the plays so much but you remember the concepts,” said Asjha Jones, one of Bird’s teammates.
Bird says that the women who played at UCONN have a close bond.
“Anybody will tell you, some of the friendships you form and the people you meet and the bonds you make in college kind of last a lifetime and for me,” she said. “I’ve played with three of the other women on this team and it’s definitely there.”
When the former Huskies are happy to play with one another once again, the team as a whole has a tight bond.
“It’s like old times reminiscing, but we’re also really close to the other players too,” said Jones.
LONDON – Women’s Basketball analyst, Debbie Antonelli, said she doesn’t take anything for granted.
“I love my life and I am very blessed to be where I am right now,” she said.
Antonelli has been a lead television analyst for the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big XII Conference, Southeastern Conference and CSTV’s coverage of women’s basketball. She has also called numerous Division II National Championship Games and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association High School All-American Game on ESPN2.
Before joining the broadcast team in Charlotte, Antonelli served as a FOX Sports Net national television analyst during the American Basketball League’s first three seasons and was the analyst for the ABL’s Columbus Quest regional television package.
Before her broadcast career jump-started, Antonelli was a three-year starting guard for North Carolina State Women’s basketball team. She helped guide her team to four NCAA appearances as well as two Sweet 16 appearances.
At NC State she graduated with a double major in business management and economics. She earned her master’s degree in sports administration at Ohio University. It was also at Ohio University where she met her husband of 20 years, Frank.
“The athletic director at NC State handed me the Ohio University directory my senior year of college,” she said. “When I went through it and saw all the jobs in there, I knew getting my master’s from OU was something I wanted to do.”
After her nine-month stay in Athens, the Cary, N.C., native then traveled to Kentucky to begin her career. However, it was not in broadcasting where she got her start.
“I knew I wanted to work in sports. I just didn’t know how,” she said. “When I was in college, if you would have told me I would work in broadcast someday, I would have been surprised.”
Antonelli went through school thinking she wanted to be an athletic director, but her love for basketball took her career somewhere else. In Kentucky, she was the director of marketing for the University of Kentucky. The first year she was there, a local cable company asked if she would help broadcast women’s basketball games. Antonelli’s boss thought she could do the job. In the fall of ’87 she started. She stayed at Kentucky for four years then moved on to Ohio State University.
“When I got there, OSU did not have a local TV package,” she said. “Being the director of marketing in the athletics department at OSU, I went to the local cable company in Columbus and I asked them if they could produce sports and they weren’t sure.”
Antonelli found the cost of doing eight women’s basketball games, and sold advertising to pay for the production.
“I loved doing the games because basketball is my passion,” she said. “However, I knew I couldn’t do both.”
She had offers from ESPN, but her affiliation with Ohio State made it difficult to transition. She continued her marketing job for four more years before making the plunge. She got married in 1992 and had her first child in 1995. That’s when she chose full-time radio and basketball broadcasting.
“It’s really worked out,” she said. “I just finished my 24th college basketball season and my boys are 17, 15, and 10, life’s not so bad,” she said.
Antonelli said she’s still known as a basketball junkie, but she doesn’t mind. She loves the game. She doesn’t cover other sports because it would take precious time away from her family.
“I can’t remember a time in my life where basketball wasn’t in it,” she said. “As a player, as a coach, as an administrator, and as a broadcaster, I’ve been able to see the game from different angles.”
She also said networking is important and has helped her get where she is today.
“I categorize things I do in three ways: building, serving, and attitude,” she said. “I have to be bettering myself by building my experiences. I must be serving by setting a good example in what I do, and finally, if you have the right attitude you will succeed.”
When the closing ceremonies end and the cameras are turned off, the athletes will return home to their WNBA careers. They’ll return to the court Aug. 16 after the league took a month hiatus during the Olympics.
While many of the athletes have played on the same court before, they have never been together on the same team. USA’s Head Coach Geno Auriemma from University of Connecticut said he can see the team’s drive.
“These 12 players, without knowing each other that well, without being together that long, expect winning and being in gold medal games,” said Auriemma
The USA team might be on a winning streak, but the WNBA players back home are not slacking off.
“It’s pretty much like training camp all over again, but not as brutal,” said Sylvia Fowles, a player on the USA team and the Chicago Sky.
“We had a lot of players that were injured coming into the break so it was good for us, so that they could get healthy and push forward when we get back,” said USA Basketball and Lynx player Seimone Augustus.
When Aug. 16rolls around after the Olympics, the women will go back to being competitors instead of teammates.
“I got a chance to hang with some people that I don’t normally hang with in the league, and hopefully this will kinda transfer over into the WNBA,” said Augustus.
Fowles has been through the jolt back to the WNBA a number of times and has her own way to combat it.
“Once I leave here, that’s just the mindset. You click back from USA basketball to WNBA , and just keep pushing forward,” said Fowles. “It’s about trying to get back in the groove of how your WNBA team plays, and learning their plays again.”
