USA Olympic Women's Basketball Team 2012: Stars Who Will Dominate
This time, it's personal—at least that's what Diana Taurasi told the Associated Press (via the Washington Post):
I think it’s funny. We’re a team that’s won four gold medals in a row and yet we’re still fighting for respect in our own country. I think it’s a little sad. That’s a heck of a motivator for all of us in the gym. Our level is so high, it becomes normal and even to the public ‘it’s they should win the gold medal. If they don’t it’s a terrible year.’
Geno Auriemma, coach of Team USA as well as the college coach for half of the roster—six members of Team USA played for Auriemma at the University of Connecticut—agreed with Taurasi's sentiment:
If we win another gold medal it’s not going to be a huge story. I want to make it a huge story because the respect that Dee’s talking about that these kids deserve for having done what they’ve done and been able to do it the way they do it should be appreciated. Greatness should be appreciated and not taken for granted.
People take us for granted.
They have a point.
Beginning in 1996, the women's national team has lost only once in major international play, a loss to Russia in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championships. They have won by an average of 29 points per game, and only one team has come within single digits—no doubt factors in their 33-game winning streak.
Yet nobody talks about them, and that's a shame—because this team is every bit as good as the men's squad. Let's take a look at five players who make that bold statement a reality.
Sue Bird, Guard
While Team USA coach Geno Auriemma is certainly biased, having coached Sue Bird both in college and with the U.S. national team, you'd be hard pressed to dispute what he told Newsday's Barbara Barker last month:
She's not just the best point guard in America right now. Sue is the best point guard in the world right now. She's a tremendous ballhandler and passer. She just sees the game, she understands it and she understands people. She knows what she has to do to get other teammates to play their best. She's a great leader. She has a tremendous amount of credibility. And she knows what it takes to win.
The 31-year-old New York native, who is making her third Olympic appearance, has proven over a decade in the WNBA that while she can put up points—she's averaged more than 10 points per game for her career—it's the little things that don't necessarily show up on the stat sheet that make her a dominating force.
Her ability to see the floor, read defenses and generally drive the opposition crazy when she's on defense make her one of the more dangerous players on this year's team, even as she sees her minutes reduced to give some of her younger teammates a chance to shine.
Sylvia Fowles, Forward/Center
With Russia's all-world center, 6'8" Maria Stepanova, out of action due to injury, 6'6" Sylvia Fowles might be the most dominant inside force on any team at this year's games.
She broke out for the U.S. at the 2008 Games in Beijing, averaging 13.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, and has nearly averaged a double-double over her five-year WNBA career with averages of 16.3 points and 9.6 rebounds.
Wiser and more experienced since the last time the Olympic stage saw her, Fowles is capable of an even better performance than she put forth in Beijing—and that has to scare the opposition.
Maya Moore, Forward
One of six players who spent their college career under the tutelage of coach Geno Auriemma at the University of Connecticut, the 6'0" Moore is making her first of what is sure to be many Olympic appearances.
The youngest member of the U.S. team at 23, Maya Moore might have more raw talent than anyone else on the roster, and you'd be hard pressed to find a weakness in her game. She can dominate inside—both on offense and defense—and her smooth stroke makes her a threat to score from virtually anywhere on the floor.
In the exhibitions that Team USA played leading up to the Olympics, she averaged nearly 11 points and six rebounds a game. By the time the games in London come to a close, the rest of the world will know what we already do—Maya Moore's got game.
Candace Parker, Guard/Forward/Center
The first woman to ever dunk in the NCAA tournament, the second WNBA player to throw one down and the first WNBA player to dunk in back-to-back games, Candace Parker is arguably the most talented forward on any team in London.
A member of the 2008 gold-medal-winning team in Beijing, she averaged just over nine points per game, including 14 in the gold medal game against Australia.
Her ability to play any position the floor makes her a matchup nightmare for the opposition, and now fully recovered from surgery to repair a torn meniscus that cost her the bulk of the 2011 season, she is poised to emerge as one of the young leaders of the U.S. squad.
Diana Taurasi, Guard
The fiery leader of Team USA, 30-year-old Diana Taurasi returns for her third consecutive Olympic games with an eye towards adding a third gold medal to her already impressive list of accomplishments on the court, which include five WNBA scoring titles and the 2009 MVP award.
During the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Taurasi started all eight games that the U.S. played, averaging 10.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 42 percent from behind the arc, slightly over her 37-percent career average.
A threat to score whenever she has the ball in her hands, faced with the possibility that this is her last Olympic appearance as a player and still ticked off about the women not getting enough respect, Diana Taurasi is poised to have a phenomenal run in London.