Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

USA Basketball Training: The Road to A World Championship is Under Way

( Guru's note: This is the first of a three-part package. Under this post, Rob has a feature with Sue Bird and under that your Guru has some notes, talking with officials about Thursday's game at Delaware without local favorite Elena Delle Donne being on the scene, and other items. )

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

As soon as the first day of the USA Basketball Women’s World Championship Team practice concluded Monday afternoon, Seimone Augustus’ demeanor quickly changed from serious to silly.

Augustus had a blast picking with teammates Maya Moore and Sue Bird, who were being interviewed.

She also offered an interesting take on turning 30-years-old. Then when it came time to offer a few thoughts, Augustus couldn’t stop smiling and laughing.

Make no mistake, this week-long training session that will take the team from here at the Naval Academy to Bridgeport (Conn.) is all business for the two-time Olympian from the Minnesota Lynx.

“Today was a typical first day,” Augustus said following practice at Halsey Gym. “It was high energy and great players competing at a high level. We just have to settle down a bit and get to our comfort zone.

"Balls were flying around today because everybody was excited. Overall, it was great and some players separated themselves a little bit as far as seeing who’s here to play.”

She was one of 17 players present on the first day of practice.

Augustus is part of a pool of 24 amazingly talented women’s basketball players trying to make the 12-man roster that will head to Istabul, Turkey after a training stop in Paris to compete in the World Championships, which runs from Sept. 27-Oct. 5.

Three players (Candace Parker, Tamika Catchings and Monica Wright) withdrew from Team USA consideration Sunday due to surgeries for injuries.

Augustus’ knee, which caused her to miss a few games this season, is feeling much better.

The former LSU star, who turned 30 in April, had a unique view of her new found number. Of course, Jay-Z once said that “30 is the new 20.”

“You reach the 30 club and everybody starts to talk to you like you’re 65,” Augustus said. “When you hit 30, people start asking you when are you going to retire?

"I just hit 30, but I feel good and I think the week of rest really helped me. I am going to try and stay consistent with my game and be a leader since I am one of the older players now.”

Seven of the players, including Elena Delle Donne and former Temple star Candice Dupree, are currently playing in the WNBA Finals.

Augustus will be one of the featured athletes competing in the USA Basketball Showcase event at the University of Delaware Thursday night in a game that will be televised live by ESPN2 beginning at 7 p.m.

“I thought it was a good day,” Augustus’ teammate Maya Moore said. “You know, we had a lot of teaching and a lot of just foundational things that the coaches wanted to put in and I thought we all picked it up pretty well.

"The energy was solid and just working out some of the rust from either coming off of a season or being off for a few weeks but I think we built a pretty good foundation today.”

This pool features a wonderful mix of players from three-time Olympians Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird to Kayla McBride, who just completed a memorable rookie season this season with the San Antonio Silver Stars.

“Being one of the youngest here it is kind of hard just to play the first day, because there’s a lot of thinking and you don’t’ want to mess up - and then you end up messing up,” McBride said. “But I think by the end of practice everyone kind of settled in and I’m just excited for day two.”

One of the toughest things for the committee is deciding who the final 12-woman squad will be when the USA departs for overseas next week.

Consider that this roster features three WNBA MVPs (Moore, Tina Charles and Diana Taurasi), along with eight of the last 13 WNBA Rookie of the Year honorees (Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Delle Donne, Moore, Charles, Angel McCoughtry, Augustus and Taurasi).

Furthermore, Augustus, Bird, Charles, Dupree, Sylvia Fowles, McCoughtry, Moore and Taurasi were members of the 2010 gold medal World Championship team. That influx of talent is a great thing and a curse for Team USA.

“It’s not going to be easy, because we have 17 here,” Team USA coach Geno Auriemma said. “In the pool we have seven that are (still) playing. So, even if you cut five players off of this roster and you’re at 12, next week you’re back to 19. It’s not going to be easy. Getting to this number wasn’t as easy as it’s been in the past.

“In the past it might have been very simple trying to find out who the 12 best players in the country are. Everybody knew who they were. Boom, let’s do it. Fifteen at the max.

"Now, you get to 20 and you still go, ‘well, what about this guy? What about that guy?’ So, we’re in an enviable situation as far as that’s concerned that we have many more choices than we used to eight years ago.”

Skylar Diggins, the winner of this year’s WNBA’s Most Improved honor, is one of a number of players who are in the World Championship and Olympic pool for the first time. Other players include Courtney Vandersloot and Briann January

“It’s tough,” Diggins said. “It’s a tough group of women. Geno even said it last night that we have more and more players who can play at this level every year. You pick any of these girls and it would be well deserved, you’d go over there and do well. So, while you’re here, you just play ball.

“You just have to be yourself, find out what you do well and stick to it. It’s not necessarily the 12 best that played, they’re trying to pick a team.

"That doesn’t mean you’re not good.

"You’re invited here to be among the most elite in the world and in my opinion it’s the best of the best. So, you just have to play your game and just show up every day and sweat.”

Augustus has part of the Team USA since her collegiate days at LSU. She’s been on both sides of making the roster and being cut from it.

“It’s always exciting to get an opportunity to represent my country,” Augustus said. “(Lindsay) Whalen and I were talking about this on Sunday that we’ve been part of USA Team since we were 19 or 20.

"To see the growth and maturity of our program and of the players we’ve been playing with, it means a lot. I’ve been one of the few ones who’ve been cut before and then have to come back and make the team. The process alone brings you joy to know that you’re here and you can help your country.”

NOTES: On Tuesday, Team USA will conduct two clinics for local youths, as well as visit and have lunch with the USNA Midshipmen as part of USA Basketball’s Hoops for Troops program.

The USA Basketball National Team will have a chance to watch the USNA Midshipmen gather into their noon meal formation outside of Bancroft Hall and proceed in formation to King Hall. The U.S. squad will then spend time visiting while eating lunch with the Midshipmen at King Hall.

Later in the day the USA National Team will split up to conduct two USA Basketball Youth Development Clinics at 5 p.m., both of which will offer instruction on skills and fundamentals to local youths.

Half of the USA Women’s National Team, along with half of the U.S. Naval Academy’s women’s basketball team, will participate in a clinic at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Annapolis & Anne Arundel County with approximately 75-100 children, while each team’s remaining players and coaches will take part in a clinic for approximately 30 children of U.S. Navy personnel in partnership with the Moral, Welfare and Recreation Department.

“A goal of USA Basketball’s youth development initiative is to get more young people playing the game; to re-engage and re-energize youth to participate in the sport,” said Jim Tooley, USA Basketball CEO/Executive Director, when USA Basketball’s schedule of summer youth clinics were first announced on July 28.

“We feel one of the ways to do this is through these youth clinics. USA Basketball wants to connect with basketball players of all skill levels to promote, grow and elevate the game. At the end of the day, our mission is to make basketball the most user-friendly and successful sport in the country.”

“Our players and coaches have always been devoted to community and service with young kids,” said Carol Callan, USA Basketball Women's National Team Director. “This is a natural extension of our Hoops for Troops program to engage with local youth and military families.

"We’re proud to be in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Annapolis & Anne Arundel County and the U.S. Navy MWR. Clearly the benefit of participation is not just with the young basketball players, but our athletes and coaches also come away fulfilled and inspired.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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