February 10, 2023
Who suited up for February’s USA Basketball mini-camp?
Taurasi, Delle Donne and McCoughtry all in attendance
The brightest basketball stars of the U.S. were back in national team mode earlier this week. USA Basketball conducted a three-day mini-camp, 17 months prior to the Paris Olympics, in Minneapolis, the home of Cheryl Reeve, head coach of the national team and the Minnesota Lynx.
Five players who won the gold medal at the Sydney World Cup in October returned: Ariel Atkins, Kahleah Copper, Sabrina Ionescu, Betnijah Laney and Kelsey Plum. Atkins was also on the full-court team that won the gold medal in Tokyo, along with camp attendees Diana Taurasi and Napheesa Collier. Plum was a 3×3 Olympic champion with Allisha Gray and Jackie Young, who attended camp as well. In addition, Angel McCoughtry, Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Howard, Marina Mabrey, Arike Ogunbowale and Brianna Turner completed the camp roster of 15.
Amid a frenzy of free agency movements, the creation of super teams, and other news involving their WNBA teams, the group was able to focus on the initial building blocks of an eighth-consecutive Olympic gold medal.
“When we get to USAB, we put all other things behind and focus on USAB as a team,” Reeve said. “Any time we get together, we work on our staples. On the World Cup team, there were more players in the pool that we did not get to see. We are building on our chemistry and identity as a team, and then we will select the best players.”
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The biggest name that jumps out is that of Taurasi, the five-time Olympic gold medalist. What fuels the GOAT to potentially return for a sixth?
“USA Basketball is a very special organization,” Taurasi said. “I’ve been playing since I was in college. It’s always a big honor. You learn how to be a teammate, how to be unselfish and how to be a solution. The front of the jersey is more important. There is always something special about USA Basketball. It shows that you as an individual are making strides, but it shows you there is work to be done. It’s really a big family.”
Coach Reeve said that Taurasi understands what it means from the younger players’ point of view. She sets a precedence on how to communicate and conduct herself off the court.
Turner, who is Taurasi’s teammate with the Phoenix Mercury, said that Taurasi made a habit of walking by her to whisper advice during the mini-camp.
McCoughtry and Delle Donne return to camp
Two future Hall of Famers, who have been riddled by injuries the last few years, are pushing for a return to the Olympics. Angel McCoughtry, the 36-year-old without a WNBA team, and Elena Delle Donne, the 33-year-old Washington Mystics forward, were teammates on the Rio 2016 gold medal team.
McCoughtry, who won her first Olympic gold medal at London in 2012, recently started an all-female management company.
“My off-court career is thriving, but my on-court career is up and down,” said McCoughtry, who last played a full season with the Las Vegas Aces three years ago. “I just want to be stable again from injuries and my health. I think I still have juice left in the tank. I think I am at that point now, where as, when you get older, things just take a little more time to heal than in your 20s. I pursued every mini-camp. My mind frame was no different than before. Until I announce my retirement, it’s just like anything else.”
Delle Donne scored 17 points per game for the Mystics last season, after sitting out 2020, having back surgery and playing only three games in 2021.
“I absolutely love USA Basketball,” Delle Donne said. “I have so many great moments, and it’s great to be back. This has been the greatest offseason of my career – to be able to train and not be rehabbing. There were days I couldn’t sit in a chair for more than a minute. This goal has been with me through some of the hardest times of my life.”
Transitioning from 3X3
Plum is already the owner of an enviable collection of championships and gold medals. Yet, a 5×5 Olympic gold would put her into elite company.
“To be able to play on the 5×5 team would be a dream for me,” Plum said. “You have to be good at the little things, and that’s what I am working on. I love this group, it’s a mix of old faces and new faces. The role you are given, you are going to fulfill to the best of your abilities.”
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While Plum noted that she is retired from 3×3, she said that she encourages youth to play, since it improves basketball IQ and stamina, making quick adjustments.
Gray added that 3×3 improved her defensive skills because there is no help-side defense.
Obviously, some key figures like A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart were missing. Still, the event proved to be valuable, even for mainstay players like Atkins.
“Personally,” Atkins said of her minicamp goals, “getting more comfortable, getting to know Coach Reeve and what she wants, and then trying to get more comfortable with the system, and once I am in, knowing how high the expectations are.”
In addition, Laney added that she was comfortable in the aggressive play of FIBA since she considers herself a “naturally physical player.”
More camps will be on the horizon. Future USAB events include the FIBA AmeriCup from July 1-9 and the Under-19 World Cup from July 15-23 in Madrid.
Written by Scott Mammoser
Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, the ISU and World Athletics. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 70 countries.
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