Team USA or team UCONN?

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.

Team takes a break in practice to listen to Coach Auriemma’s strategy. (Photo by Colin Brown)

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’s Biggest Secret: USA Women’s basketball 39 game winning streak

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.

Photo by Jacob Corrigan
Maya Moore, University of Conneticut legend, answers reporters questions about team chemistry.

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.

Photo by Jacob Corrigan
Coach Geno directs Maya Moore, #7, on how to run the play. This is the team’s last practice before facing Australia.

“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.

“It’s just business as usual,” said Moore.

 

Once in a lifetime opportunity

As a soon-to-be sophomore in college I have learned about professional journalists and their experiences in many of my classes. Some of these writers worked their whole lives to get to where they are today.

Some journalists who are in the sports writing field have only dreamed about covering the Olympics and only a few do. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be given that experience at such a young age.

Meeting Candace Parker at Team USA’s practice on Saturday, Aug. 4.
Photo By Jillian Fellows

Coming into this program we knew what was expected of us for the program, but it hadn’t hit me that I was going to be meeting and interviewing professional and Olympic athletes. These are really the best of the best in the business.

So far this experience has been a whirlwind. From learning the train and tube systems, to speaking with organizations to gain access to the athletes and practices has put my head on a continuous spin.

However, this is a spin I never want to end. This trip was really a test for me and how I was about to see my future in journalism. I am officially convinced that this is my path for what I want to do with my life. All the hustle and bustle of emails, meetings, practices, and late nights of writing and editing is what I am passionate about.

Being so driven once I stepped foot onto London ground has made me grow up and mature in a journalist’s sense. I know the hardships that professionals go through to get their contacts and stories out on time just by experiencing the difficulties that I have had here thus far. I know this is only the beginning of my journey, but I am very lucky to say that I have been in those situations and worked through them to get my job as a student journalist accomplished.

Interview with forward Maya Moore from the Minnesota Lynx at Team USA’s practice Saturday, Aug. 4.
Photo By Jillian Fellows

I have met with professional athletes I grew up watching on TV and have even grown close with some of the families of central Ohio who have children competing in the events.  On some days here I have forgotten that I am a young college student from Ohio University, and when it hits me I can’t help but smile. I am following my dream of being a well-known journalist.

This is one of the first “big steps” I will take in my career path and even though growing up playing sports I wanted to be the one competing in the games, I am now the one covering them and that is one of the best dreams come true.

 

US women’s basketball goes from competitors to teammates

Photo By Jillian Fellows
Candace Parker from the Los Angeles Sparks and center for Team USA

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.”