STORRS, Conn. (AP) — It’s not often that Elena Delle Donne is nervous on the basketball court.
Still for one of the rare times in her life, it’s not a sure thing that the reigning WNBA MVP will make a team. Delle Donne is hoping to play in her first Olympics this summer for the U.S. national team in Rio.
“All my family memories and friends were texting me, do your best out there, be confident,” Delle Donne said. “They take the best 12 players that play together. It’s not going to be the best 12 players in the world. That’s the key. Try and make everyone else around me better.”
Delle Donne remembered the last time she had this nervous feeling and that was also in a USA Basketball tryout when she was trying to make the World University games team when she was in college.
She did and that team went on to win a gold medal. While making that roster was tough, making this one for the Olympics will be extremely challenging because of the wealth of talent on the team.
“With no disrespect to the former teams, it’s going to be clearly the most difficult team to come up with,” national team director Carol Callan said. “Typically you look at the top eight or nine and then build out with what you need. It’s going to be hard to say who those are because there are 15 of them.”
Three-time Olympic gold medalists Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings lead the way while Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus each have won two. In all, 10 of the finalists have already won Olympic gold for the U.S. That doesn’t even include Delle Donne or Brittney Griner or UConn senior Breanna Stewart.
“They’ve gone to battle with you,” Callan said. “They’ve sacrificed, come to training camp with you. There’s not a real reason to say that you’re not on the team other than there are so many people to choose from. It’s a lot easier when they are younger and never been there.”
Parker and Fowles as well as Tina Charles were excused from camp as they were playing in the Chinese league playoffs. Charles’ team just eliminated Parker’s team.
The three days will serve as the last chance for the players to impress the selection committee before the team is announced this spring. The U.S. has 41 straight Olympic victories since winning the bronze medal in 1992.
“There were years where you’d say ‘who’s the No. 12 man’,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “Now, maybe there’s six-seven-eight players for two spots if you take all the previous Olympians and they all deserve to be on the team. That’s a good problem to have. A lot of other countries wish they had that problem.”
The three days are a rare opportunity for the U.S. team to train in February because most players are competing overseas in Russia, Turkey or other countries. With FIBA’s recent changes in World Championship qualifying procedures, there are now breaks in European club play so national teams can train and compete in qualifying system.
The camp also came during the middle of UConn’s season. Auriemma’s team has won 63 consecutive games and plays again on Wednesday. Stewart is doing double-duty the next few days going to both practices.