NEW YORK (AP) — Four-time Olympians Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings headline the U.S. women’s national team roster heading to Brazil for the Rio Games this summer.
The trio will be joined by newcomers Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart.
Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, Angel McCoughtry, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles round out the American squad announced Wednesday morning.
The roster gives coach Geno Auriemma plenty of options as the U.S. goes for its sixth consecutive gold medal.
“When you look at the team there’s a little bit of everything. A little bit of youth, a little bit of the middle and then there is the veterans,” Auriemma told The Associated Press. “There’s some size and there’s lot of flexibility to handle things a lot of different ways. Everyone that’s on the team is on the team for a purpose. They feel like they can do something that’s unique for the team.
“The ones that won gold medals in the world championship and the Olympics, they are invaluable and yet everyone’s role changes every year. Whatever role you played in 2012 didn’t necessarily mean you will play that role now.”
The U.S. has won 41 consecutive Olympic contests dating back to the bronze medal game in 1992. Taurasi, Bird and Catchings were all part of the gold medal teams in 2004, 2008 and 2012. Nine of the players were on the 2012 Olympic team.
The three veterans join Teresa Edwards and Lisa Leslie as the only Americans to play in at least four Olympics. Edwards played in five while Leslie was in four.
“The veterans that are going for their fourth gold medal have accomplished an awful lot. They were at one time the new kids and they are now the veterans,” Auriemma said. “They are great leaders. … Obviously it’s going to come to an end at some point for those three, but not just yet.”
Eight players were in New York for the announcement and Wednesday afternoon they participated in an on-court demonstration with first lady Michelle Obama as part of the 100 days out celebration in Times Square.
Bird was honored to get the Olympic call from national team director Carol Callan, informing the 35-year-old she would be a part of the team for a fourth time.
“In some ways it has even more meaning than the first three,” the point guard said. “Mainly I think it’s because that when you are young the tendency is to take things for granted, and you just think these things are going to happen year after year or every four years. But now that I am older, I see that I am really lucky.”
While Taurasi, 33; Catchings, 36 and Bird’s U.S. careers are winding down, the trio of first-time Olympians are just getting started. Delle Donne, the reigning WNBA MVP, is thrilled to have a chance to play in Rio.
“It’s so hard to even put it into words. When Carol called me, it was emotional,” Delle Donne said. “She was nice enough to tell me at the beginning of the conversation so I wasn’t hyperventilating. It’s amazing and a humbling experience as well, with how special and talented this pool of players is.”
Griner had a good chance to play on the Olympic team in 2012, but withdrew from consideration because of family illness.
“When I got the call, I was speechless,” Griner said. “Just knowing that this will be my first Olympics that I’ll be able to go to and play in, I’ve always said that that’s the biggest stage you could play on. It doesn’t get any bigger than putting on that jersey and playing for gold.”
Stewart is the youngest member of the team, yet she’s no stranger to USA Basketball, having played for them since she was 14. She’s already played in 69 international contests, the fifth most of any player on the Olympic roster. The 21-year-old has won gold medals at nearly every level she’s played while wearing the USA jersey.
“Well, first of all when I saw that Carol was calling, I had a mini heart attack,” she said. “Because I’m like, ‘What’s going to happen? I don’t know! I don’t know!’ And then I answered it and … when she congratulated me, it was . I was speechless. I did not know what to say.”
One name not on the roster was Candace Parker. The 30 year old is perhaps the most accomplished player to not make a U.S. Olympic roster in her prime. The two-time WNBA MVP had 21 points and 11 rebounds in the 2012 gold medal victory over France, and was the USA’s leading rebounder in London.
Parker could still potentially make the team as an alternate if someone is injured before the Olympics.
“It was an incredibly difficult decision for our selection committee, Candace is a great player,” Callan said. “She’s a two-time Olympian done a lot for us in the past since she was in high school. As a committee we don’t get into specifics speaking about each player publicly.
“We appreciate Candace. It’s not an easy call to make. It’s not an easy call to hear. Yet what we’re trying to do is pick a team collectively that has the best chance to win the gold medal and we think we’ve done that.”
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