A month before the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the USA women’s basketball roster was announced in front of a national audience on NBC’s Today show.
The team, playing for its seventh straight Olympic gold medal, is headlined by now five-time Olympians Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi and three-time Olympic gold medalist and the first Black woman to lead the national team, coach Dawn Staley.
Bird, Taurasi and Staley’s Olympic experience together goes way back. The 2004 games in Athens, Greece, were Bird and Taurasi's first Olympics and Staley’s last as a player.
“They had the time of their lives,” Staley said laughing. “They partied. They stayed up all night. They did it all because they relied on us to get us where we needed to go. But there are also some lessons in that.”
Staley said the veterans on the 2004 Olympic team had conversations with Bird and Taurasi ahead of the medal rounds and told them this is when they needed to focus because they could be tapped to contribute. Staley expects the younger players on this team will play immediately.
Taurasi said Staley is the best person to lead this team into Tokyo.
After fracturing her sternum in late May, Taurasi had some minor anxiety about what that meant for her Olympic future. When she sat with doctors who told her she’d be back weeks before the Olympics, she knew she’d be fine. Staley said Taurasi, who expects to be back playing for the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday, has always been able to beat the odds when it comes to injury.
She didn’t question if Taurasi would be ready.
“She’s mentally tougher than any player I’ve been around,” Staley said.
Taurasi and Bird join an elite list of just six other athletes worldwide that have competed in five Olympic basketball competitions.
This 2020 team features six first-time Olympians (Jewell Loyd, A’ja Wilson, Ariel Atkins, Napheesa Collier, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Chelsea Gray), two who will be competing in their second (Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart), one three-time Olympian (Tina Charles) and a four-time Olympian (Sylvia Fowles).
Diamond DeShields, Kahleah Copper and Stefanie Dolson who all participated in the national team’s minicamp in March did not make the final roster. Dolson could still represent Team USA for the 3x3 competition. That final roster is forthcoming.
The frontcourt is where most of the experience lies with former Sky second-overall pick and three-time WNBA All-Star in a Sky uniform, Sylvia Fowles leading the way.
Sylvia Fowles made her Olympic debut in 2008, her rookie year, and if someone had told her 13 years later she’d be playing for her fourth gold medal she would have called their bluff.
There are a lot of different combinations that the frontcourt can establish.
“I definitely wouldn’t want to go up against us that's for sure,” Griner said.
Olympic veterans like Taurasi, Fowles and Griner noted that every time they have received the call saying they will once again represent Team USA at the Olympics, it’s special and no two Olympic experiences are the same.
The biggest difference this year will be playing without family and fans in the audience. Fowles said in a way the WNBA bubble prepared them for this unique Olympic experience.
Team USA’s final training camp will take place from July 12-18 in Las Vegas. They will play the WNBA All-Stars on July 14 and finish up Pre-Olympic play with two exhibition games against Australia on July 16 and Nigeria on July 18.
The 2020 Olympic games run from July 23 to Aug. 8.
“Once we’re there, we’re there for a reason,” Taurasi said.