A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a new-look U.S. women’s basketball roster for the FIBA World Cup that starts Thursday in Sydney (Wednesday night in the U.S.).
Wilson and Stewart, both bigs, are joined on the World Cup team by fellow Olympic gold medalists — guards Chelsea Gray, Jewell Loyd, Ariel Atkins and Kelsey Plum, the runner-up in WNBA MVP voting to Wilson.
The 2020 WNBA No. 1 overall draft pick Sabrina Ionescu and 2021 WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper are set to make their global championship debuts.
It’s the beginning of a new era for USA Basketball after the retirement of point guard Sue Bird, who played in every Olympics and worlds from 2002 through the Tokyo Games.
Diana Taurasi will miss a global championship for the first time since making her Olympic debut with Bird in 2004. The 40-year-old shooting guard suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury earlier this summer.
The U.S. is also without stalwart bigs: Sylvia Fowles, a four-time Olympic champion who retired this summer; Tina Charles, a three-time Olympic champion who said last month that she “served my time” with the national team; and Brittney Griner, a two-time Olympic champion who has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17 with U.S. officials hoping to bring her home in a prisoner swap.
Add it all up, and it’s the first time since the 1994 Worlds — just before the current dynasty began at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics — that a U.S. roster for an Olympics or World Cup includes nobody over the age of 30. Before the 1994 World Cup, every U.S. Olympic player was age 29 or younger, according to Olympedia.org.
Alyssa Thomas is the lone player on the team who was alive the last time the U.S. lost an Olympic game in 1992.
Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach for this Olympic cycle.
The U.S. will be favored to extend its dominance between Olympic and world championship competition — 52 consecutive wins and seven consecutive gold medals since it lost in the 2006 World semifinals to Russia.
The U.S. beat all of its seven opponents in Tokyo by double digits save Nigeria, which it defeated by nine. Nigeria’s federation withdrew its team from the World Cup over governance issues. Australia may be the biggest threat as host, but it is without superstar Liz Cambage, who may be finished with the national team.
U.S. women’s basketball roster for FIBA World Cup
Ariel Atkins — Tokyo Olympian
Chelsea Gray — Tokyo Olympian
Jewell Loyd — Tokyo Olympian
Kelsey Plum — Tokyo Olympian (3×3)
Breanna Stewart — Tokyo Olympian
A’ja Wilson — Tokyo Olympian
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