When coach Geno Auriemma and national team director Carol Callan named 11 players to the U.S. women's basketball team for the 2012 Olympics on March 30, it was something of a foregone conclusion that they were saving the 12th and final spot for Baylor standout Brittney Griner.
"Everyone knows I'm a big fan of Brittney Griner," Auriemma said. "Do I think a 6-foot-8 kid who is playing this weekend could help us be even better, yeah I think so."
Not so fast, Geno.
Griner announced Thursday that she has decided to forgo the London Games, citing a combination of personal matters and school obligations.
"'Because of a family illness and my school schedule during the summer, I have told USA Basketball Women’s National Team Director, Carol Callan, that I will be unable to participate this summer.' Griner said in a statement released by the school. 'I am disappointed that I will be unable to participate, but I want to stay involved in USA Basketball and hope to again have the opportunity to represent my country in future international competition.'”
You're disappointed, Brittney? Then you should see the look on our face.
Griner is one of the sport's premier attractions, a springy center with dunking ability and the kind of abundant athleticism that draws eyes to the women's game. To wit, Baylor's victory over Notre Dame in this year's NCAA title game drew a higher rating than any women's title game since 2004.
From a marketing and branding standpoint, Griner's decision is a major disappointment.
It's also disappointing from a competitive standpoint, but to a much lesser degree.
As Auriemma said in March, Team USA could certainly use a 6-foot-8 shotblocking maven. But the subtext here is that Team USA doesn't need Griner to win gold.
This is, after all, a team that has captured four consecutive gold medals and, in 2008, won all of its games by at least 15 points.
With WNBA standouts Maya Moore, Candace Parker, Tina Charles, Seimone Augustus, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird already committed, Team USA remains a prohibitive favorite to top the podium yet again.
Griner the player wasn't going to change that—she was merely a cherry atop the super fudge sundae that is U.S. women's basketball.
Griner the spectacle, however, is one of a kind. The women's game will miss her star power in London.
— According to the AP, Griner would have been the first college player to make the U.S. women's Olympic basketball team since 1998.
— The Americans have until June 18 to the finalize their roster, according to that same AP article.
— I'm not sure who gets that 12th spot in Griner's absence, but I'm also not sure it matters. The U.S. team is already loaded. I'd expect whomever makes it to play a marginal role.
— Back in March, ESPN's Mechelle Voepel pointed out that Team USA doesn't even need to use the final roster spot: "The Americans would be in splendid shape even if they didn't round out the roster to the requisite dozen."