June 11, 2024 

Key storylines from the Team USA Olympic 5-on-5 roster reveal

Team USA brings experience and versatility to Paris

Following days of speculation since The Athletic first reported the 5-on-5 women’s national team roster for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, USA Basketball officially confirmed the 12-player roster on Tuesday.

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The athletes representing the women’s senior national team in Paris will be Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier, Phoenix Mercury wing Kahleah Copper, Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray, Mercury center Brittney Griner, New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd, Aces guard Kelsey Plum, Liberty forward Breanna Stewart, Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas, Aces forward A’ja Wilson and Aces guard Jackie Young.

“On behalf of USA Basketball, I’m excited to announce the 2024 USA Women’s National Team,” said USA Basketball Women’s National Team Committee chair Jen Rizzotti. “We have selected a team that we are confident will represent our country to the highest standard in Paris. Basketball in the United States boasts unparalleled depth, making this a challenging and competitive process. The commitment these athletes have shown to USA Basketball is unmatched and I look forward to watching them take on the world in Paris.”

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While much of the conversation in the national media since the news broke over the weekend has centered on who isn’t on the roster — in particular, Indiana Fever rookie guard Caitlin Clark — there is no shortage of other intriguing narratives for fans to follow as Team USA competes for its eighth straight and 10th overall Olympic gold medal.

A quest for history

Since her first call-up to the national team as a senior at UConn in 2004, 42-year old guard Diana Taurasi has won three WNBA championships, four World Cup medals, five Olympic gold medals and six EuroLeague Women titles. When Taurasi steps on the court in Paris she’ll be competing for something that no other basketball player in the history of the Olympics has accomplished — a sixth medal.

United States guard Diana Taurasi celebrates winning the gold medal in the women’s basketball gold medal match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Saitama Super Arena. (Photo Credit: Kyle Terada / USA TODAY Sports)

With so much American basketball talent that has emerged over the past two decades, why was this version of Taurasi, in the twilight of her career and past her prime playing years, ultimately selected as part of the Olympic team?

“We evaluated every player in this pool based on the selection criteria,” Jen Rizzotti told the media on a Zoom call. “So when you think about skill, maybe behind Chelsea Gray, she’s the best passer on the team and she’s probably arguably still the best shooter on the team. But one of the things that she provides that was important to us was leadership. She has an uncanny ability to make everybody around her feel really good about themselves and be the best version of themselves.”

“We knew that Diana’s basketball ability would be clutch for us and in so many moments, but we also knew that her leadership was something that this team didn’t have — what to say in the huddle, what to say in the locker room before the coach comes in … and representing the United States in the right way because no one has done that better.”

While her basketball legacy is firmly secured, a historic sixth gold medal for Taurasi would be “icing on the cake,” according to Rizzotti.

Passing the torch

On the other end of the spectrum from elder stateswoman Taurasi are three first-time Olympians: Kahleah Copper, Sabrina Ionescu and Alyssa Thomas. Notably, all three athletes competed on the U.S. team that won a gold medal at the 2022 World Cup.

For 29-year-old Copper, the opportunity to compete on the game’s biggest stage is the culmination of several years of hard work and dedication to USA Basketball.

“I can remember [Kahleah] was coming off of her WNBA season right before the [2022] World Cup, Rizzotti told the media. ” … we called her and said, ‘Would you be willing to go to Australia to be part of the process to pick the World Cup team?’ And she was like, ‘Am I on the team?’ And we’re like, ‘No, not yet.’ … And so she took a leap of faith and she had to because we can’t guarantee spots on on these teams prior to the camps being over.”

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“So I can remember when she made that team, it was like a little bit of a relief to her I think because that’s a long way to go to try out for three or four days. And so it speaks to not just her commitment, but it’s an example of the overall commitment that these players have and the desire that they have to be a part of this process.”

Alyssa Thomas, a four-time WNBA All-Star, earned Second Team All-World Cup honors in the 2022 competition in Australia. She averaged 9.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in eight games played. The 6-2 forward has earned WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week and Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors this season while leading the Sun to a league-best 10-1 record. Fans can expect Thomas to bring her gritty, physical style of basketball to Paris — a style of play that she’s honed across several seasons of overseas play.

