The key to being an elite women’s basketball player depends on multitasking as much as breaking zones or blocking shots.
The job never ends. In fact, it seldom offers a break. It just changes venues, continents, even cultural divides. It moves, not quite seamlessly, from the WNBA to Europe or Asia and back again over the course of the four seasons.
For the nation’s Top 12 players, the current has led them to Washington, but for 72 hours; still on the run, always in transition.
Two weeks short of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, but less than 24 hours after their final game in the first half of the WNBA season for half the team, USA Basketball’s team and coaching staff comes together again Saturday for one final weekend of domestic training.
Before leaving for Great Britain on Tuesday, the team will have practiced just twice and played Brazil [Monday at the Verizon Center] since May in Seattle.
“It will be a quick turnaround, but Geno [Auriemma] will come into the weekend with a work ethic unlike anyone else,” said USA Basketball assistant Jen Gillom, an assistant coach with the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
“Geno doesn’t care if you played the night before. You are expected to come in with a different focus. He selected these players because they are expected to adapt to the hard work that’s in front of them. His attitude is, ‘Let’s work at this as hard as we can because we are going to win a gold medal. We have to focus, leave everything else behind you for the next month.
Even Auriemma has been running, spending time with the men’s team in Las Vegas doing promotional events for USA Basketball. He was said to be heading to Washington Friday, one day earlier than six of his players, who had WNBA games Friday night.
“But it’s one he has always wanted, his dream job,” said Tamika Williams-Raymond, his former UConn star.
The United States takes a 33-game Olympic winning streak to London. The Olympic women’s basketball competition will be held July 28-Aug. 11 in the Olympic Park Basketball Arena (preliminary round and quarterfinals) and North Greenwich Arena (semifinals and finals).
Although Auriemma did not have total control over his team’s composition, it was clear he provided the selection committee was provided a model.
“The first thing is you need to be is unselfish, somewhat that shares,” said Auriemma earlier this year. “You have to be OK not being the center of attention. You need to understand that it’s not about you, it’s about the team, it is about our country. You need to be all in, in terms of what we need to win, not what you need to win to satisfy your ego. Those are the things that I value and those need to be the thing that USA Basketball [his Olympic team] will value.
“I wanted players who are winners, who have won championships. I want players who are used to winning, that know what it takes to win and are prepared to do whatever it takes.”
Gillom, the former coach of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks, said the coaching staff, which also includes Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors and DePaul coach Doug Bruno, has held periodic teleconferences and met in Washington about a month ago to get caught up.
“Still, it all hits you when you get to the first day of training camp [prior to the Olympic Games],” said Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault, an assistant on the 2008 team that won gold in Beijing. “You know it is not one of these mini-camps you’ve been attending for four years. You are getting ready to play. And then when you get to the Opening Ceremonies – it kind of dawns on you that what you’ve been waiting four years for is finally here.”
Thubault said the team will likely spend some of this weekend just getting itself oriented.
“They will be getting gear for the Olympics, doing the autograph signing of the memorabilia,” Thibault said. “But luckily, this group has played together a lot so I don’t think the concept of playing will be new to them.”
In 2008, Olympic coach Anne Donovan brought men to scrimmage with her team at Stanford.
“Some of us found out just a couple weeks before the Beijing Games that we were even on the team,” said Sun guard Kara Lawson. “USA Basketball did things much differently this time [naming the team in April]. We didn’t have too much build up. And once you did find out, there was a lot to get down logistically in that short time, family members, tickets, visas. These players have likely had it done a long time ago.
“That last weekend before we left for China, I remember we just worked on sets, defensive coverage, getting used to the new terminologies by re-wiring your brains to what the coaching staff wants.”
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