A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart lead U.S. women’s basketball roster for FIBA World Cup

A'ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart
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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.

MORE: FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

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
Shakira Austin
Kahleah Copper
Chelsea Gray — Tokyo Olympian
Sabrina Ionescu
Brionna Jones
Betnijah Laney
Jewell Loyd — Tokyo Olympian
Kelsey Plum — Tokyo Olympian (3×3)
Breanna Stewart — Tokyo Olympian
Alyssa Thomas
A’ja Wilson — Tokyo Olympian

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Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

Oleksandr Abramenko
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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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Freestyle skiers in World Cup action on NBC Sports, Peacock

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Olympic gold medalists David Wise and Alex Hall headline World Cup freestyle skiing and snowboarding stops in the U.S. this weekend, airing on NBC Sports and Peacock.

Wise, who last Sunday won his fifth X Games Aspen ski halfpipe title, led the qualifiers into the final at the Mammoth Mountain Grand Prix in California.

He’s joined in the 10-man final by U.S. Olympic teammates Aaron Blunck and Birk Irving. The women’s ski halfpipe final includes the top three from last week’s X Games — Brit Zoe Atkin, Canadian Rachael Karker and American Svea Irving. Olympic champion Eileen Gu of China is out after suffering a knee injury in an X Games training crash.

The ski slopestyle finals include the reigning men’s and women’s Olympic gold medalists — Hall, plus Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland.

The marquee snowboarders in Mammoth finals are Olympic big air silver medalist Julia Marino (slopestyle) and X Games silver medalist Maddie Mastro (halfpipe). Two-time Olympic champion Chloe Kim is taking the season off, and another double Olympic champion, Jamie Anderson, is pregnant.

Aerials and moguls skiers are competing in their lone U.S. World Cup stop in Park City, Utah.

The moguls fields including Olympic gold medalists Walter Wallberg of Sweden, Mikael Kingsbury of the U.S., Perrine Laffont of France and Jakara Anthony of Australia. Olympic silver medalist Jaelin Kauf is the standout American.

The aerials include every member of the U.S. team that took gold at last year’s Olympics — Ashley Caldwell, Chris Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld.

Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding World Cup Broadcast Schedule

Day Event Time (ET) Platform
Saturday Moguls 11 a.m. CNBC, Peacock
Ski Halfpipe 3 p.m. NBC, Peacock
Sunday Ski Slopestyle 12 p.m. CNBC, Peacock
Sun., Feb. 12 Aerials, Dual Moguls 2 p.m. NBC, Peacock
Snowboard Halfpipe 2 p.m. CNBC, Peacock

All NBC and CNBC coverage also streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

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