USA Olympic Women's Basketball Team 2012: 6 Reasons to Watch This Year's Squad
There is a basketball team that will rip through its Olympic competition and we're not comparing it to that famed 1992 squad. In the background, America's more dominant basketball force should crush all comers. Unfortunately, it will not inspire the interest that the men's team stokes.
Women's basketball has not caught on in this country, despite America's proficiency in the sport. In Russia, there is a larger demand, which is why elite WNBA players supplement their income abroad. You could say that the WNBA represents the "offseason" for your typical WNBA player.
The 2008 Beijing Games brought some controversy and intrigue as American star Becky Hammon joined up with Team Russia because she could not find a Team USA roster spot. The decision would not have been framed as "betrayal" had Hammon not been quite a decent player.
In the end, it was a happy story for the U.S. and for Russia. America got its expected gold medal and Russia got bronze. This year, there are no controversial nationality switches, but the games should be enjoyable just based on the talent involved. Well, at least when America is playing, I mean.
Seimone Augustus: Bouncing Back
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Playing a women's sport and doing so in Minnesota constitutes a good way to be underrated. Seimone Augustus has had an inspiring journey back from injuries, if only somebody would tell that to a national audience (I am elbow-jabbing Bob Costas as I type).
The Lynx scorer burst onto the scene, claiming a 27.3 PER in her second season. She was derailed by an unfortunate series of injuries and medical issues shortly thereafter. In 2009, she tore her ACL. In 2010, she underwent surgeries on large fibroid tumors. Shortly after surgery, she returned to play most of the 2010 season.
In 2011, August returned triumphantly, helping the Lynx to a title while sharp-shooting her way to a near 22 PER. She's back, at full strength, and should resume crushing the international competition alongside Lynx teammate Maya Moore.
Small Ball: Not Just for Men
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If you favor perimeter play over plodding post-up maneuvering, women's basketball is for you. The NBA is shifting to faster, more versatile lineups, but the women did this first.
In part, the women's emphasis on small ball stems from a relative lack of size. Ask yourself: If an unskilled center cannot dunk, then how valuable would he be? If Dwight Howard found it difficult to dunk over the opposition, he would be relegated to those stilted bankers. In other words, Dwight Howard would not be Dwight Howard.
The WNBA is filled with centers who cannot simply catch lobs and dunk. Thus, the onus is on guards to provide shooting and creativity.
Team USA only carries two centers on its roster. One of those centers—Tina Charles—reveals the lack of depth at her position. While Charles blocks an impressive 1.9 shots per game, she is not the efficient scoring machine that centers often are in the NBA.
Last season, she managed under 50 percent on true shooting. I see that as more of a blessing than a curse. The game is better when about skill and not size.
Geno Auriemma: He's a Bit Odd, No?
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All hail the grand dean of UConn hoops, Geno Auriemma. He's famously defensive, thin-skinned and inclined to butt heads with UConn's other star coach, Jim Calhoun. I'm watching these games, in part, just because Geno's demeanor fascinates me. Look at how he barely pays attention to Barack Obama's story when the president visits Team USA.
If Geno was short-shrifting Obama, I bet politics wasn't a factor. Barack probably offended Auriemma's sensibilities by visiting with the men first.
Sylvia Fowles: Basketball's Hidden Treasure
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You will rarely hear about Fowles on SportsCenter, or see her on magazine covers a la Candace Parker. She almost just might be Team USA's best player. The 6'6" center is a defensive tear, blocking two shots per game. She also scores incredibly efficiently, claiming a .637 true shooting percentage.
Women's basketball is not an inside player's game, and yet Fowles puts up 20-and-10 like Tim Duncan. Sadly, nobody roots for Goliath, and a women's superstar center is bound to get even less attention than the oft-slighted NBA bigs.
Buck the trend, though, appreciate her game against inferior competition. This is dominance, and an incredibly rare iteration of it. Miss Fowles and you're missing out.
Tamika Catchings: The Savvy Veteran
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A certain superstar basketball player spent an entire career in Indiana. Who is this person? I'm not talking about Reggie Miller (or his sister Cheryl for that matter). I'm talking about Tamika Catchings, the versatile forward who comes into this tournament at the ripe age of 34.
Catchings has been fantastic for years, averaging an absurd 26.4 PER over the course of her 10 WNBA seasons. Though only 6'1", she's able to play any position, including center if the situation arises.
Catching is in the Lamar Odom mold of a forward who rebounds (career 7.6 boards), but can also run the floor and pass (3.7 assists). Expect her to have plenty of room to do both against unprepared international competition.
Candace Parker: Famous for a Reason
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Nobody in the sport plays as fluidly as Candace Parker. She evokes visions of some of the game's great perimeter scorers with the way she handles and drives. Parker burst onto the scene in 2008, winning WNBA MVP and Rookie of the Year honors.
She's been through a pregnancy, a shoulder injury and a torn meniscus, but Parker remains one of, if not the elite talent in women's hoops. This Olympics could be the loud announcement of her return to dominance.
Though last season was cut short by injury, Parker looked fantastic, posting a 26.7 PER while hitting on over 50 percent of her field goals, and over 40 percent of her threes. Expect an Olympic dunk from the hyper-athletic show-woman.