“I mean, she’s putting in the work,” said Sun head coach Stephanie White about Thomas. “She’s done her due process. She’s taken advantage of her opportunity when it was given to her.”

Sep 29, 2022; Sydney, AUS; United States forward Alyssa Thomas (12)‎ dribbles while defended by Serbia center Dragana Stankovic (14) in first quarter at Sydney SuperDome. (Photo credit: Yukihito Taguchi / USA TODAY Sports)

Guard Sabrina Ionescu earned a spot on this year’s roster by listening to the feedback provided to her by USA Basketball over the past several years. She’s evolved her game to play multiple positions on the court, adding versatility and finesse to the roster.

“Sabrina has probably had [some] of the biggest growth of anybody on the team in terms of her basketball performance and her ability to take the experience that she’s gotten and enhance what she knows she needs her role to be on the national team. And I think sometimes we forget that challenge that some of these women are being asked to do different things. And sometimes being asked to play different positions,” Rizzotti said.

“We wanted her to be just as competent as a point guard as she was as a two guard … She has prepared herself for this moment. She has improved. She’s gotten more comfortable. She’s taken the feedback that she’s gotten from [national team head coach Cheryl Reeve] and applied it and so it’s really rewarding to see that unfold. And to see her get rewarded for that work because it’s just, it’s not an easy process.”

BG’s return to international basketball

When two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner returned to the U.S. following a months-long detainment in Russia, she stated she would never again return overseas to play basketball — with one exception.

“If I make [the Olympic] team, that would be the only time I would leave U.S. soil and that’s to represent the USA,” Griner said at the time.

The last time that Griner competed with Team USA — in Tokyo in 2021 — she posted 30 points in the gold medal game against Japan, joining Lisa Leslie as the only U.S. Olympian to score 30 points in Olympic competition.

United States center Brittney Griner (15) blocks the shot of Japan small forward Himawari Akaho (88) in the women’s basketball gold medal match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Saitama Super Arena. (Photo credit: James Lang / USA TODAY Sports)

Griner’s return to the Olympic squad infuses the roster with experience, leadership and a formidable post presence. The 6’8 center has played two WNBA games this season after missing the first 10 games of the season with a toe injury. She and Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi have played together for years in the WNBA, in Europe and for USA Basketball, and will team up once again in Paris.

“We’ve been together now for 11 years,” Taurasi said about her long-time Mercury teammate. “She’s one of the kindest, most genuine, most fun-loving people you’ll ever be around. And I appreciate that. She just loves the game of basketball. I’m just really proud of her and how she’s bounced back from a lot of things in her life. She’s one of my great friends forever.”

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Repeat MVP?

In all but two seasons since 2018, either A’ja Wilson or Breanna Stewart have been named MVP of the WNBA. Stewart (2018 World Cup and 2021 Tokyo Olympics) and Wilson (2022 World Cup) have also been named MVP in each of Team USA’s last three major international tournaments.

Wilson and Stewart are widely regarded as two of the best women’s basketball players on the planet and will team up this summer for the Olympics. Given their recent dominance in the MVP category, it will not be at all surprising if one of them leaves Paris with some extra hardware.

So far this season Wilson has continued her dominant ways for the two-time defending national champion Las Vegas Aces. She averages an astounding 28.3 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game, the first player in WNBA history to average at least 25-10-3 over any nine-game span. In May she was named Western Conference Player of the Month for a record-tying ninth time and for the fourth time in a row.

A’ja Wilson (9)‎ celebrates Gold medal and Trophy after win over China in final at Sydney SuperDome. (Photo Credit: Yukihito Taguchi | USA TODAY Sports)

In Brooklyn, Stewart, this week’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week, led the Liberty to a 5-0 record in the Commissioner’s Cup, clinching home court advantage in the Cup Championship game. The four-time NCAA champion and two-time WNBA champion averages 18.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.

With Wilson and Stewart as the focal points, Team USA heads to Paris as the favorite to bring home yet another gold medal. But even while everyone on the roster has the chance to add to their legacy, USA Basketball will always be about more than any individual player.

Natalie Heavren contributed reporting to this story.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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