July 23, 2021 

Sylvia Fowles, Tina Charles had head starts in mentoring young Olympians

Collier and Atkins learning from future Hall of Famers

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As decorated and senior members of the U.S. national team, Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles will be counted on to be mentors to the six rookies on the Olympic roster. The future Hall of Fame post players have had a jump start on two of the athletes, however, Napheesa Collier and Ariel Atkins, of whom they play alongside in the WNBA.

Collier is in her third season with the Minnesota Lynx, where she plays with Fowles, the league’s career rebounding leader, who heads to Tokyo in search of a fourth-consecutive Olympic gold medal.

“It’s been amazing,” Fowles said of Collier. “I think I have an easy task. Napheesa is not the kind of person who doesn’t listen. Anything you tell her, she picks up really quickly, so my job has been easy. At the same time, she is willing to learn the process to get to the next step.”

Fowles and Collier are each in the top 15 scorers in the WNBA, Collier at 17.3 points per game, Fowles at 15.9. They also each played in the Final Four in each of their four seasons at LSU and UConn. Fowles was 22 and in her rookie WNBA season when she won her first gold medal at Beijing in 2008, the second youngest on the team to Candace Parker, and the 24-year-old Collier will be the youngest on the current national team.

“I think it’s exciting I get to play with so many people who are going to go into the Hall of Fame and are such great basketball players,” Collier added.

“It’s a great honor to be a part of something that has been winning for so many years. You don’t want to let that down, especially since I am a new person on the team. I will come in and contribute whatever the team needs and be a sponge and learn from all of the people on the team who have been here before.”

Charles, who was a champion in London and Rio, is playing in her first season with the Washington Mystics after sitting out last year. She is leading the WNBA with more than 26 points per game and grabbing 10 rebounds, which is second in the league, playing with Atkins, who turns 25 during the Games and is scoring nearly 17 points per game in her fourth season.

“Ariel is the upmost professional,” Charles said, “and one of the most selfless players I have played with in a long time. She really just cares about winning the possession and doesn’t matter is she scores or not. That’s really why she’s on this team, because she just fits in. It’s not all about scoring that gets you on this team, but ‘Can you be selfless? Can you make that right play?’ And Ariel was equipped with that.

“For me, it was really checking in on her and she has everything she needs, and that’s something I try to do daily. She knows I’m here if she has any questions. She is equipped with a lot of things players her age don’t have, that I didn’t have, so it’s great seeing her mature into the woman she is on and off the court.”

That selfless attitude propelled Atkins to the Olympic team after a strong showing at the qualifying tournament in Serbia last year, plus ensuing training camps.

“The list of women who have gone into this system,” Atkins added, “it’s the best of the best, and that’s not just on the court, off the court, they are awesome women, as well. So to be a part of that and to have my name on that list is surreal. We are here, and I need to push some of that aside and get to work.”

The U.S. opens up against Nigeria in Tokyo at 12:40 a.m. ET on July 27 (9:40 p.m. July 26 PT).

Written by Scott Mammoser

Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.

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