With their success in the past and current Olympics, athletes hope the support will roll over into the WNBA.
“We’ve been so successful with USA Basketball and women’s basketball in general that it has to transfer over,” said Augustus. “We’ve got the greatest players in the world. Hopefully this will get us a lot of publicity for the WNBA season.”
The players are known for their dominating talent on the court and also for their ability to play as a team as if they had been one for years. What most people don’t know, however, is the more personal side of the players, their likes and dislikes.
Three time Olympic gold medalist Diana Taurasi and 2008 Beijing gold medalist Sylvia Fowles discuss their favorite meals, music, movies and more after their practice at the University of East London.
“We need to continue work on our defense, work on those layups and our offensive rebounds,” said forward Tamika Catchings of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever. “If we continue to work on those things I think we’ll be alright.”
Candace Parker, the tallest member of the U.S. women’s team at 6’4, will be up against players such as Elizabeth Cambage of Australia at 6’8” and Lauren Jackson at 6’5”. Head Coach Geno Auriemma was confident in Parker’s ability to be able manage the team’s size on the court.
“Candace is one of the biggest players in the tournament size wise,” he said. “Once she catches the ball where she wants it there is nothing you can do about it.”
Team USA’s guards will have to push defensively in order to win this game, he added.
“It’s all about making shots in the Olympics because every other team is good offensively, so you’ve got to be just as good offensively and then you’ve got to be better defensively,” he said.
The team has its sights set on yet another gold medal.
“I want that stature,” said forward Angel McCoughtry of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. “My name would not only be Angel Mcoughtry, it would be Angel McCoughtry Olympic gold medalist.”
Carmelo Anthony rewrote history with his 37-point Olympic performance against Nigeria. The team also shattered the overall scoring record with 156 points the same night. The roster has a combined 43 All-Star appearances. They even survived a scare against Lithuania, winning by just three points.
However, these aren’t even the greatest statistics of the Olympics. Their female counterparts stole that honor.
Following Tuesday’s 91-48 victory over Canada, the USA women’s basketball team continues its 39 Olympic game winning streak. The streak has strengthened ticket sales, and viewers are up by more than 50 percent from Beijing in 2008, according to the Associated Press.
Maya Moore said the atmosphere among the new team members is supportive.
“We don’t really get the chance to play with each other a lot so we enjoy it when we’re around each other,” said Moore. “Everybody treats everybody well, and it’s a great group to be a part of.”
This 2011 WNBA No. 1 draft pick said she looks up to the experienced captains as she takes part in her first Olympic competition.
“All of our captains lead,’ said Moore. “They have been around and take the initiative whether it’s helping somebody handle something off the court or whether it’s the middle of the game.”
Veterans Candace Parker, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings fill their captain roles well, said Coach Geno Auriemma, head coach of Team USA and the University of Connecticut women’s team.
“They have been great leaders as well as being great players,” said Auriemma. “We have five new players that have never been to the Olympics that are great followers so it’s been a pretty good combination.”
With six wins under Team USA’s belt, the coaching staff quickly realized they got an A+ in chemistry with these girls.
“Chemistry is huge and getting people that don’t care more about themselves is huge in the selection process,” said Assistant Coach Doug Bruno. “We wanted people who cared about the big picture.”
Bruno, women’s basketball coach at DePaul University, said Auriemma puts a strong focus on team building over the few weeks they are together.
“We have the most talented players in the world,” he said. “We just don’t have the longest opportunity to get them together.”
Although Wednesday marked only the team’s 11th practice, they already harmonize on the court.
“Offensively we have great talent, but the offensive chemistry takes time so we have to be able to use our athleticism and depth to create offense out of our defense,” said Bruno.
The women recognized this against Canada as the defense forced three shot clock violations for Canada in the first seven minutes. USA also forced 26 turnovers. This suffocating defense unified the team, said Moore.
“It did a lot for us,” she said. “It built our confidence about who we can be defensively and helped us to go into the next game knowing that if we execute our game plan we can accomplish a lot.”
Succeeding at this level means being better defensively, Auriemma said. The USA women must contain Australia’s 6-foot-8 Liz Cambage and 6-5 Lauren Jackson to head to their fifth straight gold medal game. Australia is also one of the favorites to appear in the gold medal game and will represent the U.S. team’s toughest test so far in London.
“I never go into any tournament or game expecting the scores to be what they’ve been,” said Auriemma.
With attention and pressure rising for the women’s team as they approach the semi-finals, some for the first time in their careers, it’s all about focus on the task right in front of them, according to the coaching staff.
The Summer Olympics do not only seem to bring fans and supporters closer together but athletes as well. The United States women’s basketball team has been growing closer as a team during these games as well.
