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.

 

“The beauty of us women”

When I woke up yesterday morning, I didn’t realize the opportunity that awaited me. I did not comprehend who I would be meeting that day and where I was headed. When I was assigned and granted access to cover the USA Women’s basketball practice for Aug. 4, I was extremely excited, but it still had not hit me yet.

We trucked from Guilford all the way to East London University; it took about an hour and 20 minutes. London is so huge! But the train system is actually a very efficient way to travel. Once we walked into the media press waiting room, we were surrounded by journalists — some from NBC London and even some from New York City. It was a little unreal that I was about be a junior in college and there I was, preparing to come face-to-face with an Olympian. Women that I have idolized since I was a young basketball player.

As Kayla, Jillian and I made our way to the gymnasium, I began to feel nervousness take over my body. We waited in the waiting area for the women to finish practicing. I was blown away when we entered the gym. It was all themed USA, and it was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. I saw all the journalists were getting out their equipment and begin to approach the ladies. I instantly felt like I was wasting time being star struck by all the tall, athletic women. When I saw Candace Parker and Maya Moore, I was blown away. I have watched these women throughout their careers and use to pray every night that I’d wake up and be 6’6″ and get a call from a Tennessee or UConn, begging me to join the team. Obviously, that never happened, but I was as close to that dream as I have ever been when I saw them standing there.

I finally approached a player, Sylvia Fowles, a 6’6″ center for the U.S. team. She was sitting down when I approached her so it wasn’t as intimidating. Before I could even spurt out my first name she says, “Hey girl, pop a squat!” She pulled a chair closer to hair and motions for me to sit. Her warm voice and welcoming smile really made all my nervousness melt away. I began the interview with laughs and a brief introduction of myself. Her story was amazing. She didn’t even want to be a basketball superstar; she wanted to be like the women in her family and run track. To read more about our interview and her story go check out my story at www.scrippslondon2012.com! She talked about “the beauty of a woman” and how it pays to be humble and respectful as a basketball player. They are dominating the olympic games, but they will not be celebrating until they have the title and their 5th gold. She was exceptional, as a player and especially as a human being. Speaking with her was such a pleasure, I appreciate how wonderful she was. I felt like I knew her for years after our interview.

After Sylvia helped me shake off my nerves, I was ready to get another interview. I really thought about trying to approach Geno, but as soon as that thought crossed my mind, there she came. Diana Taurasi. I had only seen her on TV, and I had always wondered how we would match up in real life. She was obviously taller, standing at 6 foot and at least 30 pounds heavier than I was, but her body consisted of only lean muscle. She was built just like a basketball player should be. I knew it was now or never. Kayla sort of gave me a shove and said, “What are you doing?! Get over there!” So I did. I approached my childhood hero and began to introduce myself. I probably sounded so stupid but I began to remember the mellow, happy feelings I got when I talked to Sylvia. I tried to pretend it was the same thing. Diana didn’t make me feel as at home, but she was very sweet and willing to speak with me. She shook my hand with a smile and we began. I asked her numerous things and told her I was a huge fan and that I had been forever. I remember watching her dominate the game when she was at UConn. She is making her third appearance at the Olympics, and you could tell she was prepared mentally and physically, yet again. She gave me some great quotes, my favorites were what she said about her opponents. She said basketball was all about respect, win or lose. I couldn’t have agreed more. Basketball is about so much more than just winning or losing, I have learned this throughout my own time spent playing the game. I admired how real Diana was. She said it is great to have Geno as her coach, since he was previously at UConn as well. Finally, I wrapped up the interview and thanked her profusely. Then as soon as I moved out of the way another herd of journalists took my place and she began the process again.

I kept telling everyone that I was never washing my hand again … excessive I know.

Then I saw Debbie Antonelli there! I introduced myself as the fellow Bobcat who had been hounding her on the phone to meet up in London. She remembered me and gave me a big hug. I was really excited when she introduced me to some of her colleagues and proceeded to ask when we could meet this week. I told her anytime, any place, I will be there! She was very sweet. I really want to just pick her brain and learn about her journey to where she is in her career now. There is so much you could learn from a women like Debbie. The whole USA basketball team ran up to her and hugged her. How many journalists can say that? I will be looking forward to meeting with her this week!

This was probably the highlight of my trip so far. Some journalists work their entire career to be able to go to the olympics and interview athletes, I already have. It was an experience I would not have traded for the world. Yesterday “my balls” officially dropped. I know what I want to do for the rest of my life. This trip has really made me realize my potential as a journalist. It’s all I want to do.

US women basketball players stay humble and hungry for gold

By: Melissa Wells

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.

Ohio University student Melissa Wells interviews U.S. women’s basketball player Sylvia Fowles after practice Saturday, Aug. 4

“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.

Ohio University student Melissa Wells interviews U.S. women’s basketball player Diana Taurasi after practice on Saturday, Aug. 4.
Photo by Jillian Fellows

“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.”