“When we are on the same team, it’s about the team,” said Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx. “I think everybody here has that mindset of whoevers on my team that is who’s on my team and if you’re not on my team then I’m trying to beat you.”
All of the members on the team have come from professional WNBA teams where they are normally competitors. It has taken practice for them to learn to work together.
“I think every game is helping us get more and more chemistry,” said Candace Parker, center from the Los Angeles Sparks. “Every day we are improving our skill and our abilities, and I think we can collectively bring them together and gain some sort of chemistry.”
Other teams in the Olympic league have been able to practice together since the beginning of the summer while Team USA has had only about two months. The WNBA’s Olympic hiatus didn’t start until July 14.
“This group is really good at turning it on and off as far as knowing when its time to come together then go our separate ways when we’re back on our own teams” said Maya Moore, a forward on the Minnesota Lynx. “I guarantee you that everyone enjoys being teammates for this short period of time.”
Each player is professional in the job they do of playing basketball, players on the team are noticing that it is a hard situation for them to move out of their WNBA style of playing with their own teams to the style of the Olympic team.
Guard Lindsey Whalen from the Minnesota Lynx said everyone’s a professional and has been handling the difficult transition from pros to the Olympics well.
“It comes with time,” said Whalen. “I think that is something we’ve rather done a pretty good job of, just making sure that we are working together and taking the time we have each morning [that] we try to make the most of that time. As long as we are doing that I think we are on the right track.”
Parker agreed with her teammate, but because this isn’t her first Olympics, she sees it in a different light.
“I think it is tough to be competitors one night and then teammates the next night,” said Parker. “We have done it for so long with USA basketball, but we were all picked for this team for a reason and it’s about continuing to improve and do what you do the best to make the team better.”
LONDON – Teammates Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles said they are working hard to uphold the legacy U.S women’s basketball has established at the Olympics.
“We have been in the gym almost everyday,” Fowles said. “You have some days when you don’t want to get up but you have to come get it done.”
The hard work has been paying off. The women are currently 4-0 and are ready to take on China (3-1) tomorrow, Aug. 5 at 4:45 p.m.
“We just are focused and are taking it one day at a time, then we can celebrate,” she said. “That’s the beauty of us women, you know we are going to go out there and work for it.”
With four consecutive gold medals won from 1996-2008, the U.S Women’s Olympic Basketball Team has become the most successful U.S women’s team sport in history. They haven’t lost a game since 1992, and are currently on a 37-0 winning steak. Overall the women are 54-3 in Olympic play since women’s basketball was added to the Olympic slate in 1976.
This 2012 team has a lot to live up to. They also have a lot to look forward to. However, the path to success hasn’t always been the easiest.
Sylvia Fowles, a 6’6” Louisiana State University Graduate, makes her second Olympic appearance in London after leading the U.S women in rebounding, scoring and to the eventual gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Fowles didn’t always want to be a basketball star, though.
“I grew up with three older brothers and I always used to watch them play,” she said.
Fowles enjoyed watching, but she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her mother and sister. She wanted to run track. However, it didn’t quite work out that way.
“The summer going from seventh to eight grade I grew four inches,” she said.
She was too tall and too athletic not to try basketball.
“At school my basketball coach hounded me to play two years prior, but I refused to play,” she said.
Eighth grade was her first official year playing basketball.
“I didn’t like it at first, but it turned out pretty good for me,” she said.
She moved on to high school where she began to blossom as a basketball player.
“In high school I started to get a lot of looks from recruiters with the help from my coaches,” she said. “My mom wasn’t financially stable and I was the youngest of five, so I figured basketball was my key out.”
She played at four years at LSU before being selected 2nd overall by the Chicago Sky in the 2008 WNBA Draft.
After traveling to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, she says she feels physically and mentally prepared for the rest of the competition in London. If the team stays consistent, it will have no problem beating China and will be one step closer to its fifthgold medal.
Fowles also plays for Galatasary in the EuroLeague during WNBA off-seasons with Olympic teammate Diana Taurasi.
Now 30-years-old, Diana Taurasi led the University of Connecticut to three straight NCAA championships (2002-2004) and won National Player of the Year in 2003 and 2004. She is appearing in her third Olympics.
“We have come here really focused and not think about the past,” she said.
She also gets to share this journey with some familiar faces. Her Team USA coach, Geno Auriemma, previously coached her at UConn.
“It’s a familiarity that’s really nice,” she said.
While she likes the competition, Taurasi said respect and love for the people she plays with and against is the most important.
“Basketball is based on respecting who you play, win or lose,” she said. “I’ve played with and against a lot of the girls, so I have a lot of respect for them.”
After competing as a basketball player for most of her life, Taurasi said she still appreciates the game and can always find something to motivate her to keep her career exciting and fun.
“I have played basketball all my life and sometimes I do ask myself if I have enough drive and passion to still do it,” she said. “It only takes a little bit to get the fire going again.”